New Beginnings
Announcing the Winners of MEI's Inaugural Digital Photography Contest

The Middle East Institute (MEI) is proud to announce the winners of its first-ever digital photography contest, “New Beginnings.” First prize and $500 were awarded to Bobbie Gottschalk of Washington, D.C.; Second prize and $250 went to Shadi Rahimi of Oakland, CA; and Lamine Bensaou of Algiers, Algeria was awarded third prize and $100.

Launched in June, the contest drew over 400 entries interpreting the theme of “New Beginnings” through a wide range of genres including landscapes, portraiture, and street photography.

The winning photos were selected by a panel of judges including professional photographer Larry Levin, art director Charles Hyman, MEI Board member Anne Keiser, MEI Sr. Vice President Kate Seelye, and Lyne Sneige, director of MEI’s Arts & Culture program. Criteria included image quality, creativity, and adherence to the contest theme.

Six other photographs received honorable mentions and $50 prizes. The photographers were: Aya Alsafadi, Ioannis N. Grigoriadis, Daniel Huang and Theresa Menders, Casey Johnson, Semhal Tsegaye, and Natalie Wisely.

The winning photographers and their images will be recognized at MEI’s Annual Banquet on November 14, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

First Prize: “Palestinian Girls Trying Out Basketball” (Otisfield, Maine), by Bobbie Gottschalk


Second Prize: “Falafel with a Side of Tear Gas” (Hebron, Palestine), by Shadi Rahimi


Third Prize: “Between Two Shores” (Médéa, Algeria), by Lamine Bensaou


Honorable Mention: "The Smallest Hotel in the World" (Shoback, Jordan), by Natalie Wisely


Honorable Mention: "No Distractions" (Amman, Jordan), by Semhal Tsegaye


Honorable Mention: "Dignity" (Souda refugee camp, Chios, Greece), by Daniel Huang and Theresa Menders


Honorable Mention: "Hard Beginning of a New Life" (Istanbul, Turkey), by Ioannis N. Grigoriadis


Honorable Mention: "New and Old" (Chefchaoun, Morocco), by Aya Alsafadi


Honorable Mention: "Buzkashi #3" (Panjshir, Afghanistan), by Casey Johnson



Contest Rules and Submission Guidelines

View 2017 contest rules

The Middle East Institute (MEI) Digital Photo Contest (“Photo Contest”) is open to all professional and amateur photographers who have reached the age of majority in their jurisdiction of residence at the time of entry. Board Members and Employees of The Middle East Institute, as well as the immediate family (spouse, parents, siblings, and children) of those persons are not eligible to enter.

By submitting an entry to the Photo Contest, entrants certify that their participation in this Photo Contest is not illegal or in violation of any law, regulation, treaty or administrative act.

MEI reserves the right to reject any entry if, in MEI’s sole discretion, the laws of an applicable jurisdiction, including but not limited to the entrant’s jurisdiction of residence at the time of entry, would prohibit or limit MEI from proceeding with the Contest as intended.

Furthermore, individuals residing in any “Excluded Jurisdiction” are welcome to enter the Photo Contest and will be eligible to win, but by entering acknowledge that they are ineligible to receive prizes. Excluded Jurisdiction means any country listed on the US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Active Sanctions Programs list available at

The Photo Contest is sponsored by The Middle East Institute, 1319 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20036 (“Sponsor”).

The Photo Contest begins at 12:00am EST on May 8, 2017 and ends at 11:59pm EST on June 16, 2017 (the “Entry Period”). Entries submitted before or after the Entry Period will not be eligible. Sponsor’s computer is the official timekeeping device for the Photo Contest.

The Middle East Institute is committed to increasing knowledge of the Middle East among the citizens of the United States, and to promoting a better understanding between the people of these two areas. For our 2017 Photo Contest, we’d like to know: where do you see new beginnings?

Please not that the subject matter of submissions must pertain to the Middle East, but photographs need not have been taken there.


