The Middle East gets its fair share of media coverage. That coverage, however, often gives a rigid representation of the region—one which perpetuates stereotypes that don’t paint its entire truth. Everyday Middle East, an Instagram project featuring the work of photographers across the Middle East and North Africa, uses photography to challenge the stereotypes and visual tropes that shape (and misshape) common understanding of the complex region.

We spoke with Everyday Middle East’s founder, Lindsay Mackenzie, about the continuing goals of the project: replacing monolithic reporting with a more well-rounded, realistic reflection of “everyday” life across the region and, in doing so, recognizing the range of cultures that shape our world.

What was the original mission of this project?

“I started Everyday Middle East in March 2014 after having spent the previous two years based in Tunisia working as a photographer (and sometimes contributing to Everyday Africa, the first ‘Everyday’ Instagram project). I was frustrated with mainstream representation of the region in the Western media—the images I was seeing were so far from my day-to-day experience. It should go without saying that every society has an ‘everyday,’ but media coverage of the Middle East tends to edit that out in the process of selecting which stories to tell. I wanted to create a space for photographers in the region to publish photos that showed everyday life—something more than the extremes that media outlets are so focused on.”

A scene from a wedding celebration in Bahrain.

How did you go about connecting with the contributing photographers?

“In the beginning, the photographers who contributed were people that I reached out to because they were active on Instagram and lived or worked in the Middle East. Then, the contributing photographers recommended other people whose work they came across or personally knew, and the project grew. Once photographers are a part of the project, they have access to the account and can post their photos directly to the feed. There is no editor—it’s a collection of individual perspectives.”

“By displaying images from our day-to-day lives, we hope to work against the stereotypes and visual tropes  about the region that are so prevalent in the mainstream media.”

Why, in particular, is imagery so important in communicating the realities of everyday life in the Middle East?

“A photo editor from Esquire, Elizabeth Griffin, put it well. She said that in places like the United States, ‘The visual exposure to non-Western nations has often been delivered in the form of very distinct, very dramatic, very foreign, and sometimes incomprehensible images. While they are important photos in their own right, they tell a specific story—and not one that captures a country or a region as a whole.’ Our project helps fill in those gaps by showing the mundane. By displaying images from our day-to-day lives, we hope to work against the stereotypes and visual tropes about the region that are so prevalent  in the mainstream media.”

Palestinian girls play pool at a café in Gaza.

How do you think Instagram is effective in broadening cultural understanding and reversing common misconceptions?

“New media platforms like Instagram mean that anyone with a phone and Internet connection can take part in changing the representation of this region. For us, one of the most powerful aspects of Everyday Middle East is that our followers can ask questions in the comments, and the contributors (and also other followers) will respond to those questions. You see a lot of learning in those dialogues, where people broaden their understanding of the region and find commonalities that they didn’t know existed. Or you just see people say, for example, ‘I’ve never seen such a photo from Iraq.’”

Why is this type of representation so important, especially in the climate of the world today?

“In reflecting on the importance of the ‘Everyday’ projects, Peter DiCampo (the founder of Everyday Africa) put it well: ‘At times like these, it seems the only sane action left is to elevate the everyday and to use our social media presence as our own barrage of imagery, tearing down the imaginary barriers that separate us.’ It’s not that I believe that the media shouldn’t cover conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, but it shouldn’t cover those things exclusively, repeatedly, and without context. Especially now, in the age of the Muslim ban, it’s all the more important to continue with this project.”

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Everyday Middle East
Everyday Middle East, a collaborative Instagram project featuring work from photographers across the Middle East and North Africa, aims to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about the region using photography as its tool. Scroll through the slideshow for an "everyday" look at life in the Middle East.
Photo by Ali Sharji
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    "We are nice and simple people."—@ali.alsharji
    Photo by Ali Sharji
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    Saudi Arabia
    "Adam, excited to have a new sibling soon, tenderly and carefully hugs his mother."—@photosbyiman

    Photo by Iman Al Dabbagh
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    "Tikrit University in Iraq was largely destroyed in the fight to liberate the city in 2015. Now, on a warm spring day, it feels like any other university, with that end of the year excitement in the air."—@lindsay_mackenzie
    Photo by Lindsay Mackenzie
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    @natnacphotos captured this shot of a man taking a call on his cell phone at the waterfront promenade, The Corniche, in Beirut, Lebanon.
    Photo by Natalie Naccache
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    United Arab Emirates
    People play a Minion game at an amusement center in the Dubai Mall, captured by @natnacphotos.

    Photo by Natalie Naccache
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    Saudi Arabia
    "A typical Middle Eastern breakfast with my mom and daughter in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia."—@photosbyiman

    Photo by Iman Al Dabbagh
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    "A group of men play chess at Shariati Park in Tehran, Iran."—@hanifshoaei
    Photo by Hanif Shoaei
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    "Adventures in Thobes on souq rooftops."—

    Photo by Shaima Al Tamimi
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    "A family in Fallujah, Iraq, outside the home they recently rebuilt."—@lindsay_mackenzie
    Photo by Lindsay Mackenzie
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    "Gazan children practice Parkour on the ruins of buildings that were damaged during the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict."—@wissamgaza
    Photo by Wissam Nassar
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    "Casablanca is a busy city where many things can happen in the same time. To me, it looks chaotic, but also kind of organized at the same time."—@yoriyas
    Photo by Yassine Alaoui Ismaili
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    "A father and son at a photography and arts exhibition in the Art House gallery in Tripoli, Libya."—@abdurrauf.ben.madi
    Photo by Abdurrauf Ben Madi
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    United Arab Emirates
    "Salam Sibai, 20, a Syrian-American Computer Science student and 2nd-degree black belt holder, patiently waits alongside over 6,000 other Karate students. Together, they're attempting to break the world record for the largest Karate Kata performance."—@razanalzayani
    Photo by Razan Alzayani
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    "An Arab woman holds a carton of Sun Top (a popular juice brand) which reads, "The Water of Life.'"—@ali.alsharji
    Photo by Ali Sharji
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    "A Syrian refugee holds her daughter in their home at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. 'We don't have a home and we don't know our future, but for this...we are grateful,' says the mother. She loves this image, shot through curtains that she sewed to make the caravan cozier. 'You can't tell we are refugees, it looks like a normal home window.'"—@habjouqa
    Photo by Tanya Habjouqa
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    "The brothers of a bride take a last selfie with the groom before they all walk in to the ballroom."—@tasneemalsultan
    Photo by Tasneem Alsultan
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    A dinner party in Lebanon, captured by @bdentonphoto.

    See more photos featured on @everydaymiddleeast.
    Photo by Bryan Denton

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