Category Archives: Photographers and Exhibitions

18. Bruno Barbey, A Scorching Beauty

18. Bruno Barbey, A Scorching Beauty

Last month I attended an exhibition of Magnum photographer, Bruno Barbey’s work at The Empty Quarter Gallery  in Dubai.

Barbey (b.1941) is a Frenchman, born in Morocco. He has travelled across five continents photographing numerous world conflicts. However, he does not consider himself to be a war photographer. This exhibition titled, Morocco: A Scorching Beauty shows a selection of photographs that Barbey has created showing his fascination with and love for the land of his childhood.

The first thing that I noticed about the photographs as I walked around was the strong use of reds, oranges, yellow and brown tones that were present it nearly in all of the images. It was shown in various hues on painted walls, fabrics, and wools and in the light cast by the Moroccan sun. The effect the colours seem to generate is of warmth, light, sand and the earth.

The photographs that I seemed most drawn to where composed quite simply.

One of these was Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes. 1985The image show a two wall of a room, painted a pale orange colour. Around 2/3 of the way across the horizontal frame, the two wall meet and at his point sits an arched doorway. The floor of the room is decorated in a black, ochre, green and white mosaic tiles that also skirt the base of the walls. Beyond the tiling extends towards an orange wall in the distance. What really caught the eye is that walking adjacent to the wall is a figure; head bowed wearing a striped djellaba, a long-sleeved hooded robe traditionally worn in regions across North Africa. The figure is framed in the archway and one can only imagine how long it took Barbey to time this shot. I was also really drawn to the way the black and white of the djellaba seems to mirror the black and white in the tiling. As this is the only figure in the photograph, I did begin to wonder who it was, why where they there and where were they going? The figure has his head down and hands clasped behind his back. Both of these actions seem to give a quiet, contemplative feeling to the photograph.

I also found MOROCCO. Village of Maadid, near Erfoud. 2002  to be quite interesting. It shows a figure walking away from the camera wearing a white djellaba. The figure seems to be walking through a tunnel although slices of light intermittently break through gaps in the roof creating a pattern of alternate shadow and light ending in the white-clad figure silhouetted against shadow. The effect is quite striking and I again got the feeling of calm and quiet.

I considered why this would be. Was it the simplicity in the composition of both images or perhaps the long, hooded robe was evoking connotative associations for me of religion, prayer and reflection.

I also really like Avenue Oqba ben Nafi, Essoaouira. 1987, as it was labeled at the gallery. Although, somewhat confusingly, I found the same image on the Magnum website titled MOROCCO. Essaouira. 1987. Women resting along the ramparts. The majority of the horizontal image is taken up with a well-worn wall, painted orange. Two woman, one dressed in black the other in white, sit on the kerb at the bottom left of the frame. The sun has cast the shadow of castle’s rampart diagonally across the orange wall. While the shadow gives us the clue that they woman are sitting beneath a rampart, it is not the shadow but the woman who are the focal point of the image as a small archway of sunlight frames the sitting women. One does wonder why are they sitting there? I also wondered if perhaps they sat in the same place each evening or did Barbey capture a very unique moment in time?

Overall, the photographs tell the story of Morocco as a fascinating place, full of colour, character and traditions.

While the exhibition runs only until April the 17th, further details about Barbey’s work can be found at;

and also at


Wolfgang Müller- Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg

Wolfgang Müller- Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg


On my tutor’s recommendation I looked at the work of, German photographer, Wolfgang Müller. In particular, he suggested he publication Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg (2003) as a good example of narrative through photography.

The photographs tell the story of various groups of Russian children and adolescents who live on St. Petersburg’s rooftops and in the sewers. While the images show how the children’s daily lives are marred with violence, drugs and prostitution they also show the friendships they have formed and elements of their daily routines. Müller captured the series of work over a period of 10 months between 2000-2003.

I wasn’t able to get hold of a hard copy of the book but did find 25 photos from the series on Müller’s website.  

My thoughts

The opening photograph, 1/25, shows the profile of a statue, Lenin with his arm outstretched. He is surrounded by power cables, which run in various diagonal lines across the frame. In the distance we can see the rooftop of one of St. Petersburg’s decorative buildings. I thought this was a very strong opener for the series for several reasons. Firstly, the power cables and the visible rooftop decoration in the background helps establish the setting as being elevated. Secondly, the statue appears to be of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, which also helps the viewer establish a sense of place. Thirdly, the diagonals created by the power cables encourage the eye to move across the image between foreground and background. And last, the one arm raised gesture the statue holds could be interpreted as friendly and welcoming. Overall, I feel as though the muted colours and simple composition make this an attractive image, which contrasts strongly with the content of the next picture.

The second image, 2/25, shows two boys, possibly in their teens, perched on a red-tiled rooftop, next to a chimney. They sit facing each other, one boy injecting a syringe into the others arm. When seeing this image for the first time I initially felt confused by the out of context location of the children, “Are they really on a roof?” Confusion was then quickly replaced by shock as my eye noticed the blue syringe.

