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Humans of Campbell River: Sarmad AlMouallem

Humans of Campbell River is a collaboration between Destination Campbell River and Bluetree Photography. Showcasing the stories of those who call our coastal community home. Each week we deep dive into a new story and the connections between people and place. This week we’re sharing the story of Sarmad AlMouallem. 

My name is Sarmad AlMouallem, born in Damascus Syria 1987. I am originally from a small town called Maaloula. During school I was focused on basketball and music, and when I was 12 I got my first electric guitar. I fell in love with the English language through music and stand-up comedy.

Living close to old Damascus and being surrounded by art and architecture I felt the urge to document moments I shared with friends and family. Photography was the medium I chose for that. 

I graduated from Damascus University as an electrical engineer with a major in renewable energy. A dear friend Marwan played an instrumental role in pushing me to pursue my true passion for photography. 

Man in front of the camera

Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. In the Middle Ages, it was the centre of a flourishing craft industry, specializing in swords and lace. The city has some 125 monuments from different periods of its history – one of the most spectacular is the 8th-century Great Mosque of the Umayyads, built on the site of an Assyrian sanctuary. I was so lucky to live and study there, elementary to high school.

In 2008 Damascus was chosen to be the capital of culture. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had there,you can hear jazz music all around the citadel Salah el Din. I attended every single event that year with my friends then headed back to our favorite coffee shop or bar to enjoy more time in that majestic place.

In 2011 when war started back home we had a safe place to hang out with friends. It was a little bar in an art gallery basement. Getting there sometimes was really difficult because of the mortar shells dropping around, but the moment we got there and saw each other it was like our own universe away from violence.

Drinking, dancing, exchanging music, hanging art on walls and other simple events like movie night, guitar hero and home cooking night made life feel normal. In 2013 I felt living in that paradox was very toxic for my mental health and I decided to leave the country for the first time.

Man looking at photographs

The moment I found myself through the lens I felt it’s the time to leave Syria. Imagine walking around with a gun became so normal, but holding a camera in public might get you in trouble.

I traveled to the States to meet up with friends and family, and after the destination was Vancouver Island.

I came to Campbell River in 2015 and stayed for a couple of months.
Back then I didn’t know if I would ever have a chance to meet my family again but I decided that I need my dogs to be with me, and my parents helped me to get the doggos to Canada.

I had my husky (Blondy) since she was a puppy, and we adopted (Sniper) the German shepherd after surviving a training school massacre in the suburbs of Damascus, he was 5 years old.

Finding a pet friendly house was challenging, so with the help of a friend from Quadra Island that managed to find me a little cabin there on taku resort,I started the peaceful island life, doing some small jobs around the island, between dishwashing, housekeeping and chopping wood I managed to get my feet on the ground and during I was studying photography online in New York Institute of photography.

Man getting his photo taken.

After a couple of years on Quadra Island I felt it’s the time to try again in Campbell River,my target was the only camera shop in town.  I was already falling in love more and more with  analog photography and I was experimenting with making black and white developers at home using a simple dark room in the bathroom. I’ve learned about coffinol which is an environmentally friendly developer made with coffee ,after feeling confident with the process I tried juice, beer and wine. 

Back then the team in phototech used to send all the film east to Ontario or sometimes to Seattle to get developed. So I offered to start doing films for them as a subcontractor, and got the job. 

So I guess cheap instant coffee can help get you places! I met my beautiful partner in Campbell River art gallery where a Syrian artists show was up for a couple of months at the same period of time…I felt the town was opening up for me. 

In 2019 the owners hired me as store manager and they were on the way to enjoy retirement.

February 2021 I pulled the trigger on buying the business despite the whole Covid thing and here I’m… owner manager of phototech Fotosource campbell river. 

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