The authentic lens

Our Q&A with photographer and educator Mohammad Ramadan


In a world smothered by selfies, photo shopping and Instagram, Mohammad Ramadan is striving to capture raw moments using his iPhone. He’s been practicing photography for almost eight years and is now a member of the VSCO community though his online photo journal. A passionate science teacher by day from Bahrain, Mohammad has been on three ME to WE Trips with students to Kenya, India and most recently to China. He decided to take to the lens to document their experience in a unique way that he could share with the photography community and those who care about world change. For him, travelling with purpose is the most appealing aspect of a ME to WE Trip because he says he gets to witness his students grow as human beings, serve and become global citizens.

We spoke with Mohammad about his experiences on ME to WE Trips and his most memorable experiences from travelling with his students. All photos were taken well after a relationship was established between his group and the communities he visited.


What do you want people to understand from your photos?

MR: There’s a big gap between the new and older generations. Adults still look down on students and perceive them as too young, as much as we tell them they’re the future. We should be encouraging them by saying, ‘even at this age, you’re able to change things.’ Our students were 14 to 18-years-old, willing to fundraise, travel halfway around the world and sit with kids who have no language in common and try to build a connection—and they did. I think a picture says 1,000 words and I want people to see that kids at a young age can make a change in the lives of other kids and communities on a world level.


What was your favourite moment in China?

MR: We worked with local kids from the community at the school for five days. The first day, there was a group of boys that stood out to be rowdy, naughty and would run around constantly. We paired them with a group of our students that we thought could harness their energy, but the boys just ran circles around them. One student and I decided to venture into their classroom and I watched as she practiced math equations with them on the chalkboard. It was the quietest the boys had ever been. She had connected with them and I told her, she needed to become a teacher because the world needed more like her.


Which photo from your photo journal summarizes the experience the best?

MR: It’s really hard, but I like the photo of one of the local kids on a seesaw with one of my students. The raw emotions, the wall painted with the word ‘friendship’ in the background and the seesaw itself show the connection they’re making. They built that through play and without having to say a word to each other.


How have your students changed since being on the ME to WE Trip? What was their reaction to seeing your photo journal?

MR: Back home, we talked about counting our blessing when we wanted to complain about a First World problem. Anytime a student complains to me, I simply say, ‘count your blessings,’ and they stop for a moment, which is a big change for kids that come from a very small community here. Bahrain is a very tiny island of about 1 million people and half of us are immigrants. They are well travelled but not in the sense that they’ve been immersed in other cultures like they were on a ME to WE Trip.

A lot of them have changed their profile photos to pictures I took and it makes me feel happy knowing they’re appreciated. They took a lot of their own photos on the trip, but they said they were thankful to have my candid shots, instead of selfies and posed pictures. They get that those photos show real, raw emotions that exist for a moment and then are gone.


How was your world view changed since looking through the lens?

MR: I’ve gone through a lot of changes in the last few years—getting married, having a baby—but I’ve always looked at things through a camera lens. I think going on ME to WE Trips has made me realize two important, yet contradictory things: 1) the need to document and capture those tiny but significant moments that can slip away forever and 2) the need to fully immerse yourself in the experience and know when to put the camera down.


As a teacher, what do you advise other teachers do to ensure their students benefit from the experience?

MR: Teachers can get very tense because they’re always thinking about student well-being, safety and health. On a ME to WE Trip, you have to put faith in the facilitators and realize they know better than you because they’re trained in everything. I’ve learned to take a step back and not hover. I also suggest preparing the students ahead of time for the trip. They need to understand what culture shock is. If they’re not properly prepared, it can create a bit of a barrier to the experience.


Do you have plans to practice photography on the side or will you keep it as a hobby?

MR: Both my wife and I are teachers and at some point in our life, I’d like to take on photography full time. It’s a struggle to decide when to give up one for the other, but when the time is right, the signs will tell me.

I really hope the photos I share can relay the emotions that I feel when I’m looking through the lens. The trip experiences are amazing and very organic—not fabricated. When people see them, I want them to realize our world is way more diverse than they think it is. These photos can’t be retaken. They don’t come in a box. For me, photography is one of the elements that keeps the human element alive in your art.


Mohammad Ramadan on his ME to WE Trip to India.