Khaled El-Hage, CEO and Photographer

When I was around 12 years old, I was in a bookstore with my father when I came across a black and white photography book. At this early age, I was only exposed to your typical family photos and all of a sudden, while I was turning the pages of this book, I realized that photography could be something different. I didn’t even think of asking my father to buy the book for me, but from then on I was obsessed with the idea of learning how to go from your typical family photos to something that can be aesthetically engaging and more universally meaningful. I didn’t conceive of it in these terms at that time, but I knew then that there was a path that one can take to produce beautiful images – I wanted to make a few steps on it for my own sake.

My name is Khaled El-Hage. I was born and raised in Lebanon. I moved to France at age 18, studied economics in Toulon and IT management in Aix-En-Provence. I then moved further West to Quebec City, Canada, Graduated with an MBA from Laval University and started working as a software designer and project manager for a company called Silverrun which was a software editor for data and process modelling tools. Six years into this job, I quit and started neosapiens. We celebrated our twentieth anniversary at the beginning of 2019. We do information systems custom design and development mainly for worker unions. We also have a small business unit who works for the Canadian National Defense R&D department.

I’m also, and mainly, a happy husband and a father to two wonderful girls aged 13 and 10.

My life revolves around work and family – whatever time is left, I spend it on photography related activities. There are a few artists whose work I love. They fit in two different categories: the ones whose work is close to mine and the visual artists (not necessarily photographers) who do work I know I will never do. I am inclined to immerse myself more in the works of the visual artists who fit in the second category than the works of photographers who fit in the first one.

I realised through my photographic journey that I am creatively vulnerable. I have a tendency to become too engaged with the works of a photographer whose work is close to mine, and I would start photographing in his or her style. I would get frustrated as I realise that my work looks like Michael Kenna’s, Michael Levin’s, or Hiroshi Sugimoto’s. I’d rather immerse myself in the works of such artists as Salgado, Weston, Monet, and Jean-Paul Lemieux and let them influence my work on a more subtle level.

For my photographs, I use a high end 35 mm gear from Nikon as well as an iPhone 7s. I quickly realized then that it was not about the equipment but rather about the eye and the mind. Some of my best pictures were taken with an iPhone with no premeditation. This being said, there are some limitations that can’t be overcome with lower end equipment but these limitations become a source of creativity as you try to work around them.

As I’m not doing documentary photography, I don’t mind editing my photos as long as it serves a purpose. I do edit my photos with Photoshop to bring up details or enhance tonality. I mainly do what I used to do during the old times of darkroom printing. I occasionally remove some disturbing objects from the image. I usually try to do this during the shooting process, but when I can’t, I take a mental note to do it at the computer.

Cartier, si tu avais navigué…, Québec, Canada. 2018

Familiar landscapes become invisible to the creative eye. Going to new places removes this limitation as one looks at unfamiliar sights with a more mindful mind. I realized, however, that the more you travel to places the more you become mindful of the beauty that surrounds you at home. Most of the images in my portfolio were made in and around Québec City. The picture below, for example, was taken in a location that’s within a five-minute walking distance from my house.

(Two walkers on a bench), Cap-Rouge, Québec, Canada. 2012

Generally speaking, my photographic approach starts with an idea, a place, and a series of images. Each time I start a series, I realize that at the beginning I’m only mindful of the obvious – the further I explore, the more I understand what drew me to the place from the beginning as if the journey to the essence of a place must start with the obvious. The process is one of simplification which repeats itself (within a single session or through multiple trips to the same place under different conditions) until the inherent nature of the landscape emerges.

Most of my series are meditation metaphors. In “During the storm” series, I try to explore the relationship between snow storms and the elements they sweep through and depict this relationship as a metaphor for thoughts that go through the mind and unrest it. I see natural objects or human-made constructions as meditating entities who receive the storm with mindfulness and equanimity and let it pass by without resistance.

Pendant la tempête, étude #14, Île d’Orléans, Québec, Canada. 2018

In my seascape series, I see water as a metaphor for the resting mind. I see drifting ice, mountains, rocks, bridges, traces in the sand as representations of thoughts which emerge in a resting mind: they’re just thoughts. The fundamental idea for me, and hopefully for the viewer, is to reverse the causality stream and obtain internal peace of mind by creating and sharing peaceful imagery.

Silence, Cap-Rouge, Québec, Canada. 2012

There are so many similarities between photography and my work in tech. The most obvious is how to go from a cluttered reality (in a business department, say) to a simplified version of it that is at the right level of abstraction and based on it, build a piece of software that gives the user a clear view of the aforementioned cluttered reality.

Photography has definitely been a benefit to my technological career. It is little known that there is art in computer programming. Not art as in art vs science. Art as a creative process: seeing reality at the most relevant angle, dealing with all kinds of constraints and coming up with elegant solutions. Artists do this all the time, and software designers/programmers do too. Being involved in an art that is recognized as such (i.e., photography) allowed me to not only see the commonality with software design and development, but to accept it as an essential component of the process and to take it into consideration in such areas as task assignments, time allocation, or even conflict resolution.

My advice to anyone looking to take up photography is to start with a breadth-first approach until you find the genre that pleases you the most. Be especially mindful of the joy that is related to the process. Pick the genre that you are eager to engage in regardless of the end result, then stick with it for a while (i.e., a year or two). Finding your vision is hard work; if you don’t enjoy the process, you won’t be able to sustain the effort to produce quality work. If you do, photography will do to you what meditation does to the Buddhist: enlightenment.

There is a French-Canadian expression that says “Tout est dans tout”, everything is in everything. In Quebec, we use it anytime we realize that two things that are not related actually are. Otia’s initiative is great with this regard. We are all connected through our humanness, whatever the passion is outside of technology.

Musician Faces on Rocks, Tenerife, Spain. 2017

To see some more of Khaled’s work, be sure to check the following link:

http://www.kelhage.com/work

 

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