190919 xposure
Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi with Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi at the inauguration of Xposure 2019 at Sharjah Expo Centre Image Credit: WAM

Sharjah: People trust photos more than words, making photography the global language for recording history and news, the Xposure international photography festival heard on Thursday in Sharjah.

The comments came from Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi, chairman of Sharjah Media Council (SMC), during the opening ceremony of Xposure, being held at Expo Centre until Sunday.

Xposure, now in its fourth edition, is featuring over 1,000 pictures and more than 50 leading photographers across several genres, including war, environment and society.

It is held under the patronage of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, who attended the opening ceremony and toured the exhibitions.

At Thursday’s opening ceremony, SMC chairman Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad told guests — who included members of the public, international photographers and top officials — that photography “transcends language”, needing no translation. He said without photography, both historic and personal moments from life would fade away.

Sultan added that we can write about these events but they can’t replace photos. People, he said, “want proof”, which they see in pictures rather than in words.

The SMC chairman, a photography enthusiast himself, added that news media and social media are flourishing, in large part, because of the work of photographers. He described photography as a medium of “spreading love” and supporting humanitarian causes worldwide.

WEB 190919 XPOSURE ARAMZAN-1-1568903769634
Visitors viewing exhibitons from different photographers on the first day of Xposure 2019 at Sharjah Expo Centre, 19th September 2019. Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

‘Darkest places’

The ceremony also heard from Aidan Sullivan, a photographer who has held senior positions at The Sunday Times and Getty Images. He said photographers put themselves at risk of death, serious injury, torture and imprisonment to go to “the darkest places” on earth – war zones and natural disasters – and bring back images of human suffering, for documentation, news and raising awareness.

“It’s a kind of madness and obsession to carry on… It’s an insatiable curiosity. For most of them, it’s not just a profession, it’s a responsibility,” Sullivan said.

‘Solitary existence’

Photography can also be a lonely job, he added, demanding months on the road alone or waiting silently for days in one spot to capture the right shot of an animal or natural phenomenon. Instead of staying back with family and loved ones, many photographers sacrifice that time for “a solitary existence” to show the world rare images, Sullivan said. Xposure is a platform for acknowledging the work of such photographers, he added.

‘Third narrative’

But working in the field is only half of the work of photographers — “the other half is getting people to view this work”, said Ami Vitale, a contract photographer for National Geographic magazine. She said photography is a “powerful” means of connecting cultures. Her work in Africa, showing the lives of villagers, wildlife and the threat of poaching, deepened her own understanding of those issues as well as viewers around the world. It brought out “a third narrative” of Africa, away from the stereotypical narratives of conflict and safaris.

‘Why should we pay more?’

Ray Wells, picture editor of the Sunday Times in the UK, said it was “vital” to train freelance photographers how to financially survive in a world where viewers expect to browse endless pictures for free on social media. He said their work “is worth paying for”. However, he conceded that young people, like his 22-year-old daughter, feel they are already “paying” by generating huge traffic to social media sites.

Quoting his daughter, Wells said: “That’s our currency. We’re paying every minute of day. Why should we pay more?”