Earlier this week I attended an exhibition showing the work of photographers, Roland and Sabrina Michaud, at The Empty Quarter gallery in Dubai.
The exhibition was titled ‘A Love without Frontiers’ which references the husband and wife’s lifetime of travel and exploration. Roland, a Frenchman met Sabrina, a Moroccan in the late 1950’s. They then began their photographic journey, which has taken them across Asia. They travelled by foot, car and horseback documenting the people and places they encountered and shared their images with the world via the 23 photographic books they have published.
A collection of the Michaud’s most famous works were on display, depicting scenes from Afghanistan, India, China, Mongolia and Pakistan.
While a few of the photographs were portraits the majority showed people carrying out their day-to-day tasks whether that be work or play.
One of the first things that came to mind when I viewed images was the bold use of colour and the ever so slightly soft focus effect that the prints had. It made me think of Autochrome images I had viewed and read about previously in Robert’s, The Genius of Colour Photography. This alongside the use of shadow and light gave the images a painterly quality and seemed to romanticise the scenes.
A few images which really stood out for me were:
Young Kirghiz girl, (Afghan Pamir), 1971 demonstrates this bold use of colour. The girl’s gaze is focused as she concentrates on her task, possibly sewing or threading. The colour red dominates. It is the colour of her headscarf, jacket, dress and also features in the background, a red and blue tapestry. Although red is usually considered to be an active colour, the girls pose and concentration the overall effect is warm and calm.
In Afghan Dervish, 1967, contrasting colours feature again. It shows a portrait shot of a dervish, an Islamic mystic. The man is elderly and the side lighting emphasises the wrinkles and furrows of his skin. His head is covered with a purple scarf, decorated with a garland of purple ornaments. The man’s eyes are the focal point of the image. The eyes are sharply in focus while the focus softens around the sides of his face and ears. He looks directly into the camera lens with a very intense gaze and this helped me to connect to the picture. I spent quite sometime returning his gaze and wondering what he was thinking. The areas of soft focus also added a sense of calm and quiet to the image.
Playing Sitar in the Shalimar Gardens, Lahore. (Pakistan), 1981 has a more muted colour palette, using pinks dusky pinks and purples. As the title suggests, the subject is a sitar player. The photograph has been taken from a distance and the sitar player, a woman, sits between columns and underneath archways. While framing the woman the archways also add a rhythm for the eye to follow. The soft pink light seems to indicate that it either sunset or sunrise. Again the overall effect is calm and serenity.
Kazakh family life in the Altai Mountains (Mongolia), 1999 shows more activity. The photograph shows the inside a dwelling. It’s walls and floors are covered in an assortment of many different patterned and coloured rugs. The colour red, again, is dominant although there are small splashes of green and orange. A single bed sits in a corner also covered by a patterned tug. Someone stands on the right of the frame, their back to the camera. In the middle of the frame a woman sits engaged in a household task. On the left of the frame a man sits cross-legged, a young boy on his lap. In his hands he holds a ‘guitar’ like stringed instrument that it appears he is playing. The three faces are lit from the side by what looks like natural light. The man is looking towards the guitar, the woman towards her work, smiling. The young boy however, is looking straight towards the camera, unsmiling, perhaps not quite as comfortable as the other family members to its presence. I liked this photograph as it offers a glimpse as to what family life resembles to another family in another part of the world. A fly on the wall perspective.
Overall, I found this exhibition interesting in both a visual and anthropological way. It felt a little bit like a journey as I got a hint as to what the Michaud’s experienced on their travels. It was apparent through the work that the Michaud’s were comfortable in the places they photographed and also that the people they photographed were comfortable with the Michaud’s.
I did wonder as to how working in a photography partnership would work, particularly with one’s spouse. Would they be creative differences? Would there be competition? However, it seems to work for Roland and Sabrina Michaud. There work in equally credited to them both and they are still now, in their 70’s and 80’s, travelling in the middle East and Asia with their camera and their motto:
‘Old age in winter for the ignorant, but harvest for the wise’
The exhibition runs until March 13th, 2014. The majority of the photographs mentioned above can be viewed on the gallery website.