"There are certain challenges inherent in producing a book on Egypt, and one of the most daunting has to do with the word "bukhra." The story goes that a newly arrived American diplomat in Cairo kept hearing that word over and over, and when he asked a colleague what it meant, was told that it was roughly translatable as "mañana," but without the same sense of urgency.
On my first trip to Egypt in connection with my book, The Egypt Story, I became a bit too familiar with the concept of "bukhra," and I asked the authorities for help in achieving a little more efficiency in my work. They suggested that I send them in advance of my arrival a list of everything I wished to photograph, so that the necessary permissions could be arranged and waiting for me. That I did, but needless to say, nothing ever was arranged by the time I got there. So why, I asked, had I been asked to send the list? Because that attested to their willingness to help! The failure to actually do anything could then safely be attributed to circumstances beyond their control. Not for nothing do Egyptians inject an "inshallah" ("If Allah is willing") into almost every sentence. And they are sufficiently fatalistic that they never believe anyone is coming until they actually arrive at the airport.
As a graduate architect and student of painting, Egypt had always intrigued me. Most of the books I had seen, however, dwelt almost exclusively on the Pharaonic period, and I thought there was a lack of information about other aspects of Egypt's history. Once I began research for The Egypt Story I discovered that the various geographic sections of the country could be conveniently related to various historical periods. Most of Pharaonic Egypt was dependent upon the Nile; the Ptolemaic period was centered in Alexandria; the Coptic monks retreated to the Eastern Desert, where they still remain; Cairo presents both Islamic and contemporary images; and the Western Desert, with its vast supply of fossil water, oil, and minerals, may hold hope for the future. Thus by covering the country's history, one also covers much of its geography.
I found Egypt fascinating on many levels, but the photographer in me was simply overwhelmed. Where else can one find a six-thousand-year visual history that can be captured with a camera? Thanks to its extremely arid climate, much of Egypt's art and architecture has withstood the test of time. Paintings in three-thousand-year-old tombs looked like they could have been painted yesterday. Pyramids and temples have fared extraordinarily well. And there is always the prospect of treasures still undiscovered. It was fortunate for me that I had to eventually return home; otherwise The Egypt Story might have been the book I never finished."