Homemade by Heba Khalifa. Image Credit: Supplied

This is where seconds count. Capturing a moment on camera, you’ve got to be careful; it’s going to evoke emotion either way, but let’s face it, it would be nice to control the narrative. As the person behind the lens you’ve got the power to make it happen — and you’ve got the burden to as well. Fortunately, storytelling is an art one can work on — especially with a little help from the professionals.

Gulf Photo Plus, or GPP, week is a workshop-intense, activity-filled learning curve that can take your collage-building skills to the next level. Ahead of the 15th edition of the annual international photography festival, which runs until February 9 at Al Serkal Avenue, Gulf News tabloid! spoke to Mohammad Somji, co-director of Gulf Photo Plus, about UAE’s great expectations this time around.

Mohammad Somji, co-director of Gulf Photo Plus Image Credit: Gulf Photo Plus

What’s on offer is a change in viewpoint, explains Somji.

“I think people engage with photography on a daily basis, through their social media accounts, by looking at the newspaper, just when they are driving, and it just becomes such an integral part of our lives,” he says. “I think at GPP there’s a chance for people to contemplate or reflect about it in a different way and maybe make it more meaningful, so that it will inform them the next time they see a picture, even if it’s a very elementary picture and that’s the kind of opportunity we want to give people at Photo Week.”

iPhones, DSLRs, Android phones, analogue — it’s more about the thought than the medium.

“At the end of the day, the output is an image. If the image is provoking thought and questioning things that you thought you knew, then that’s what’s fantastic about it,” he says.

Don’t think of a photograph as a two-dimensional image; it’s too restrictive, warns Somji.

“I’ve been intrigued by the ability of photographers to use other mediums to help make more sense out of the photographs of even to amplify the photograph,” says Somji. “I think that photographs combined with text and graphics and sounds and moving images and maps and research can really, really help,” he adds.

It’s all about your story, your narrative.

Highlights from GPP

The exhibitions: some bright stars from the catalogue

Facade to Facade, by Emirati photographer Hussain Al Moosawi.

When: February 4-June 8

This showcase puts buildings under the microscope.

“It looks at buildings in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. He shot them quite close up and it kind of takes away the buildings from their environment and their sight and they are very beautiful images. What he’s done is document all the new buildings so you can see the architectural styles that have happened in the relatively new country and he’s got a big map [to illustrate his point],” says Somji.

The Concrete show

“This year something that we are excited about is showing work at Concrete by seven Arab documentary photographers. Oftentimes, when we see work in this country in galleries and museums, it’s almost always from abroad, and even if it’s from the region, it’s generally very focused on the aesthetic, whereas the Arab documentary programme brings some hard-hitting social issues to the forefront and in a very beautiful and thoughtful way,” says Somji. “The images that you will see at Concrete are complemented by text and maps and research — it’s poignant.”

The works on display as part of The Shortest Distance Between Us: Stories from the Arab Documentary Photography Program are:

- Stranded: On Life After Imprisonment by Elsie Al Haddad: Here’s a look at men and women in Lebanon who try to make the transition from jailbird to society member.

- Intersections by Hicham Gardaf: The changing face of Morocco in terms of society and the reflected personal identity.

- Infertile Crescent by Nadia Bseiso: The flow of water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea through a controversial pipeline gives Bseiso a visual resolution of war and eco-turmoil of the land.

- Live, Love Refugee by Omar Imam tackles the dreams of Syrian refugees.

- West of Life by Zied Ben Romdhane is a romp through the phosphate mining villages of Tunisia and the business’ impact.

- Moon Dust by Mohammad Mahdy. This project from Wadi Al Qamar — Valley of the Moon — in Alexandria, the photographer captures the impact of the financially viable cement factory and the toll its toxic by-product takes on surrounding neighbourhoods.

- Homemade by Heba Khalifa is an examination of what it means to be a woman in Egyptian society.

Other things to do at the festival

Take in a Spotlight talk

These are free-to-attend sessions with the professionals on various aspects of photography including structuring workflow, creating commercial briefs and landscape photography. Limited spaces are available so register ahead of time.

Age no bar

There are four Instax Artist Loft Sessions that are aimed at children aged 6-12. The free-to-attend lessons allow kids to create their own photo journals with paint, stickers, and Instax film at thejamjar at Alserkal Avenue. Registration is required.

Buy your gear — at a steep discount

Check out the GPP Trade Show for a look at the latest in tech, but head to Market Day, on February 9, for all second-hand gear – home to the best bargains.

In numbers

7 exhibitions

7 free to attend Spotlight Talks

26 workshops

12 Fujifilm PhotoFriday sessions, which sees seminars, talks, live demonstrations and panel discussions


Don’t miss it!

Tickets and timings for workshops across the festival vary. Go to gulfphotoplus.com for details.