  • Landscape: Expansive views of dramatic scenes or unusual perspectives of the natural world around you.
  • Portrait: A compelling image that captures an aspect of the subject’s character or identity.
  • Architecture: Show us elements of culture expressed through structure.
  • Cultural/Family Traditions: Share your favorite traditions by showing us what makes them special or unique.
  • Nightlife: Show us an image that captures a compelling, unique, fun, or social element of your city at night.
  • Juxtaposition: Modern and traditional, new and old, familiar and foreign. Be creative and send us your best shot of two contrasting things seen or placed close together.

Note: When photographing the work of others (e.g. street art or architecture), it must be as an object in its environment and not a full-frame close-up of another person's art.

The above categories are purely suggestions for photographers. Winners will be selected from the full submission pool, not per category. Photographers will be limited to five (5) entries total. Each entry must be a single photograph. All photographs should accurately reflect the subject matter and the scene as it appeared.

  • All photographs must have been taken within two years of the submission period. Photographs taken prior to March 8, 2015 are not eligible for submission.
  • Content must not be altered and/or manipulated using Photoshop or any other means (excluding reasonable adjustments). Excessive adjustments to color, contrast, density, or saturation are not permitted, nor should any element be added to or removed from the photograph by any means. Photograph backgrounds may not be digitally altered or blurred; frames, borders, and added text is not permitted.
  • Reasonable adjustments made for the purpose of retouching are allowed. Such adjustments include but are not limited to retouching to remove dust and/or artifacts, cropping, burning, grayscale, and normal color and toning adjustments as long as such adjustments are made with the purpose being to restore or preserve the authentic nature of the photograph.
  • Entries may originate in any format—including, but not limited to digital files, digital prints, color transparencies, color prints, or black and white prints—so long as they are submitted electronically in a .JPEG .jpg, or.png form. Multiple exposures that have been combined to produce a single "High Dynamic Range" image are acceptable.
  • Judges reserve the right to see the original unaltered photograph (file) upon request.
  • Photographs violating these rules will be disqualified and removed from the contest. Judges reserve the right to remove all submissions of a given photographer should one of the images submitted be found in violation of the rules set forth.
  • Photographs captured with non-professional digital cameras (smartphones and/or point and shoot) are allowed provided that they a) meet the requirements for eligibility described above, and b) meet the given specifications for quality.


  • Each image should be rendered as an RGB or Grayscale file. Do not use CMYK.
  • Final individual image size should be at least 10-12.5 inches longest dimension at 250 DPI, or 2500-3000 megapixels longest dimension. Uncompressed RGB file size should be about 10-15 megabytes. File size after compression would be about 2-5 megabytes.
  • Save images as large JPEG files, and use Baseline (“Standard”) under Format Options when doing so.

Entries should include metadata if at all possible.

Previously published material for which non-exclusive rights were granted may be entered as long as you still maintain the right to grant us a license (see "Your Rights" below). You must be able to disclose when and where the photo appeared previously to MEI upon request.

The following submissions are ineligible:

  • Photos that violate or infringe upon another person's rights, including but not limited to copyright and photographs of persons without the necessary consent required by law in their jurisdiction. Waiver requirements vary by jurisdiction, and the entrant is responsible for obtaining a legally enforceable waiver from any photographed subject. You must be able to provide copies of those releases to MEI if selected as a winner.
  • Note: In parts of the MENA region, the electronic distribution of photographs of an individual without their legal consent may constitute a cybercrime. MEI urges sensitivity to the cultural practice of requesting permission to take photos of persons, and reserves the right to request proof of consent for any submission.
  • Photos that contain sexually explicit, nude, obscene, violent or other illegal content.
  • Images that involve putting any individual or property in danger.
  • MEI shall determine entry eligibility in its sole and absolute discretion.
  • Submissions may be watermarked if desired, but the watermark should be inconspicuous enough to not interfere with the judging of the photo. A watermarked photo might not be honored by the competition (at the judges’ sole discretion) if the photographer is unable or unavailable to provide a pristine, watermark-free version of the image when asked.

All images must be submitted through our online submission form, completing all required fields, including name, email and other information about your photo submission.

