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How I didn’t get busted for doing a nude photo shoot in Egypt

The short – and boring – answer is that I didn’t try to do one. Not that you would think this is a particularly controversial lesson, but doing nude photo shoots in Egypt might conceivably clash with the local religious and cultural mores and laws – but others do try to push their luck:

A nude model claims she was flung in jail after she was caught posing for a secret photoshoot inside one of Egypt’s ancient temples.

Marisa Papen and Australian photographer Jesse Walker were shooting a campaign for his Sydney-based eyewear company Enki Eyewear, when they were arrested by Egyptian police.

The two had travelled to Egypt for a spectacular photoshoot inside and outside some of the country’s most famous landmarks, reports The Sun.

In a blog post reported by various media outlets over the weekend she claimed she was put in jail and hauled before a court as a result of her nude al fresco outing.

However the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has disputed how accurate the images are, suggesting they may have been faked or taken some time ago, reports Gulf News.

The Belgian model said: “The last two years I have walked wild and free in at least 50 countries. Rarely do I end up in precarious situations. Until April this year, in Egypt.”

Ms Papen, from the Flanders region of Belgium, met up in Cairo with photographer Mr Walker who flew in from Australia to do the shoot.

 

And even though the duo said they were aware of the cultural, political and religious differences between Egypt and the West, the adventure ended differently than they both expected.

During a first photoshoot near the famous pyramids of Giza, the two got into trouble.

They reportedly bribed a security guard to start the photoshoot when suddenly two young men showed up.

Ms Papen said: “I was suddenly completely awake, like a cold shower at 5am in the morning.

“We tried to explain to them that we were making art with the highest respect for Egyptian culture, but they could not see a connection between nudity and art.

“In their eyes it was porn, or something like that.”

In the end, Ms Papen and Mr Walker managed to stay out of trouble by bribing the young men with $25.

After Giza, they travelled to Luxor to visit the vast temple complex of Karnak and shoot pictures with the theme of “dance”.

But Karnak turned out to be even more thoroughly guarded than the pyramids at Giza, so Ms Papen and Mr Walker had to think of another plan for their photoshoot.

They decided to hide in the complex just before closing time and to start with the photoshoot “making pirouettes in Cleopatra’s footprints” after all the other people had left.

Ms Papen said: “But you can guess what happened next. Busted, once again. And yes, this time we were in some serious trouble.”

Four security guards caught the two and brought them “like two beaten dogs” to the local police.

As I reported yesterday, the tourist numbers are down in Egypt by a staggering 50 per cent in the past ten years, which means there are far fewer visitors you are likely to bump into around the country’s major historical and archaeological attractions – it certainly enabled me to take photos of and inside some at certain angles that made them look completely empty. But they are not. And even if there are not as many tourists, it does not mean that there are necessarily fewer locals: the normal police, the Tourist Police (yes, it exists), ticket-sellers, formal guides, informal guides, souvenir sellers, and a significant number of men (always men) who just hang around and you’re never sure what, if any, work they actually do, because the Egyptian public service is one big make-work scheme of, one could say, pharaonic proportions.

Unless there is a group of you, with at least two or three acting as look-outs and to distract the guides and caretakers (“yes, please, explain to me the meaning of this base relief [in exchange for the obligatory baksheesh at the end]”) – and you do have to distract them, because particularly when there aren’t too many other tourists around, at least one will follow you around to try to make money out of you and/or make sure you don’t do anything illegal – while the model and the photographer do their thing, you are bound to get busted by someone sometime. And though almost everyone is indeed bribeable, you wouldn’t necessarily want to count on it, particularly if they carry handguns or AK-47s.

Another trick is to pick less well known – though not necessarily any less impressive – and therefore much less frequented monuments and ruins. Everyone loves the Giza pyramids, and it’s easy to see why, but the chances of being around and unobserved are virtually zero. On the other hand, if you go further down south along the Nile, past the Saqqara complex with its famous step pyramid, all the way to Dashur, you will discover the little visited but no less magnificent Bent and Red pyramids. When I went there last year there were only three other tourists around, all of them climbing up and then inside the Red Pyramid, and no one at all walking around the pyramids, though finding some privacy would have required getting rid of two gun-carrying Tourist Policemen, who asked me and my friend to buy US dollars off us (at a more favourable rate), which would have been one way to engender their good will and make them eventually disappear and leave us alone.

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(Dashur: not a soul in sight)

Likewise at Luxor. Going to the famous and enormous Karnak temple complex – or for that matter the Hatshepsut funerary temple or Habu temple – is a rookie mistake, if you are planning a nude photo shoot that is, otherwise they are great places to visit. But a nearby Ramesseum temple complex was completely tourist-free and when my friend and I visited it a few days ago on the way from Habu temple to the Valley of the Queens. And all it would have taken would be to distract the local caretaker with a few minutes of paid work of showing us around to enable a photo shoot to take place elsewhere in the temple, ahem, unmolested.

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(Habu temple; beautiful but quite popular)

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(Ramesseum, by contrast, completely empty in the middle of the day, except for a lone care-taker whom you can see standing against the far left column of the temple)

The above commentary should not be considered an endorsement of the practice or an invitation and a how-to guide. Have some respect, people – for history and for the locals. There are plenty of other places around the world to get your gear off, preferably in your own privacy. Papen and Walker were ostensibly shooting to advertise sunglasses. Which is why there is only one pair (of sunglasses, that is) in all the photos, which you can see in all their glory here. But one way or another they did get their publicity.

(All photos – except the nude one, of course, copyright Arthur Chrenkoff)

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