Telling stories through photobooks

Developing a story through sequence and scale, text and texture is a unique advantage of a photobook as this exhibition reveals

Gulf Photo Plus, which specialises in all things photography, is inviting visitors to browse through a selection of photo books by established and emerging photographers in its latest exhibition, The Photo Book Show. The exhibition focuses on photographers from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA), offering deeper insights into the subjects and issues that engage them and providing a broad picture of contemporary photography practices in the region.

“Photo books give the photographer an opportunity to develop the story not only though photographs, but also through sequence and text, through texture and scale and they allow for an intimate conversation to unfold between the photographer and the viewer. They were once a niche corner of photography, but cheaper production methods have now made it a popular way for photographers to reach a wide audience without an intermediary. In fact, limited edition photo books by prominent photographers have become collectors’ items in their own right. Although there have been numerous international exhibitions devoted to photo books, this is the first one to focus on the MENASA region. Our aim was to show the incredible work being produced here, and to present a selection of photo books that samples different approaches to the medium. It has been a joy for us to see a variety of people spending time with this collection,” curator Miranda McKee says.

The show features over 40 photo books from 13 countries ranging from hand bound experimental booklets by Bon Gah, an artists’ collective in Teheran and simple zines to a 630-page publication, The Desert of Pharan by well-known Saudi photographer Ahmed Mater documenting the changes taking place in the cityscape of modern day Makkah.

Each book tells an interesting story about people and places, the past and the present through photographs and texts that provide details of the concept and background behind the images. Tanya Habjouqa’s photo book, Occupied Pleasures celebrates the defiant spirit of Palestinians through photographs that capture ephemeral moments of pleasure amidst the daily struggles of life under occupation. The images range from a family enjoying a picnic on the beach to a woman sneaking out of Gaza through a secret tunnel to attend a party.

In stark contrast, Majid Saeedi’s, Life In War vividly captures the impact of the never ending conflict in Afghanistan on the lives of ordinary people. His black and white images of victims of bomb blasts, children with amputated limbs, destroyed homes, and shops selling guns and ammunition highlight the terrible situation in a way that the stream of media coverage can never do.

Emirati photographer Jalal Abuthina’s photo books present vignettes of life in old Dubai. They include Dubai Behind the Scenes, Memories of Satwa, Uncommon Dubai and The Best of Dubai Shop Names – a light hearted look at outlets with interesting names such as the ‘Nice Memories Cafeteria’ appearing on the cover.

Reem Falaknaz’s Little Syria is a zine that explores the immigrant experience by highlighting how Syrian immigrants in Sharjah are making themselves at home and preserving their culture through shops and restaurants offering Syrian food, and how the cuisine is being ‘glocalised’ to cater to the city’s multi-cultural community.

Ken Hermann spent several months photographing the flower sellers in the flower market on the banks of the Hoogly river in Kolkata, India. His book, Flower Men features portraits of stoic, rustic men holding delicate lotus flowers and garlands of marigold and jasmine. The surreal images depict a new expression of beauty and masculinity while also speaking about economics, social status, faith and tradition in contemporary Indian society.

The Egyptian section of the show features a dozen photo books on a wide variety of subjects ranging from Egyptian history and politics to abandoned rooms and furniture discarded on the sidewalks of Cairo. Food photographer Yehia El Alaily’s Kitchen Memoirs takes us back in time with an interesting collection of photographs of ancient Egyptian kitchen utensils, and photojournalist Mahmoud Khaled asks questions about the future with his documentation of the political turmoil in the country after the uprising of 2011 in a book titled, Stations.

Lebanese photographer Akram Zaatari’s book, Against Photography, An Annontated History of the Arab Image Foundation includes interesting experiments such as a series of images where he has re-photographed the shadow of the photographer appearing in various negatives and prints in the Foundation’s collection as an attempt to shift the focus back on the photographer.

The photographs for Sanne De Wilde’s The Island of the Colorblind were shot in the remote Micronesian atoll, Pingelap where a large proportion of inhabitants carry the genes for a rare form of acute colour blindness. The people in her portraits are seen with eyes closed or gazing down because they cannot tolerate bright light, and she has used infra-red photography to portray their surroundings as they see them.

De Wilde and other well-known photographers were invited by GPP to share their experiences and expertise in creating photo books as part of a public programme accompanying the show.

The Photobook Show will run at GPP, Alserkal Avenue until August 31.

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