Cinematic Journeys: Christian Ghammachi on capturing the charm of the Kingdom through his lens and the eyes of his daughter

Cinematic Journeys: Christian Ghammachi on capturing the charm of the Kingdom through his lens and the eyes of his daughter

The photographer, content creator and entrepreneur spoke to us about how a passion for creativity and a natural desire to explore has led to thriving travel content career
22 January 24

Father, lawyer, photographer, and perpetual explorer, the multi-hyphenated Christian Ghammachi has pivoted from a full-time lawyer to a business-owner and content creator.

He is the founder of Where is This?, a digital content company that focuses on cultivating a community of content creators working with tourism boards and hospitality groups to create immersive travel content, highlighting diverse destinations and experiential adventures.

The visual storyteller shares highlights of his recent travels across Saudi with his 12-year-old daughter Aya and a local boy named Omar – a journey of embracing the unexpected, encountering the warmth of locals, and discovering standout moments at every turn.  

What initially sparked your interest in photography? 

By profession, I’m a lawyer. For a very long time, I studied law and practiced, right up until 2014 actually. But I’ve been passionate about photography and filmmaking forever. I discovered photography at about 18; my father had an old camera and I used it to practice. Ever since then, photography has been a passion that has endured. Over time, my knowledge and love for it grew and grew, until I was encouraged by many to publish my photos in a book and exhibit them.  

Did your father give you any photography advice when you were starting out?  

He used to tell me: “Always focus on the eyes and always pay attention to the background.

Was there a moment that inspired you to turn your passion into a career? 

They say that storytelling inspires people to travel, and for me it’s true. I had just seen a documentary called Long Way Down with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, and it flipped a switch in me. I said to myself: “That’s it, that’s what I want to do.”

At the time, I was living in Cape Town and looking at my next steps, and it was perfect timing. I took six months to myself and travelled from Cape Town to Dubai via Djibouti on a motorcycle, with all my gear strapped to it. As I travelled, I took the time to document my journey – more for myself than anything else. This is how I got into filmmaking. By the time I reached Dubai, I’d decided this was what I wanted to do.  

Tell us more about the moment you knew content creation could be your next career move.  

It took me three years to make it a reality, but during that period, I continued to travel and create content on my trips – and this is where it truly started, with my first film The Adventures of Aya – Iceland.  

I had missed my daughter’s 8th birthday due to work commitments, and to make it up to her, I took her to Iceland, just me and her. We rented a motorhome and spent a week together going around Iceland, and I filmed it. It was just a passion project. I uploaded it and boom! People loved it. I submitted it to film festivals, and it’s since won a number of awards. That’s really when it clicked that we could be onto something.  

Six months later, I took her to Kenya and we again filmed, with no expectations, The Adventures of Aya – Kenya, and again it went down really well with everyone who saw it. This was then followed by The Adventures of Aya – Dubai, which I really put everything into. I learnt as much as I could, and put four months into the film edit. 

Tell us about your shoot in Saudi.  

We visited the Kingdom as part of The Adventures of Aya series and in partnership with Visit Saudi. We started our trip in Jeddah, as Aya was going to explore the city with a boy who is local to the area, Omar. He joined Aya to tour the Kingdom, and so that we could share the perspective of Saudi through the eyes of both a local and a tourist.

We spent four or five days in Jeddah, and then hit the road and drove to our next location – Taif. After that was Al Baha, then Asir, and we finished our trip in Diriyah and Riyadh. We aimed to spend about four days in each location. Of course, when we visited Riyadh, the kids really wanted to go to Riyadh Boulevard! At each location, we had a local guide to show us around and introduce us to the city – and each person was incredible, and so passionate.  

From your travels around the Kingdom, was there anywhere that was quite surprising?  

Asir was the most unexpected; it’s really mountainous, with lots of lush greenery. It was also quite chilly in the evenings, and we had conditions that most people wouldn’t associate with Saudi – like fog, mist, and rain! Although Omar is from the Kingdom and had heard about the area, he had never been to Asir and, of course, neither had Aya. It was lovely to see their reactions and surprise to the weather and the environment.  

We were also surprised by Al Baha. Omar and Aya were mesmerised by the surroundings – playing in waterfalls, hiking in the woods; it was so surprising to find such green landscape in a location that’s often thought of as a desert country. And I think it would also surprise many people to learn and see that Saudi is so much more than an expansive desert landscape. I feel like we only scratched the surface on our travels. 

Was there a moment that stood out on this trip? 

We met many locals who were genuinely warm and welcoming, particularly to Aya, smiling at her, giving her gifts. One man even gave beads to her and said: “On behalf of Saudi, I want to gift you these and thank you for visiting our country.” It was a special moment. The generosity, pride of country, and kindness; it was beautiful and it’s a side of the Kingdom that people don’t really know.  

Is there somewhere you’re looking forward to visiting in the future? 
The Red Sea is another location I can’t wait to explore. A whole untouched coastline of corals and pristine sea, so beautiful. It’s nice that even with all the developments going on in the area, there is also a focus on sustainability and regenerative programmes. 

Did you try any local food? 

When we were high up in Al Soudah, the locals prepared Haneeth – a typical slow-roasted lamb dish made in an underground oven, usually served with rice – for us and the crew. We sat and shared the meal and the amazing sunset with fellow travellers and the locals. It was a beautiful experience.   

Is there a moment from your shoot that will stay with you forever? 

For me, it’s always going to be sitting with the people you encounter, sitting in the moment and photographing, or sometimes not even; just talking to them.  

How do you balance between shooting for personal fulfilment and professional endeavours? 

This is one of the most interesting questions I’ve ever been asked – because this is a real thing for creatives. If there’s something I’m truly passionate about, I’ll just shoot it; it’s effortless, it’s natural, and I’m very lucky that content creation is something I truly enjoy and can earn a living from.   

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?  

If you’re going to shoot somewhere you don’t know, know that your time there is transient; you are transient and unless you create a connection with the locals or truly try to get to know them, you’ll never know the culture or the country the way you want to. In my opinion, making a connection with the local people is the only way to really get to know a place.  

Is there anywhere you’ve visited that has challenged you or changed your perspective?  

My initial journey from Cape Town through Africa was definitely challenging. Not always, but sometimes. And at that time, my interest was in abandoned places and the stories behind them – like hotels, shipwrecks, and so on.  

In Namibia, there’s a shipwreck in the middle of the desert, the Eduard Bohlen. The cargo ship is over 300 metres long and it ran aground in 1909. What’s fascinating is that it now sits surrounded by sand, as the sea receded over the years, and the desert slowly encroached and engulfed the monster of a vessel. However, it wasn’t easy to get to. Due to its precarious location, and with surging tides in the area, no companies would fly and land directly at the ship.  

I spent two days researching a way of getting to the wreck, to see it up close. I found one company that was licensed to drive to it, and I spent 24 hours at the site. Because it’s surrounded by sand, it looks like a ghost ship rising from the desert – it’s really cool.  

Where’s next on your list for exploring?  

We’re bringing The Adventures of Aya to Europe, and we’re going skiing!