Australian photographer speaks about horrific Egypt arrest

‘We could disappear and no one would ever know’: Australian photographer reveals horror of being jailed in Egypt for a nude shoot in an ancient temple – but says he doesn’t care if he offended Muslims because he did it for ‘art’

  • Belgian model Marisa Papen travelled to Egypt with photographer Jesse Walker
  • The pair were arrested and jailed after they were caught doing a nude photoshoot
  • Walker, from Australia, says he feared the pair would be tortured or shot dead
  • Despite the horrific experience, he says he has no regrets and stands by his art

By Daniel Peters For Daily Mail Australia
Published: 01:01 BST, 17 September 2017 | Updated: 17:58 BST, 17 September 2017

Jesse Walker feared the worst when heavily armed Egyptian military police led him blindly up a set of stairs for a 3 am ‘court hearing’.

The Australian photographer had just spent 12 hours locked up in an overcrowded, putrid cell with Belgian model Marisa Papen.

Furious security guards from the Muslim country had arrested the pair after catching them during a nude photo shoot at a royal temple in Luxor.

‘The court building had no lights on, it was terrifying,’ Walker told Daily Mail Australia.

‘I started thinking: “Are they going to torture us? Are they going to rape Marisa?” We could just disappear in this place and no one would ever know what happened.’

Walker and Papen had travelled to North Africa for a risky shoot at some of the most famous landmarks of ancient Egypt.

The pair had bribed young men patrolling temples in Giza, but ran into trouble when they reached Luxor to visit the vast temple complex of Karnak.

When Karnak turned out to be even more guarded than the pyramids at Giza, Papen and Walker had to think of another plan for their shoot.

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.

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.

Walker said the guards assumed he was shooting pornographic material when he was in fact creating a campaign project for his company Enki Eyewear and Papen’s blog.

‘They thought we were shooting porn because they associate any nudity with porn. They said to Marisa ‘why have you got dirt on your knees?’ he said.

After hours of interrogation, surrounded by men screaming in Arabic and attempting to force them to sign confessions they couldn’t read, they were led to a prison cell.

He said a man ‘covered in blood with a hole in his head’ was wandering around the cell, which was infested with flies, shouting and in a total state of shock.

Authorities refused to tell him how long they would be kept in the cell, with one guard admitting it ‘could be one day, could be one week’.

Papen said: ‘I knew that prison in Egypt looks slightly different than in Belgium or any Westernised country but I had no idea what to expect before actually going in.

‘The first cell we encountered was packed with at least 20 men, some were passed out on the floor, some were squeezing their hands through the rails, some were bleeding and yelling.

‘I had never seen something like this before in real life. Jesse kept telling me, ‘Marisa don’t look’ but there was no way not to look.’

After several hours in horrendous conditions in jail Papen and Walker were brought in front of a judge.

Papen said: ‘We kept playing the role of stupid tourists who had no idea dancing in skin-coloured underwear – on Egyptian ground it wasn’t allowed.

‘Our judge was browsing with his big thumbs through these books that looked as old as the pyramids did.

‘Eventually, he gave us a warning and told us never to do something so foolishly shameful ever again. We nodded simultaneously.’

Back in their hotel room, Walker even managed to recover the deleted pictures off the SD card with special software.

Walker commended the bravery of Papen but admitted the pair would likely never be able to travel back to Egypt after ignoring the directions of the judge to never publish the photos.

‘Maybe I’ll fly back one day … but who knows if there’s a red flag on me now,’ he said.

‘They are so brainwashed (in Luxor), they think everyone is a spy… I’m not sure if I’d ever travel back… not soon at least. They have all our passport details.

He also shot down suggestions he had disrespected Egyptian culture by following through with the shoot, despite knowing the uproar it would cause.

‘We just went in and did our art, and if Muslims don’t like it, or other people don’t like it, it’s just how it is,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘Not everyone is going to like what you do. We meant no disrespect to the culture and to Egypt because it’s a country we both really love.’

‘I’ve got no regrets at all. I do it all for the love of art, the imagery speaks for itself. These are photos that no one else has got, and no one else will get – at least in my lifetime.’