Later, when I looked at the images in more depth the terms studium and punctum, which I have been researching recently, came to mind. Roland Barthes, a French essayist and semiologist first introduced these terms in his 1981 book, Camera Lucida. I read extracts from this in Wells (ed, 2003, Chapter One). Barthes describes the studium, a Latin word, as concerning ‘application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment’. He continues by noting that it is by studium that he is interested in many photographs, participating in them culturally, the figures, faces, gestures, settings and the actions. The punctum, Barthes continues, is what pierces or punctuates the stadium. While the stadium belongs to language or culture, the punctum does not. It is personal, an element that grabs the viewer and is poignant.

I considered that perhaps I viewed the first image-using stadium. I encountered the photographer’s intention of establishing place and interpreted the gestures of the statue.However, in the second image the children on the roof provide the punctum. It was not only their location and actions that both confused and shocked but also the boy’s serious, but relatively calm, expression.

The photographs that follow are none less provocative. Amongst other places they show the children and young people in on rooftops, in attic spaces and in sewers. They are seen playing, fighting and interacting as well as participating in drug use and prostitution.

The eighth photograph, 8/25, in the series focuses on two children inside an attic space. Prominent in the frame is a young girl wearing a green coat. She holds a plastic bag, probably containing Karat, to her face as though inhaling the fumes. Karat, referenced in the project title, is the name of a shoe-polish containing solvents that the children sniff. Her left hand is out stretched and holds a cigarette that a young blond-haired boy is puffing on. The boy looks into the camera lens, his face almost expressionless. One imagines that perhaps he has already partaken in the Karat. While shocking, the image on a whole seems very sad and hopeless.

While recording the lives of these children and young people, it was important for Müller not only to show the children as pure victims but also to show the moments of fun and happiness and portray. I feel as though image 22/25 manages to convey this. It shows a kitchen scene where a teenage girl and boy stand, embracing. The girl’s profile can be seen and she is smiling. There is a stove to the right, on which a pot containing food is bubbling away. On the left of the frame we see the edge of a table, holding plates of food. Behind the couple, someone lies asleep on the floor on top of a blanket. We can see affection, food and shelter. On a connotative level this image suggests to me hope. It also suggests the idea that while these children have been failed by corporate Russia they have, in someway, still achieved a degree of happiness.


While I found the content of these photographs to be quite disturbing, I also found them to be very thought-provoking. Müller has portrayed the children as real people, not only just surviving, but also living. Müller brought the children food and shared the photographs he took, however one can only imagine that it was the time and patience he invested that allowed him to gain the children’s trust. Trust that would have been essential to achieve the candid shots.

I read on a fellow OCA student’s blog , who has viewed the hard copy of the publication, that in the book, the photographs are accompanied by text that relays the individual children’s stories. He notes that the text magnifies the impact of the images. With this in mind, I hope to be able to view a hard copy of Karat in order to note the effect that the addition of text has on the overall narrative.

More information on this project and others by Müller can be found on his website.

Wells, L. (2003) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge

Julian Germain

Julian Germain- For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds  of Happiness (2005)

To support the study of narrative and illustration in photography, my tutor recommended I look at the work of Julian Germain and in particular the “For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness” series. He suggested that I could perhaps view the publication at a University Library however as I am currently out of the UK this was not possible. I did however manage to view the images on Germain’s website.

The photographs, taken over an eight year period, capture the quiet, contemplative life of Charlie Snelling, an elderly man living alone in a small house in the south of England.  The photographs show the day-to-day activities of Charlie, such as driving, cooking, walking and gardening. This alongside the domestic settings adds to the idea of a quiet life guided by routines. In the majority of the portraits Charlie’s gaze is directed somewhere off camera and this seems to give the viewer the idea that he is deep in thought.

Peppered throughout the series of work there are photographs from Charlie’s family album that offer the viewer a glimpse of Charlie’s life in years gone past. On the yellowing pages, alongside snapshots from family vacations, day trips and flowers are photographs of Charlie’s deceased wife, Betty. Looking at excerpts from Charlie’s family album feels very personal and helps the viewer to piece together the story of Charlie’s life up to that point.  By taking the time to select a photograph and arrange it in an album, you glean that the subject, time, place or event was significant.

By including Charlie’s personal photographs alongside the shots that Germain took himself he has opened up the series of photographs to a new level of meaning. On a connotative level, the family album has evoked the idea of time, memory, refection and melancholy. allowed me to see a sample of how the photographs were laid out in the book. I noticed that for the family album type shots Germain has chosen to display the double page spread with the scrapbook binding right through the gutter. This seems to make the experience of viewing a family album more authentic.

In term of narrative, Germain has told the story of Charlie’s life is at present and also shows glimpses of what it looked like in the past. The result is a dignified, gentle portrait of Charlie that prompts both emotion and question in the viewer about time, age and family.

