Mar 03 2016

Dubai Photo Exhibition

by Billy Kung

Today, the question of whether photography is an art form is no longer an issue among art critics, academics, museum institutions, galleries and art collectors. The proliferation of photography exhibitions, festivals, awards competition and workshops, and the ever-present number of galleries showcasing photographers in any one of the major global cities, at any given time, have certainly increased the level of appreciation and awareness for this medium. From March 16 to 19, the first inaugural Dubai Photo Exhibition will join other prestigious photographic events such as the Visa Pour L’Image in Perpignan, Photo Shanghai, Photo San Francisco,the World Press Photo Awards, among others, on the roster of not-to-be-missed photography exhibits within a calendar year.

Organized by the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA), and supported by the World Photography Organisation (WPO), the Dubai Photo Exhibition’s ambitious program will showcase 700 works from 129 photographers from 23 different countries, with the UAE, Morocco and Egypt, representing regional and local presence. While each of the 23 countries’ entries are selected by a curator from their respective country, the final selection falls under the direction of the head curator Zelda Cheatle.

Among some of the highlights from the exceptionally wide-ranging works on exhibit, it is interesting to witness the inclusion of the experimental works of Hippolyte Bayard (1801–1887), a French civil servant who discovered a process known as direct positive printing and who presented the world’s first public exhibition of photographs in 1839. He purportedly invented photography earlier than Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (1787–1851) in France and Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) in England, the two men traditionally credited with its invention. However, Bayard was reportedly persuaded by a friend of Daguerre to postpone the announcement of his findings, thus missing out on the fame and glory. In 1840, Bayard created a photograph “Portrait of the Photographer as a Drowned Man” (1840), posing himself as a suicide victim, to protest against the injustice of giving credit to Daguerre for the invention of photography. Unbeknownst to Bayard at the time, it is recognized as the first political-protest image, and he is considered the first person to ever take a staged photograph.

Other works from the exhibition include: Emirati Ahlam al-Ahmad’s emotive black- and-white images of women masked and unmasked, all seemingly wanting to scream out their inner voices through the print; Egypt Farouk Ibrahim’s intimate portrait of Egyptian president Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat; Indian Ketaki Sheth’s portraits of twins from the series “Twinspotting” (1994–99) that offers a tender and fascinating look at this natural phenomenon; Spanish Cristina Garcia Rodero’s passionate document of her country’s popular and traditional festivities brings both warmth and humor; and from China, Li Lang’s deeply imaginative and touching document “Father” (2010–14), a series of images of his father and his belongings. Each photograph was covered with numbers written laboriously by hand in pencil, representing each day of his father’s 82 years of life which amounts to 30,291 days, according to Lang.

In all, the range in which the Dubai Photo Exhibition attempts to cover, from the very first self-portraits to the works of current contemporaries, perhaps reveals a desire to encapsulate the entire evolution of photography in one location. While it has not been done in such a scale before to my knowledge, it has certainly piqued my curiosity.

AHLAM AL-AHMAD, Global Sensation.
AHLAM AL-AHMAD, Global Sensation.

Billy Kung is photo editor at ArtAsiaPacific.