Olivia Arthur: The secret lives of Saudi women

Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur spent time in Saudi Arabia in 2009 and 2010. Her project Jeddah Diary offers a glimpse at lives rarely seen in public.

“What I tried to do is really give people my experience, just to help to explain to the viewer the stuff that was hidden and also the contradictory nature of it all.” From 2009 to 2010, Olivia Arthur photographed women in Saudi Arabia. Some were fully covered up; others allowed her to capture them relaxing at home or dancing at parties as long as she didn’t show their faces.

“That was a great honour for me – that they would trust me and take me into their worlds,” says the Magnum photographer in this video, part of BBC Culture's Through the Lens series. “I tried to understand their desire for privacy and what that meant – what they were OK with me showing and what they weren’t.”

In the end, she argues, the project reveals her own clumsy attempts at comprehending their world. “In a way, laughing at myself for not understanding, or not being able to make sense of what was going on around me, brings a lightness into what is, in part, quite a heavy story.”

Press play to watch the video above.

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