More information of Julian Germain and his work can be found at


David Alan Harvey Seminar

David Allan Harvey Talk


As part of the GPP 2014 programme of events, Magnum photographer, David Alan Harvey was in Dubai to share his knowledge and experience. I was lucky enough to attend an event, alongside 300 other people, where Harvey was speaking about his work.


David Allan Harvey began photographing at a young age, having bought his first camera when he was 12. Harvey career has led him to contribute over 40 feature stories to National Geographic Magazine, found Burn Magazine and in 1997 become a full member of Magnum photos.


Harvey began by speaking about how his career in photography came to be.  As a young boy he began photographing his family and neighborhood. He said that initially this was not a conscious decision, simply what was available to him. Harvey stressed that you must ‘incorporate photography into your life’. From this point his interest in family, culture and humanity developed.

When he was 20 years old, Harvey lived with and documented the lives of a black family living in Norfolk, Virginia. These photographs were published in 1966, in his book ‘Tell It Like It Is’. The title, he said, is a reference to photography that observes and interprets life. One of his well-known quotes is:

‘Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like’.

Harvey notes that among his major influences were Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), a founding Magnum member, and Robert Frank (1924-). Both photographers who are known for their documentary approach, both with very individual styles. However, he also gains inspiration from literature, history and art.

Like Cartier-Bresson, Harvey likes to use minimal equipment. He usually opts to use just one fast lens and available light. He aims to be ‘an invisible photographer’, emerging himself in a scene to become an insider. He presented his typical kit to the audience, his camera, casually slung over one shoulder and a sport-type backpack across the other. He also said that he often uses his i-phone camera as this then can connect him quickly to the Internet.

Harvey also confessed that he does not use Photoshop or any other post-processing tool to edit his work. “I don’t have a problem with Photoshop”, he said, “I just don’t know how to use it”. He believes that the technical route he took into photography, he learned film, worked in a studio as a teenager, learnt the Zone System etc., has helped negate the need for post-processing.

Harvey wants his photographs to tell a story. He likes to have a lot going on in his images with the elements juxtaposed in certain ways. He advocates that when using pictures to convey a narrative it is important to print out the images and physically move them around when experimenting with layouts. He notes that no computer programme is a substitute for this and that top magazine editors still use this system to this day.

Harvey talked us through two slide shows of his work. The first showing a range of work spanning his career and the second featuring photographs from his ‘Divided Soul’ projects. ‘The Divided Soul’ projects are based on his extensive work on the Spanish cultural migration to the Americas. He notes that he feels drawn to Spanish culture and that he has undertaken much research to gain more insight. His research concerned, although not limited to history, literature, customs, religion and music. He notes that this helps him to prepare for shooting as he then with highlight keywords that he wants to focus on. This sounded, to me, like Harvey’s version of a Picture Script.


I found this talk both interesting and inspiring. Harvey comes across as being a very humble man who loves what he does. The glimpses of his life and work experience that he shared sounded fascinating. From being in Vietnam as an American at a time when Americans were considered the enemy to racing across the Dubai desert, camera at hand, with Emirati royalty.

I attended this seminar only a day after hearing Joe McNally speak and found it interesting to note their very different, but equally impressive, approaches to photography. While McNally was illustrating the use of hot shoe and off-camera lighting, Harvey talked of working with one camera, one lens and available light. It did make me think that perhaps it is too easy to be overly concerned with equipment and gadgets and that by doing so you could miss some amazing photo opportunities.

More information on David Alan Harvey’s work can be found at

Harvey is also the Publisher/Editor of Burn magazine, an online magazine/journal that aims to provide a platform for emerging photographers both online and in print.

Joe McNally Seminar

Joe McNally Seminar


GPP 2014, the Dubai Photography Festival is in full swing, March 7-14. The event is the region’s only photography festival and brings some of the world’s best photographers and instructors to Dubai to share their experience and knowledge to the Middle East and Africa’s professional and amateur photography community.

As part of the festival I enrolled for a Seminar: Small Lights Made Simple with U.S. Photographer Joe McNally. McNally is in internationally acclaimed photographer with a career spanning over 30 years. His work has included covers for National Geographic, TIME and Newsweek.


McNally began by introducing the programme for the day as beginning with hot shoe flash, moving on to off camera flash, multiple wireless flash, portrait strategies and advanced techniques.

The structure of the day was a live demonstration with McNally’s camera connected to a large projector screen allowing every shot he took to be seen by the audience. At the side of the room a large white sweep was set up and an array of different light stands, flash units, light shapers and models were waiting to be called upon. He also had two assistants.

The Shoot – Using models, professional and from the audience, Joe began by showing the effects of on camera flash and experimenting with bouncing flash to improve the shot.

He moved through the programme as a very quick pace introducing light modifiers, such as umbrella, soft boxes (both large and small), cutters, reflectors, beauty dish and grids.

