MOWJOOD | A look into Waleed Shah’s latest project

By  | 

This photographer has used his time during lockdown to start a project in an effort to give different freelancers exposure. MOWJOOD showcases individuals in a way we love – on covers of the magazine series. We’ve interviewed Waleed Shah, photographer and founder of this project, to find out more.



Interview/Joy Saade

Hello Waleed! Can you tell us more about you and what is it that you do?

I am a commercial photographer. I mainly shoot work that is used to sell products, be it cars or lifestyle, or some fashion-related articles, amongst other things. But every once in a while, I have the time and headspace to think and do something personal that I really enjoy. Most of the time, it’ll be a community project.
As part of my other work, I have something called the Father’s Day Project, Rock Your Ugly, and Magazine Covers. They’re all very community-focused and people-focused. I work in a constant oscillation between those two things as a photographer: commercial and personal projects.


Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project – MOWJOOD, that happened amid the COVID-19 related lockdown?

The latest thing I did is called Mowjood. It stemmed out of the lockdown. Those times were ones where freelancers did not have any work since nobody’s hiring. All freelancers are out of work and they haven’t been paid for a long time.

When lockdown happened obviously the first week or two, I was like “Alright! Cool, holiday!”. Then quickly enough we realized there was no real end in sight at that time. In order to prevent falling deeper into a sort of depression-inducing routine, I willed myself to do something. I started to go through my phonebook and decided to contact people. I just wanted to see if everybody was in the same boat or not but surely enough, everybody I talked to, was. Some are depressed, some are cooking, some are happy with family. But nobody’s doing anything.

I started thinking about what I could do. This is a time for personal work to get things going again – there is no commercial work happening. Let me do something for the freelancers that would be something for the people to know and hear about them, giving them exposure.



Why the name “Mowjood”?

Mowjood means present, available, existent in Arabic. Every time I talked to somebody, they would ask me “What are you doing?”. The one answer that would pop up was always “Walla, mowjood! I’m here, I’m available.” And the name Mowjood just came to be. I used to say it a lot in similar contexts. So, while I was creating, I had to come up with this template to show people. I dug up an old image, I was creating a template and I had no idea what I was going to call it and I’m still dabbling with names. I got a call at that point and they asked me how are you what are you doing. I’m like “mowjood, I’m here”. Then I said, wait a second… That’s the name! and I go “I’ll call you back!” hung up, and then I made it! So that was it, that’s how it was born.


Where did you get this idea of: “these are the people I want to work with”?

I think there are certain periods of time in life where you get stuck in your circle. Whatever it is, work, friends or other. It’s just always the same people. And every once in a while, you need to expand that circle, find new people to hang out with, new clients, etc. This, for me, was one of those times. This is the time where things are going to re-shuffle, people are going to come up with new random opportunities, to move from one company to another.
I need to be top of mind for when things open up again. Who is going to hire me, if not the people who are out of job right now or doing nothing right now in the creative industry? At that point, I’m set to being present for them and do something for them. This is sort of my investment for future opportunities too.



Do you think this is a direction you would have gone in if the lockdown did not happen?

Probably not, no. Usually what happens is that every summer something happens and I’ll come up with a project. That’s how Father’s Day was born, that’s how Rock Your Ugly was born. But it’s also a feeling – like I’ll feel something deeply and come out with something to do. And that’s usually in the summer because there is no work in the summer. I have the headspace to feel. The one thing I always say is: “pay what you feel”. It’s an approach I very much abide by. There is no fixed amount you should pay, per se. Sometimes, you don’t have to pay anything. If you could afford to pay, great, please do. But if you can’t afford to pay, that’s fine too. Just remember me when you can offer me something. It’s not really about working for free. It’ll come back around eventually. It’s not branding. You’re not actually selling products with my work. For this one, it’s like “I want to help you help yourself, let’s get some people talking about you, and when you can help yourself and help me and remember me.”


Lovely initiative. Has any of the people you have featured reached out about how this has affected their lives?

I got asked this a few times, actually. I don’t know specifically. Nobody’s ever said “hey! I got hired because of this thing”. But I imagine it will happen soon. I think it hasn’t happened yet because nothing is happening at all. We’re still at an early stage. This is like three-weeks old. Nothing’s moving in the industry yet. I’m personally getting more calls from commercial clients. But I haven’t executed anything yet because of all the lockdown. So, nothing’s actually happened yet for us to say whether it worked or didn’t.

What’s next for you?

I think to just go back to regular, normal work. I need that to sustain myself in general. And once work goes back to normal, I’m hoping that those people I shot will be picked and placed in places where they can, again, reach out to me and find me again. That’s sort of the economy that I’m willing to create for myself and others.



Discover more of Waleed's projects right here