Sharjah: Photography is not just an art form but wields the power to change people’s behaviour towards humanitarian issues, Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Council, said.

In an exclusive interview ahead of the Xposure international photography festival, which opens on Thursday at Expo Centre Sharjah, Shaikh Sultan told Gulf News: “Visual arts have a special ability to impact people’s thoughts and behaviour. We endeavour to leverage the festival’s outreach to promote essential humanitarian messages, shine light on the plight our people continue to suffer from, hoping we will all be inspired to influence positive change in the world.”

Now in its fourth year, Xposure, which runs till Sunday, is featuring galleries and talks by world-renowned photographers, workshops, contests, demos and more.

In an email interview with Gulf News, Shaikh Sultan explained why Xposure strongly champions humanitarian issues. “Every project we invest in is tied to Sharjah’s cultural project, that aims to support arts and creativity, as envisioned by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.”

He also opened up for the first time to speak about photography as a personal passion he has been driven by for years.

Q. When did your journey of photography begin? Why are you so attached to it?

My love for the camera goes back to my childhood. I would always be thinking about capturing a moment that got my attention, forever. I thought if I don’t do it, I’d never be able to relive that moment again.

With time, my passion grew into an unwavering belief in the importance of this art form. The unquestionable benefit of using photography as a tool to mobilise causes — humanitarian, environmental, intellectual or philosophical — a picture speaks directly to us.

As I went on clicking pictures and documenting my experiences, I realised that every photographer is essentially a storyteller, who might be the only witness to the moment they capture. A photographer’s creative perspective is unique; cannot be replicated. We see that in the differences between two pictures of the same subject or moment by two photographers. I find it extremely fascinating that the artist’s personality is also captured in the shot they take.

A photo has the ability to convey a deep spiritual feeling, take you on a thrilling adventure or back to a pivotal day in history.

Q. Do you have a favourite photography genre?

One starts out thinking they will be more inclined to one form compared to another, but when I’m there, in the moment and ready to capture it, these consume me completely. Between the allure of the desert and the serenity of the night are unique and strange worlds. I like to capture a clear night sky enveloped by stars, use a special technique that monitors celestial movements to be able to make the most out of my shots.

Sometimes, I place my camera in the desert, and leave it overnight in shoot mode. Night photography requires a lot of effort and time to do justice to. Besides night photography, I enjoy urban photography focusing on shooting the vibe of local life, places of heritage and historical interest, and natural beauty. Every city in the world has a distinct character, which I like to document on my travels.

I have to mention here that nature photography is one of the toughest genres for me. Its mystique and unforgiveness truly drove the message — photography isn’t easy — home for me.

Your situation and surroundings deeply impact the photographer. Many pictures I have taken are of subjects I wasn’t even searching for. Life is full of glorious scenes, events, and emotions, which warrant being seized, preserved, and shared with generations to come. And that’s why a photographer’s eyes can never be idle. They need to be forever thirsty and searching.

Q. How did Xposure come to life?

Through our work at Sharjah Media Council and the Sharjah Government Media Bureau, we dealt with pictures and photographers, mostly photojournalists, on a daily basis. The value photojournalists bring to news, awareness and world culture, the depth of perspective and the extent of professionalism the field demands inspired us to launch Xposure, as a tribute to their passion and their high-quality craft. Arguably, this form of photography holds high importance due to its direct dealings with people. It is imperative to advance it because it impacts our lives.

Today, Xposure is an unmissable annual celebration of every possible genre of photography. For me, and other amateur photographers, the festival presents a one-of-its-kind opportunity to develop our talents, learn from the field’s best, exchange knowledge and share expertise.

Q. Top challenges in Xposure’s journey? Where do you see the festival now?

The main challenge was to design Xposure as a global platform. It meant the scale we were looking at had to literally be all-encompassing and the event had to be good enough for globally-acclaimed photographers and media editors to attach their names to. Marketing the event locally, regionally and beyond was a tough ask and bringing media and experts from around the world to Xposure’s debut edition was equally challenging.

By not deviating once from our core messages of enabling new and continued learning in every single edition of Xposure, creating a space for the appreciation of photography and its various forms, our efforts to maximise public participation by making our festival relevant to all age groups, facilitating their access to vibrant discussions and exchange, Xposure today is the leading event of its kind in the MENA region. We have been fortunate to be in the company of, and hear from the most respected names in the field.