He talked about feminine and masculine light, opting to use an umbrella to shape the light for a young woman and to use a hard light to achieve dramatic shadows in a man’s face and also dramatic shadows on a wall.

McNally also introduced the use of gels to the flash units. While I experimented a little bit with correction gels, McNally used theatrical gels, which strongly influenced the light and the effect in the images on the large screen.

Nearing towards the end of the seminar McNally had set up a scenes involving as many as five different flash units although he did not that on many occasions he works with just a single light.

While I found the entire seminar extremely interesting these are the areas that I found to give me most food for thought.

What we need to consider about light- Quality, Colour and Direction. While, having completed my light section of this course, I was aware that these factors were important I found it useful to have these summarised do neatly. Recalling these three words will be helpful when planning or setting up a shoot.

TTL v’s Manual- Responding to an audience question, Joe discussed his thoughts on using flash units in TTL mode v’s Manual mode. McNally notes that he will use TTL mode the majority of the time, switching to Manual when TTL fails to give his the results he wants, such as in high contrast scenes. I found this interesting as on many photography forums I have read the use of Manual mode is usually advocated with the implication that TTL is in some way ‘cheating’. However, as McNally notes why make things hard for yourself if you don’t have to. He also noted that if you only have a very limited amount of time to get a shot TTL can save you valuable set up time. He demonstrated use of both Manual and TTL in his shoot.

Shutter speed/flash duration- While the duration of the flash influences the amount of light reaching the subject in the foreground it is the shutter speed that needs to be adjusted to increase/decrease background light.

Multiple flash units- When using multiple flash units you can mix-up TTL and Manual flash mode. Using different modes on different lights. While I only have one flash unit I did find this interesting for future reference.

High Speed Sync- For every f/stop about max shutter speed you lose about ½ your flash power. While I knew the maximum sync speed for my camera/flash was 1/200s I didn’t realise that the fall off in flash power was quite so high.

Start with a single light- McNally stressed that he only ever starts with a single light then builds the lighting as needed. He notes that this is important as if you set up five lights all at once and find out something isn’t working it would be more difficult to find out what light/lights were causing the problem. Very useful advice that could save a lot of frustration and valuable time.

Light positioning- As speedlights are small lights it is very important to have them in the exact position. McNally demonstrated the effect that even the slightest change of light position had to a photograph.


The seminar was at a fast pace and full of lots of information. McNally imparted the information and demonstrated the practical application in an easygoing, informal, entertaining manner. While gaining a huge amount of information, I also found it extremely useful to see the practical side of a photography shoot and found to interesting to note that pleasing results could be achieved with a single as well as a multiple light set up. Following this seminar, my speedlight has become a little less of a mystery and I look forward to using it with more confidence.

More information on Joe McNally and his work can be found here

More information on Gulf Photo Plus and GPP can be found here

Roland and Sabrina Michaud exhibition

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.

‘Rawiya- She Who Tells a Story’ Exhibition

Rawiya- She Who Tells a Story Exhibition

I visited the Gulf Photo Plus gallery space in Dubai recently to view an exhibition by the Middle Eastern Women Photography Collective: Rawiya, which translates from Arabic as, She Who tells a Story.

The exhibition showcases the work of four female photographers from around the Middle East: Myriam Abdelaziz, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Laura Boushnak and Tanya Habjouqa.

The artist each displayed different visual styles and subject matter but showed similarity in that each set of photographs showed simple, human moments occurring within the Middle East region.

I will now outline the theme shared by each of the photographers and some of my thoughts on the work.

Laura Boushnak is a Kuwaiti born Palestinian photographer whose work ranges from conflict photography to pictorial story telling.

Boushnak displayed a selection of work from her  ‘I Read I Write: Yemen – access to education’, series of work. The series is part of an ongoing project documenting women and education across the Arab world. Boushnak’s website cites that in Yemen, 2 out of 3 woman area illiterate and only 13% of girls attend secondary school, resulting from poverty, lack of resources and lack of parental awareness of the benefits of educated woman.

The subjects of her photograph are Yemeni woman, the first in their families to attend higher education, shown facing the camera and involved in daily scenes, such as studying and chores. For me, it was the handwritten text inscribed on the images (that had been translated to English and available in a leaflet) detailing Boushnak’s conversations with the students about their achievements and aspirations that helped to bring the challenges of the woman to life. The photographs documented the determination of these women in pursuing a future beyond that of wife and mother while helping to raise awareness of the work of YERO, the Yemen Education and Relief Organisation. YERO is a non-government organization, which aims to improve access to education for all and to support mothers with training, advice and assistance.

Myriam Abdelaziz  is a French photographer of Egyptian descent. She exhibited from her series ‘Cairo Dances’, which shows portraits of Egyptian belly dancers posed in ornate costumes against a red, studio background. Abdelaziz notes that the portraits document the dying art of belly dancing, as a combination of economic and socio-religious factors have led fewer Egyptian women to continue this historically rich tradition.

