Feisal Omar

Feisal Omar

Based
Mogadishu, Somalia
Born
Burao, Somalia
Status
Photographer
Camera
Canon 7D, 5D Mark III
“Assignments about daily life and culture in Somalia excite me the most.”

Beat

I mainly cover breaking news and stories of daily life here in Somalia.

One Shot

. MOGADISHU, Somalia. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
A man carries a shark through the streets of Mogadishu.
“I was just walking down the street one day when I came across this man. The picture is really important to me because it is unique, and was recognised with a World Press Photo award.”

Profile

My first proper experience with photos was when I was a student at a media institute in Mogadishu, studying several different subjects including photography and editing. I earned a diploma in photojournalism and a certificate in sociology. I enjoyed and still enjoy the fruits of my studies.

My first photography assignment was shooting pictures of people buying and selling goods in Mogadishu’s main market, Bakara. It was risky because at the time warlords controlled every part of the city and when I went out to do the job, I was almost shot at by a militiaman. In the end I managed to convince him to let me do my work. I learnt from the experience how important it is to talk to people and ask their permission before taking pictures in Somalia. The assignment was good training in photography.

I narrowly escaped an attack while covering an advance by government forces against al Shabaab militants. The Islamists ambushed the car ahead of us and the commander and his four bodyguards and driver died. I was in a minibus that stopped behind the commander’s burning car. When our driver got out, I went out too to take pictures, but the other six reporters and an armed Somali soldier remained onboard. As I attempted to set up my camera, the Islamists fired on us and our driver fled. The soldier swiftly reversed the minibus and swerved with one hand while shooting his AK-47 with the other. I was caught up in the exchange of fire. You cannot imagine how fast I ran for my life into the bushy jungle.

Assignments about daily life and culture in Somalia excite me the most. Cultural photos like weddings and traditional dances entertain, teach me about the history of Somali society and add flavour to my surroundings. These pictures show me life in the place where I live - they are also signs of peace.

I work in different ways when taking pictures of different people. Some people are happy for you to photograph them, while others are unfriendly and armed. I usually smile when I take pictures, and I try to joke with my subjects.

You sometimes have to stay alert to know what you are photographing in Somalia. I once covered an attack by suicide bombers on a Mogadishu court and I entered the building when police went in to rescue people. Suddenly, I saw officers pointing their weapons at each other, asking: “Are you police or al Shabaab?” I was also shocked to see police beating a man in military dress. I learnt that you have to be quick to know who is who: police and al Shabaab rebels can have the same uniform.

Behind the Scenes

. Mogadishu, Somalia. Mohamed Abdiwahab
Reuters photographer Feisal Omar runs to escape fighting between government forces and al Shabaab 60km south of Mogadishu.