In 2009, the British Council invited Olivia Arthur to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to teach a two-week photography workshop for women. She agreed with the hope that she would also have the chance to make some work of her own. Her photos from that time, as well as two subsequent trips, are collected in her book, Jeddah Diary, published by Fishbar. “I wanted to make a series that would open up some of this strange world to people who don't know about it,” Arthur said via email.
But being a photographer in an ultraconservative country with strict rules on what women can and can’t do could be frustrating, Arthur found. Arthur was once berated in the street by a woman whose photo she hadn’t even been taking. And it was even harder for the students in her class. “They wouldn't all be allowed out by their families to go and shoot as they wanted, but most of them managed to overcome this. One girl took her husband along on her shoots after he finished work,” she said. Arthur said the issue of people being generally suspicious about photography in Saudi was also an issue: One woman was banned from the workshop for taking pictures of her female cousin, and another was arrested for taking pictures out in public.