The dancers are wearing traditional belly dancing costumes, which contrasted greatly with the abayas, headscarves and veils the woman were wearing in Boushnak’s work. I feel this helped to show the diversity of experience across the region. The photographs showed the woman in a variety of dance poses, which the gallery as having a monumental, almost memorialised quality to them. As Abdelaziz has set out to document the woman I could understand the static, ‘memorialised’ effect. I did, however, think that I would have liked to see a similar sort of image where the poses have more energy to reflect the spirit of dance.

 Tanya Habjouqa  a Jordanian, exhibited her  ‘Occupied Pleasures’ series of work, that aided her Magnum Foundation 2013 Emergency Fund   award.

‘Occupied Pleasures’ explores moments in the lives of Palestinians were there is some respite from the ardorous political and economic situations and people experience lighthearted moments of joy such as family picnics, children swimming and woman practicing yoga.

I found this series of work of particularly interesting possibly because some of the scenes that presented themselves seemed so recognizable as everyday leisure activities, such as two woman enjoying a scenic cable car ride or two men riding on a motorcycle smiling as though not a care in the world. Others though, seemed to superimpose a familiar activity with an unexpected backdrop. Such as the image of the women practicing yoga on top of the rocky hilltops on the outskirts of Bethlehem wearing sweaters and heavy overcoats. This seems to show the determination of the woman to claim their moments of enjoyment in harsh surroundings and weather.

I also liked that these photographs showed a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the people of Palestine that more often than not is passed over by popular press in favour of ‘hard news’.

Tamara Abdul Hadi  was born in the UAE, to Iraqi parents before being raised in Canada.

Abdul Hadi displayed work from her ‘Ramallah, 2011’ project where members of the Palestinian community were offered the opportunity to take a self-portrait. This was an idea she had developed after observing that so many residents of refugee camps in Palestine were being photographed so therefore decided to give these individual to choose how they would be represented.

They photographs show the head and shoulders of individuals of various ages, from young to old, and of both sexes, standing in front of a plain stone wall. The majority of individuals look at the camera face-on with a stoic, deadpan expression although a few of the children offer the hint of a smile.

I did like the basis of the series, that the individuals had control over how they were portrayed and that they were all presented with a similar plain background that would not detract from the portrait, leaving the viewer face-to-face with the model.

Abdul Hadi chose note to catalogue any information about her subjects’ lives, choosing to simply represent them through a photograph. The inquisitive side of me would probably have liked a little bit of information about the individuals involved, a first name, and an age. Although, I do realise not having this information leaves more room for questions and thinking.

It seemed to me at the exhibition that there were only a handful of these portraits on display and it did leave me eager to see more. This led me to Abdul Hadi’s website where, amongst other photographs from the series, there is a short Vimeo video that was recorded at the time of shooting.

Rawiya- She Who Tells a Story is running at Gulf Photo Plus until October 16th, 2013.

Jung Lee Exhibition

Jung Lee Exhibition

I recently had the opportunity to view an exhibition by Korean photographer, Jung Lee at the Green Art Gallery in Dubai. I knew very little about this photographer or her work, other than an article in a local magazine, before attending the gallery. As I entered the gallery my initial thought was that the works on display seemed huge. They measured 170cm x 136cm and were displayed in both horizontal and vertical orientations.

The photographs were a selection taken from a series of neon light installations from her Aporia, meaning ‘coming to a dead-end’ in Greek and her Day and Night series. The neon lights form short statements and messages and sit outdoors within a variety of barren landscapes.

The neon message is the focal point of the photograph. Lee has said she choose neon because it is common and regarded as a cliché, but in her composition she wanted it to become profound, philosophical even.  The messages include statements such as ‘I DREAM OF YOU’, ‘WHY?’, ‘ONCE IN A LIFETIME”, ‘YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU…’, ‘THE END’ and ‘I STILL REMEMBER’.

I briefly thought that the photographs seem like the front of a very beautiful billboard, with the colourful message bearing down on the passers-by. However, this comparison does the works a great disservice as the majority of billboard slogans are instantly forgettable whereas the messages in Lee’s work seem intended to provoke thoughts, ideas and questions, potentially on an individual basis.

Lee explains that while she wants her work to be open to a viewer’s own interpretation, she was inspired to create the Aporia and Day and Night series’ through literature. The Roland Barthes essay, A Lover’s Discourse, influenced Aporia that tells the story of the incompetence of people in love. Lee responds to Barthes’s character that searches on end for signs that he is in love, imagining sweet nothings as glowing neon city signs that express cliché statements. Day and Night is inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, which highlights that true faith and love lead the way to heaven. As a result Lee focuses on the words ‘GOD’ and ‘LOVE’ in her photographs.

The visual links to the idea of love and relationships was clear in the written message. Subtler, I thought, was the use of desolate landscapes as backgrounds for the messages, which Lee has said acts to make the words of love or hope seem more isolated and lonely.

