You may have heard of Amro Jabri. You may have not. Either is alright because today we’re spotlighting this up and coming Abu Dhabi-based indie photographer and filmographer.
He recently shot into the public spotlight because of the devastating blast that rocked Beirut last month. Jabri, along with notable Lebanese indie singer, musician, and composer Roy Sabbagh had filmed the last music video in pre-blast Beirut.
Dubbed as a “love letter” to Beirut, the video showcased the sights, sounds and atmosphere of the Lebanese capital. It was released two weeks before tragedy struck and changed the city’s facade.
In the wake of the disaster, both men have been making the rounds on Arabic language television and radio stations to talk about the video and their perspective about its aftermath.
Creativity Undefined sat down with Amro to learn more about this enigmatic creator, his thoughts on COVID-19’s impact on the creative community, and what’s next for him.
When did your passion for all things visual start?
It started when I was seven years old. My grandpa was very into this stuff and had a studio on the roof of his building in Amman (Jordan) that was filled with equipment. He also had audio equipment and I was always fascinated by the equaliser and the colours that showed different sound levels.
One day, I decided to use our camera and took photos of my brother. At the time, everything was shot on film. When the roll was developed two weeks later and my dad asked about the images, I thought I was in trouble. But he liked them and two months later, my grandfather got me my first camera – it was a ‘journalist’ style one that came with its own notebook.
That’s lucky! So, what happened next?
I became the ‘kid with the camera’ [chuckles]
I started shooting anything and everything but when my dad told me that film was expensive, I learnt to be more careful about my shots.
I also got a Polaroid camera…I loved it.
Another thing I started getting into was filming stuff. I remember one Ramadan, I made my cousins sing ‘Al Hilm Al Arabi’ [The Arabic Dream]. Ramadan then became my time to shine – I’ve created a video each year since then.
Did you create anything other than the Ramadan videos?
Oh yes. I’d shoot everything that we did during the long summer vacations. I even shot my grandmother for a home “cooking show” – she was making a potato salad with mayonnaise and corn. [fond smile].
I even did an interactive video for my class science project in Grade 11. I created a film of myself making brownies but in a way that I would be interacting with the ‘me’ doing the presentation in class. It was a great hit. [laughs]
People started asking me to do videos and I ended up doing four or five by the time I graduated.
So that means you took film school by storm then?
[laughs] unfortunately, no. I wanted to study that in university in 2005 but there wasn’t anything available so I chose Architecture. But when I was working on my final project when I found out about a new film school, the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts (RSICA). I went on their website and saw that they were accepting submissions. I applied even though I wasn’t sure about it. I was surprised when they called me in and gave me a chance to be one of 20 students they were accepting.
How was it?
It was the best time of my life. I got my Masters Degree there and was excited to learn everything…it was overwhelming but positive. I loved every minute of it.
Film school is filled with people who dream instead of those with DISAPPOINTMENTS. We’re encouraged to experiment, try & fail.Amro Jabri
Any experience that sticks out in your memory?
Once, during a screenplay lesson, our professor decided to switch things up from just learning about it academically.
We shifted to talking to get to the root of ‘us’. It became quite emotional as we discovered the real reasons why we were there and what we wanted to achieve.
When it was my turn, I spoke about my difficulty with reading. Whenever I look at letters, they jump and get scrambled [due to a learning disorder called dyslexia]. I can still understand words and get the gist of them though. I remember things by imagining them.
I had this issue in school too but whenever it was my turn to read, I’d make jokes or be disruptive so it was never really discovered or discussed. Mind you, this was school in the 90s so it might have not been very well known.
Now, I fiddle with my phone when people speak. I don’t do it to be rude; it’s a way for me to process things in my mind.
Wow. So film and photography are a great fit for you. Any other outstanding incidents happen during your time there?
Yeah, in my second year I was working in “Al Roya” TV station when a producer saw me. They wanted to start a youth show so one day when I showed up for what I thought was a meeting, I was suddenly mic’d and given an on-camera test. I ended up getting into a zone and talking passionately about burgers because I love them. Next thing I knew, I was one of the hosts.
Sounds like it was quite an adventure.
It was [laughs]. I really enjoyed my time there. I was there for two years…once, we had a photographer as a guest who was shy on camera.
I finally figured out how to break the ice, which helped relax him, and we ended up having a good show.
I learnt a lot during my time there – how to present, how to be diplomatic, and had more peace with myself. It also helped me challenge myself because I only accepted this opportunity after a producer promised to help me strengthen my speaking and reading skills.
Why did you leave?
I left in 2013/2014 to try my luck in Dubai because it was booming at the time. I ended up joining a communications company for six years before we parted ways recently.
How was that? Any work you’ve created that you’re proudest of?
I was given Ferrari World to oversee several things, including the revamp of their image library. It was a one-year project…I love theme parks so it was a great fit.
I learnt a lot, especially when it came to dealing with a challenging environment because I was put there to ‘fail’. Instead, I gained confidence and recognition for my creativity and work.
What’s the plan now, given that COVID-19 has affected everyone?
Well, I’m doing alright right now because of two things that are happening in parallel: me being in the media and me being a free agent.
I’ve been able to reach out to small businesses who are looking for something alternative. It also helps that I live in a complex that makes it easier for me to reach out and get hired for various projects.
I’m unsure where to go from here, though. I’m still debating with myself whether to continue as a freelancer or start my own business.
Are you currently working on something?
Yes, I’m actually in talks with NYUAD [New York University Abu Dhabi] and hopefully, I’ll be able to do a video exhibition there.
Sounds exciting! What’s the concept?
It’s going to be an AR [Augmented Reality] exhibition where people will be given a link to a specific section that keeps changing so they’ll keep having a unique encounter with it.
Good luck with that. Speaking of creative endevours, what do you think a post-COVID-19 world will look like?
There’s going to be a boom in creativity and creative output because everyone’s going to want to refresh things once this is over.
In the meantime, what do you think creators similar to you should do?
Consider yourself as a client. Start by doing projects to showcase and pitch to brands or potential clients. Start building a portfolio because no one will take your word about your quality unless you have. something to show.
To explore his portfolio, please visit: http://www.amrojabri.com/