You may submit a maximum of five (5) entries. MEI reserves the right to reject any additional entries or entries that do not comply with these Official Rules. By entering, you indicate your unconditional agreement to, and acceptance of, these Official Rules and Sponsor’s decisions, which are final and binding.

You cannot win a prize unless you comply with all requirements in these Official Rules. All submissions must be made through the online submission form or they will not be considered.

Entrants may be asked to supplement their submission (such as with a paragraph about their photo or the highest resolution version of their photo) anytime on or after submission.

Photos will be judged on originality, technical excellence, composition, overall impact, artistic merit and subject matter relevance. Judging will be conducted by a panel of MEI staff and guest judges to be selected by MEI at its sole discretion (the “Panel”). The Panel will evaluate all valid entries and select winners.

All judging decisions are final. Please do not contact us about the status of entries or judging. MEI will notify winners via the contact information provided at the time of entry.


Kate Seelye
Kate Seelye is Senior Vice President of the Middle East Institute (MEI), where she oversees MEI’s programs as well as Arts & Culture.

Prior to joining MEI in 2009, Seelye worked as a radio and television journalist covering the Arab world from 2000-2009 from Beirut, Lebanon. She reported on the region for NPR, the PRI/BBC show “The World,” PBS TV’s “Frontline/World” documentary program, and the renowned British investigative television news series “Unreported World.” Prior to that she was a producer for the PBS “Newshour” based in Los Angeles, CA.

In 2004, Seelye was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to research the history of the early Arab-American relationship. That same year, she received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater Amherst College for her efforts to increase American understanding of the Middle East. She is the recipient of several journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for NPR’s team coverage of the war on Iraq.

Lyne Sneige
Lyne Sneige is the director of the Arts & Culture Program at The Middle East Institute. She has over 15 years of experience in international development in the Middle East. Before joining MEI, Sneige was Deputy Director for Lebanon and Middle East Regional Projects Manager for Arts and Culture at the British Council in Beirut. She has years of experience in the arts and culture scene in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East. Sneige spearheaded several initiatives such as the Creative Economy and Cultural Leadership agendas in the region. She is a strong advocate of the important role that artists play in their societies, and for changing perceptions of the cultural sector in the Middle East as an important conduit to social and economic change.

Anne Keiser
Anne Keiser, daughter of the late George Camp Keiser, the founder of the Middle East Institute, has been a member of its Board of Governors since 1990. Ms. Keiser is a freelance travel photographer based in Washington, D.C. From 1972 to 1986 she was a still photographer in the Television Division at the National Geographic Society.

As a freelance photographer, she documented the humanitarian work of famed mountain climber Sir Edmund Hillary, who devoted his life to improving the lives of the Sherpa people in the Everest region of Nepal. She has produced three books on this topic, including Sir Edmund Hillary & the People of Everest.

Ms. Keiser currently serves on the boards of the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the Greater Himalayan Foundation. She is a member of the National Council of the World Wildlife Fund U.S. and the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

Laurence L. "Larry" Levin
Larry Levin has been a photography consultant for over 30 years. He spent his career in the publishing industry as a photographer, photo agent and photo editor. He earned an MFA in Film and Electronic Media at American University. While working on his degree he was a production intern on NBC’s hit show The West Wing and as a set photographer for The Apprentice.

Mr. Levin served as a photo editor for the US Chamber of Commerce from 1986 to 1999, and Executive Director for the White House News Photographers Association from 1997 to 2004.

Currently he continues freelancing as a photographer and photo editor and is an adjunct professor at Trinity University in Washington, D.C. Mr. Levin is member of the National Press Photographers Association and is a past national president of the American Society of Picture Professionals.

Charles Hyman
Charles is a retired art director and previously headed the Book Division at the National Geographic Society. He remains and active designer and is a member of the Cosmos Club.

Except where prohibited, a potential winner may be required to complete and return an affidavit of eligibility, including proof of age, and liability/publicity release within 14 days. If a potential winner fails to return these documents on time, an alternate potential winner may be selected in his/her place.