I considered where Lee’s work may sit in relation to the eight categories describes by Cotton (2009) in ‘The Photograph as Contemporary Art’.

I think the works had a feeling of being ‘Something and Nothing’  (Cotton, (2009, p115) in the sense that the neon lights are an ordinary, everyday subject that has been altered conceptually because of the way it has been presented. Light that is usually seen in a forgettable urban environment has been placed centre stage in a rural isolated location.

I also wondered if it could be considered Physical and Material (Cotton, 2009, p219) because Lee combines her photography with installation work?

The exhibition has a few more days to run, ending on October 16th.

Work from the exhibition can be viewed here

Cotton, C. (2009) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (2nd Revised ed). London: Thames and Hudson Ltd

Nestled in Nature

Nestled in Nature

I recently attended an exhibition at The Empty Quarter photography gallery in Dubai. The exhibition is a group showing of work by Beth Moon, Allan Gill and Waleed Marhoum. As the title of the exhibition, ‘Nestled in Nature’ suggests, the theme of the show is the beauty of nature, captured and commemorated although alongside the rise of technology, it is often now not experienced.

The three photographers have combined their very different approaches for this exhibition.

Beth Moon

US photographer Beth Moon has been taking photographs of ancient trees for over 13 years, some of which are over 4000 years old. As she did so she began to learn more about them and found that their numbers are dwindling every year. Her photographs are testimony to the earth’s largest living monuments and her exhibition prints are created using the process of platinum printing. This is a process, which can create prints that could survive thousands of years, like the trees she photographs.

The trees that Moon selects as subjects are far from ordinary and are selected on the basis of age, size and notable history. Many are unusual in shape and design and look almost otherworldly.

One of Moon’s photographs that caught my attention and imagination was Rilke’s Bayon, a black and white photograph from her Portraits of Time series. The scene shows a tall, twisting tree; it’s branches, appearing to reach towards the sky. The trees large thick roots are visible and trail across the bottom of the frame. The tree seems to be rise from the ruins of a structure and it’s roots creep across the ruin appearing to become part of it. The tree appears huge and my eye travelled up and down the length of its trunk. The scene appears almost mythical and the immediate question that sprung to my mind was, where is this place?

The bizarre nature of the scene and the, seemingly, never-ending height of the tree, brought to my mind a series of books that I read as a child, The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. The tree in the book was so high that it reached to the clouds and beyond to magical lands. As I read the books as a child, I had pictured a tree not dissimilar to this one.

More information on Moon’s work can be found at 

 Allan Gill-

Allan Gill, a Canadian, is a semi-retired veterinarian, who has combined his love of nature with fine art photography. With technical assistance from collaborators in radiology and photo manipulation he explores the art of x-ray floral photography.

The work exhibited contained examples from his Colour and White on Black series. The photographs were interesting, showing the flowers as translucent and delicate while the method recorded every detail of their construction. The overall feeling I got when viewing the photographs was that it was all very precise and scientific. Many of the photographs made me think of samples on slides being examined under a microscope. However, that being said, the technology used has captured the flowers in incredible detail that shows their beauty.

More information about Gill’s work can be found at


Waleed Marhoum-

Waleed Marhoum is a Saudi Arabian who began his career as a calligrapher, but in 2005 turned his attention to photography. His work shows landscapes, seascapes and desert scenes shot in the Middle East. I found Marhoum’s photographs to be immensely interesting due to the beauty that the scenes convey and also because I live in Saudi Arabia for over three years and know rom first hand experience that when away from the cities and towns the desert can be absolutely breathtaking.

Desert Style Mahajja Mountain, Saudi Arabia, shows a desert scene with a large, smooth-sided mountain at the centre. The black and white format helps shows the contrast between the smooth rock and the rough texture of surrounding rock. To me, it conveys a feeling of quiet and a remoteness that made me consider that the scene was akin to a lunar landscape.

Edge of the world, Tuwaig Mountains, Saudi Arabia was another photograph which made me immediately think of remoteness and recall the vastness of Saudi Arabia. The black and white crisp landscape shows a rocky mountain occupying the bottom left quarter of the frame, while a very thin, windy road reaches away from this disappearing towards the horizon. The top half of the frame shows a cloud sky that adds some drama to the image.

Marhoum is also exhibiting some colour works, which show the colours of the diverse landscapes and plant life of the region.

More information about Marhoum’s work can be found at


The exhibition is running until October 13th, 2012. More information can be found at

‘Open Wounds’ a group exhibition by George Awde, Rhea Karam, Sirine Fattouh, Rima Maroun and Randa Mirza.

Open Wounds

I recently attended a photography exhibition at The Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai, titled Open Wounds. The group exhibition showcased the work of George Awde, Rhea Karam, Sirine Fattouh, Rima Maroun and Randa Mirza. These Lebanese photographers were born in the years following the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon, in 1975, and grew up knowing only a country devastated by war. War is a formative aspect of their individual paths and instability is a common experience they live over and over.

