Thanks to the advances in modern technology we have become increasingly obsessed with recording and sharing every meaningful and not so meaningful moment in our lives, flooding our world with a constant stream of images. As this visual barrage becomes more ubiquitous, the attention it gets becomes fleeting, making us lose sight of the story and emotions behind each image. Behind the Portrait, the latest edition of the annual community show organised by Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) aims to change this.
This year GPP invited photographers from around the world to submit meaningful portraits along with a note giving the story behind the portrait to encourage viewers to gaze deeper into the life of the subject, and the moment that has been captured. From the over 500 images submitted by photographers based in 35 countries, GPP’s panel of experts has selected images and videos by 37 photographers. These include conventional portraits of people, but also images that push the traditional definition of portraiture, by telling stories about people through objects, places, situations and contemporary issues associated with them.
Australian Fabian Muir’s photograph of a burqa clad figure in a supermarket is from his Urban Burqa series, which highlights the challenges faced by refugees as they try to find a place and identity in their new environment, while also recognising that assimilation requires effort from all sides. Muir began this series in 2014 in Australia, but has now shot the faceless figure in various urban environments to reflect the global nature of the problem. “At its heart, this series seeks to retain a sense of optimism and hope that the better side of human nature will ultimately prevail in a time that is a stern examination of us all,” he says.
Irish photographer Eddie Ryan has portrayed his elderly mother through a picture of an altar in her home, featuring an icon of the Virgin Mary placed alongside an imposing black television and broadband receiver. The evocative image juxtaposes his mother’s traditional upbringing and her deeply held religious beliefs with modern technology that has brought about many changes in all our lives.
Similarly, UAE-based Naila Mahmood seeks to portray her late aunt through the pages of her diary. “I found Sughra Khala’s diary in a pile of old books, and as I opened the dusty, sepia pages, I could sense a real tremor of her presence. On those pages were little stories, poems, drawings, and doodles that are emblems of her personal history, inspirations, memories and longings and invisible but tangible traces of her life — inscribed by her own hands. Through these pictures I have created a public portrait from a private one,” she says.
UAE-based Vidya Kris’s photograph, titled, Who Takes Care of the Nanny’s Children, is part of her ‘Missing Milestones — Mothering Miles Away’ project. The photograph shows Farzana, a Sri Lankan nanny in the UAE, looking at a picture of her own children whom she has not met for three years on the screen of her cell-phone, telling an emotional story of motherhood and separation.
Mexican Griselda San Martin’s equally moving portraits are from a series titled, The Wall, shot in a section of the US-Mexico border fence called ‘Friendship Park’, where families come to see their loved ones through the massive metal wall that separates them. The photographs in the show are of Jose Marquez, who was deported from the United States 15 years ago, and comes to the area every month to see and touch fingertips with his daughter and grandson, on the other side, where US border patrols prevent them from getting too close to the wall. “My goal is to address the issue of the thousands of families who are suffering the tragedy of separation and to show the human consequences of immigration policies,” Martin says.
Other portraits in the show tell the stories of two young acrobats in the famous Jamma-Lafna square of Marrakesh; a poor boy who was sent by his family to work as a camel jockey in the UAE, and found true familial affection from an Emirati family; young women serving prison sentences for fighting back against domestic abuse; and of ordinary people such as a laundry worker, and a chauffeur.
Behind the Portrait will run at Gulf Photo Plus in Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz until October 7.