MEI will publicly announce the winners on The Middle East Institute Photo Contest page and award the following prizes:

  • 1st Place - $500
  • 2nd Place - $250
  • 3rd Place - $100
  • Honorable Mentions - $50

All winners are responsible for paying any taxes and any and all other costs and expenses not listed above, including but not limited to customs fees if applicable. Any prize details not specified above will be determined by Sponsor, in its sole discretion. A prize may not be transferred and must be accepted as awarded.

Your photographs help MEI raise awareness of the arts and culture of the Middle East and its diaspora communities. Thank you for helping to further our mission through your photography.

You will retain all rights to any photograph you submit -- including ownership if applicable.

If your photograph is selected as a winner in the Photo Contest, you grant MEI a 5 year royalty-free, nonexclusive right to:

  • Display the photograph on
  • Allow third-parties to share the photograph on social media.
  • Use the photograph on the Internet and Social Media in support of our mission.
  • Use the photograph in MEI’s internal and external communications materials including but not limited to web sites and web publications, fact sheets, fundraising publications, advertising, multimedia, presentation and membership services, annual report and the Middle East Journal.
  • Provide your photograph to other individuals and organizations for MEI-related use in news stories, newsletters, reports, slide shows, displays, web pages, videos, membership premiums, and the like.
  • Use, in connection with the Photo Contest, your name, city, state and country of residence in promotions and other publications.
  • Retain a digital copy of your photograph that will be archived in MEI’s photo library and accessible to MEI staff via the MEI internal online photo archive.
  • The Middle East Institute will endeavor to credit all photographs with the caption "Person's Name" when the full name is available.
  • Additionally, one large print of each winning photograph will be auctioned at the 2017 Annual Banquet and Conference to benefit The Middle East Institute. MEI does not reserve the right to reproduce any submission for sale beyond the aforementioned event.

ADDENDUM - MAY 15, 2017
A copyright notice with the photographer's name will accompany winning images when used by MEI. Third-party requests for use of winning images will be forwarded to the photographer.

In the event that the operation, security, or administration of the Photo Contest is impaired in any way, Sponsor may, in its sole discretion, either: (a) suspend the Photo Contest to address the impairment and then resume the Photo Contest; or (b) award the prize(s) from among the eligible entries received up to the time of the impairment. Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to disqualify and seek damages from any individual who tampers with the operation of the Photo Contest, violates these Official Rules, or acts in a disruptive or unsportsmanlike manner. Sponsor’s failure to enforce any term of these Official Rules shall not constitute a waiver of that provision. Proof of sending any communication to Sponsor by mail shall not be deemed proof of receipt of that communication by Sponsor. In the event of a dispute as to the owner of an online entry, the authorized account holder of the e-mail address used to enter will be deemed to be the owner. The Photo Contest is subject to federal, state, and local laws and regulations and is void where prohibited.

By entering, you agree to release and hold harmless Sponsor and its officers, directors, employees, and agents (the “Released Parties”) from and against any claim or cause of action arising out of participation in the Photo Contest or receipt or use of any prize, including, but not limited to: (a) unauthorized human intervention in the Photo Contest; (b) technical errors; (c) printing errors; (d) late or undelivered mail; (e) errors in the administration of the Photo Contest; or (f) injury or damage to persons or property. You waive the right to claim any attorneys’ fees and any damages whatsoever, including, but not limited to, punitive, consequential, direct, or indirect damages.

Except where prohibited, you consent to Sponsor’s use of your name in any list of winners (if applicable) and for promotional purposes in any media without further payment or consideration.

You agree that any and all disputes, claims and causes of action arising out of, or connected with, the Photo Contest or any prize awarded shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, and exclusively by the appropriate court located in Washington, DC. All issues and questions concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of these Official Rules, your rights and obligations, or the rights and obligations of Sponsor in connection with the Photo Contest, shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the laws of the District of Columbia, without giving effect to any choice of law or conflict of law rules (whether of the District of Columbia or any other jurisdiction), which would cause the application of the laws of any jurisdiction other than DC.