‘Open Wounds’ make the wounds of war speak without ever showing them. The photographers have selected and captured fragments of lives and cities and have superimposed their lived and present lives in very different approaches.

Awde (b.1980) exhibited photographs from his shifting grounds’ (2011-12) series, which locates itself in Beirut’s interstitial spaces and shows the city to us as estranged images of lives suspended. A photograph, which stood out for me, shows a scene looking out from a window towards a balcony area. There is a figure, a male I think, standing on the balcony with their back to the viewer. The man, wearing a white hoody, stands with his hands holding the railing while his head is bowed. The balcony, the man and the building beyond are blurred due to shallow depth of field but are still identifiable. In sharp focus, at the top of the frame are the remnants of a window blind or curtain. It is brown, ragged and appears to have red markings or stains on it. I found the overall effect very powerful. The man’s posture seems to reflect despair while the fragment of window coverings is evidence of destruction and trauma. The red markings on the blind do not appear to be blood, perhaps instead pen or crayon. However, the red colour, accompanied with the themes of war and despair seems to carry associations of violence.

The colour red also features heavily in the work I viewed by Fattouh (b.1980) from her Rituels’ series of work. ‘Rituels’ was taken in the south of Lebanon in the village of Nabatiyeh in 2006. The Shiite Muslim Community was commemorating by the Achoura the brutal massacre of the Imam Husayn by intentionally mutilating themselves. Fattouh took the photographs while walking with the men as they hit themselves and became drenched in blood, while woman watched proudly.

Fattouh had extracted some of the participants in the ritual and displayed them against large white backgrounds. The men’s clothes and skin were literally drenched in blood and while this, against the white background, created a very powerful effect, which I found unsettling and difficult to look at.

Maroun (b.1983) grew up during Israel’s assault on Lebanon and recalls being bombarded with images of dead children between the rubble. Haunted by these images she decided to make different images which instead of showing a child’s intense eyes, showed children facing away from the camera, towards blocking structures. This would create a visual language that would speak of what the children are nor showing us. One such image, ‘Untitled ‘ (2007) from the Murmures series, shows a young, dark-haired girl, wearing a simple white top and beige trousers. As she is turned away from the camera, we cannot see her face, although it does appear her head is down-turned. The wall she faces is dirty, spray-painted and has peeling paint. The child’s posture appears to be, in part, submissive, in part, fearful. It brought to mind the, hopefully long gone, humiliating classroom punishment of being made to stand in a corner. The deterioration of the wall seems representative of the hardships Lebanon has faced, yet still stands. I, again, found this image unsettling to look at, although not as much as Fattouh’s photographs. I think this mostly stems from not being able to see the child’s and therefore being unable to read her expression or emotions.

Rhea Karam (b.1982) exhibited work from her Breathing Walls/Lebanon’ series of work. Karam roamed the streets of Beirut during 2007-09 photographing wall which she describes as ‘act as windows to the conflicts engulfing their surroundings. In times of strife walls offer a means of communication and self-expression for members of all social and religious communities’. Karam believes walls are storytellers, absorbing and reflecting their surroundings, becoming silent witnesses to our daily lives and battles.

‘Footprints’, (2009) shows a low view of a, mainly, orange coloured wall. The ground in front of the wall is strewn with rubble while brown, dead grasses sit at both the bottom left and right corners of the frame. The wall is scarred with what may be bullet holes. This, however, is not what first draws the eye. Two white shoe footprints have been stenciled on the wall in white paint. The seem to march diagonally upwards towards the top left hand corner of the frame, one foot in front of the other. It is these two points that dominate the composition. I pondered on the significance of the footprints. Where they symbols of progress, or of military presence? Or perhaps they were representative of the great number of Lebanese who, in response to the fighting, were forced into exile abroad? Having an optimistic day, I decided upon the former that the footprints could be viewed as the march of progress.

‘Flowerpots’ (2009) shows an exterior wall with a single window on the upper right-hand side. Karam has included a small section of a gate on the right hand side of the frame which suggests that we are looking at the outside of a home. The wall is, again, scarred, with what may be bullet holes and plaster work is crumbling. The wall is decorated with various examples of graffiti, some fading and others fresher, showing the passage of time. A bright yellow sign is pasted on the wall, with Arabic text and a phone number, an advertisement perhaps? The window is barred and is covered from the inside with fabric and mesh. Attached to the windows exterior is a shiny crescent moon and star, a symbol of Islam. At the base of the wall there sits a row of more than a dozen potted plants, of varying descriptions. This pots they sit in are also varied, from decorative pots, to recycled large cans. The plants add a row of colour to scene and, for me, the greenery and growth add a sense of optimism while the can/flower pots show resourcefulness and resilience.

Overall, I found the premise of Karam’s photographs interesting. It is something that I will bring to mind the next time I see a wall covered in graffiti and/or posters and fliers and ask myself in what way does that reflect the views of groups of individuals.

Randa Mirza (b.1978) displayed photographs from three different series of work.

“La grotte aux pigeons” are black and white photographs depicting young men and boys jumping off Beirut’s coastal cliff facing the notorious arch like “Pigeon’s rock”. ‘La grotte aux pigeons #1” (2003) has a tall narrow frame. At the top of the frame there is a young man captured in mid-air, arms and legs stretched backwards and head and chest reaching forward as he dives towards the water. 2/3’s of the way downs the frame we see a crowd of spectators standing atop of a rock. At the bottom of the frame you can see the back of a boy’s head while he watches the divers. The first thought that came to me when I viewed this photograph was the energy that the scene conveyed. Although there is no motion blur, there is no ambiguity that the man is moving and the eye looks to the empty space below him, anticipating his movement. I also thought of the fearlessness displayed in making such a bold leap. In this photograph and a few others from the series, I noted an entirely male gathering of spectators and divers. This did cause me to consider if the dive was a vehicle for male competitiveness and bravado? I did a little more research on Mirza and noted that this was indeed the case. Mirza notes that

‘the photographs emphasis an exaggerated display of machismo that defines homosocial relations in patriarchal societies. The only woman taking part in the spectacle is behind the lens’. The image also made me think about cultural traditions and how during periods of change, such as the reconstruction of Lebanon after the war, there is a need for some things to remain the same, people rely on traditions and rituals for this.

The ‘Beirutopia’ series of photographs by Mirza captures billboard images and slogans that represent luxury lifestyles that the efforts of reconstruction project. The virtual buildings are framed by their real environment, which reflects the transformations. ‘a charming residential building’ (2011) shows a billboard display of a luxury apartment building complete with shiny balconies and landscaped surroundings. Mirza has cleverly captured the shot in a way that meant that on first glance I did not realise I was looking at a billboard. When I did however, several tears in the billboard poster also became apparent. The tears, seems to add to the idea that I was viewing a fragmented reality and that the illusion of the ‘charming apartment building’ was fragile. In the foreground of the photograph, below the billboard, the real environment is evident and the viewer is forced to note the disparity between the projected and the current reality. The foreground holds two, seemingly abandoned, large concrete barrier blocks splashed with paint, which most definitely do not appear luxurious or charming.

Mirza also exhibited some pieces from her Parallel Universe (2006-09) series, which subscribes to the ‘multiverse theory’. This theory is a hypothetical set of multiple possible universes existing simultaneously. Mirza’s work exposes the coexistence of past and present layers of war and peace realities. She manipulated images from the 1975 and 2006 Lebanese wars to construct images of horror and leisure, challenging he gap between politics and entertainment.

The first photograph from this series I viewed was ‘Untitled 2’, which, on first look, I found confusing. It shows a rubble-strewn street on which a tank sits on the left of the frame. There are four men in uniform, two stand forward of the tank with their hands on their hips, while one leans against the tank and the fourth crouches on top of it. The four men are unsmiling and are all looking towards the camera lens. To their left stands a No Stopping street that sits at a slight angle. To the right of the soldiers an elderly woman stands wearing a long grey coat and a headscarf. She holds a large Jerry can under a water tap that stands at the edge of the road while staring at a point that the viewer cannot see. The tank, the soldiers, the debris and the civilian woman gathering basic provisions all suggest that scene is a checkpoint or roadblock from either the 1975 or 2006 conflicts.

The long gun of the tank reaches diagonally into the centre of the frame and leads the eye to a young, blond-haired woman who has turned slightly to smile into the camera. The effect is confusing and slightly bizarre.

I quickly realised that this was an example of Mirza’s photograph manipulation and the young woman had been added to the original image. This awareness helped me to notice several strong contrasts between the young woman and the group of people behind her. The photograph of the blond woman looks like it could have a holiday snapshot. She appears carefree, smiling, relaxed and raises her left hand to make a peace sign. A symbol, that contrasts sharply with the tank behind her. The soldiers behind have a deadpan stare, their postures tense while the elderly woman appears to have the weight of the world upon her shoulders. The eye is drawn to the brightly coloured red and blue top the young woman wears and I noticed these colours mirrored the colours of the road sign, acting as colour accents against the neutral coloured setting and clothing of the other people in the image. Viewed together the overall scene suggested ‘war tourism’, which is such an abhorrent concept that looking at this image made me feel uncomfortable. However, this demonstrates the power that viewing the surreal rather than predictable can have. This is an image I will remember.

I enjoyed viewing this exhibition and liked that each photographer had a unique take on the topic. No photographs explicitly show scenes of war yet I still found many of them unsettling to view. As the premise of the exhibition was to make the wounds of war speak without ever showing them I found myself looking very closely at the photographs and the visual clues they held in order to consider and interpret their narratives.

The exhibition at The Empty Quarter has now finished but the artist’s work can be viewed and further information gained by visiting their websites.