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Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Council, during the press conference held at the House of Wisdom library to announce details of Xposure International Photography Festival 2021. Image Credit: WAM

Sharjah: Photographers are front-liners, pandemic or no pandemic, and deserve recognition for their efforts in capturing scenes from extraordinary events, heard a press conference held in Sharjah on Sunday to reveal details of Xposure International Photography Festival 2021.

The comments came from Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi, chairman of Sharjah Media Council, during the conference held at the House of Wisdom library. He added that over the past year, because of global lockdowns and grounded flights forced by COVID-19, people have been able to “travel” to places because of images brought to our screens by photographers. Shaikh Sultan said the main objective of the annual Xposure festival was to celebrate photographers, of all genres, and their work.

Special award

Xposure will launch a high-profile international award for photographers, whose work is sometimes “monopolised” by the publication they work for, Shaikh Sultan said. He added that Xposure aims to highlight the “behind the scenes” work of photographers and, through the award, bring them into focus as talented individuals, who often risk their life in the line of duty.

‘We owe photojournalists’

Shaikh Sultan said Xposure is gearing up to launch a special award for photojournalists with press credentials, in recognition of their devotion to documenting health crises, conflicts, natural and man-made disasters. He said: “We owe much to photojournalists who are relentless in their efforts to offer us a window into important changes taking place worldwide, and who allow us to relate to the varied experiences of people from different countries and cultures. Their work has been far more notable in the past year, since the outbreak of COVID-19 has created unprecedented circumstances globally.”

Festival with a message

Underscoring the festival’s message this year, he added: “Xposure brings us together this year to dive into exceptional visual storytelling by the world’s best photographers. These stories will not be about the pandemic, but about life; they will focus not on social distancing, but on human interaction, celebrating nature, architecture, and the farthest places imaginable on Earth. Xposure is here to engage the global community once again, and reiterate that art isn’t a luxury but fulfils our need to heal.”

Personal passion

Responding to a question from Tariq Saeed Allay, director of Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB), about his personal relationship with photography and what Xposure meant to him, Shaikh Sultan said: “I love photography because it documents the beauty of our world. It is a common language among peoples, and finally, it brings together millions of people from different cultures who appreciate and practice this art. I believe in colours and its effects on our emotions. A world without colours is one without beauty.”

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Tariq Saeed Allay, director of Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB) briefing media on Sunday about Xposure International Photography Festival 2021. Image Credit: Supplied

Extraordinary edition

Ally said this edition of Xposure will be extraordinary. “One of the reasons this edition is outstanding is because, for the first time, the festival is launching an award to celebrate the commitment of photojournalists to document key events, jeopardising their own safety at times. Moreover, this will be Xposure’s biggest edition yet — in terms of the number of photographers, number of images in our exhibitions, and even the number of competition entries. Furthermore, the festival is being staged against the backdrop of profound global changes, in continuation of its committed efforts to support image makers and their projects.”

Event highlights

This year, Xposure, to be held February 10 to 13 at Expo Centre Sharjah, will focus on more than 400 photographers and over 1,500 images, including those in more than 40 solo exhibits (among a total of 54). There will also be over 20 inspirational talks by leading photographers, eight panel discussions on various topics related to photography, 14 workshops, and awards.

Free to attend for all members of the public, Xposure is organised by SGMB. The latest fifth edition is featuring photographers such as Robin Hammond, a visual storyteller campaigning for the rights of marginalised communities; Claire Thomas, a freelance photojournalist covering conflict and social issues; and Luca Venturi, a photographer and author known for his eye for travel and culture, among others.

Photographers visiting

More than 50 of the world’s best photographers whose works will be part of Xposure 2021, are flying in for the four-day festival.

Eight slogans, one festival

Presenting the rationale behind Xposure’s selection of eight different slogans this year, Shaikh Sultan said: “All previous editions of Xposure carried one slogan. This year we chose eight in order to emphasise all the messages the festival has imparted since its inception five years ago. These messages, which have shaped Xposure into one of the most successful photography events in the world, we choose to reiterate this year. Here at Xposure, We Love Photography … We Host Experts … We Support Talents ... We Enlighten Minds … We Believe in Colors … We Celebrate Art … We Come Together … to make life inspiring, engaging and exciting.” All of these messages come together under the eighth slogan, ‘We are Xposure’.

What to see at Xposure 2021

54 exhibitions

Xposure is hosting its biggest edition yet, with 1,558 photographs by 400-plus lens professionals, including contributions from 51 photographers who are attending the four-day festival. These works will be exhibited at 54 indoor exhibitions featuring 41 solo galleries and 13 group exhibitions.

Gallery X

Gallery X, a permanent gallery in Sharjah hosting a collection of the works of world-renowned photographers who have participated in the Xposure International Photography Festival, will be launched at the fifth edition of the festival, which raises curtain on February 10. The curation will also showcase stunning images captured by talented photographers who have won and been shortlisted for the past editions of the prestigious global Xposure Awards.

The first-of-its-kind gallery in the UAE dedicated to the medium, Gallery X pays homage to the development of the art of visual storytelling through the ages. With a permanent exhibition, a merchandise line, workshops and activities that will be held all year, Gallery X is a new cultural spot in Sharjah, which aims to bring UAE residents, visitors, creatives, and the youth a great new opportunity to come together to learn, share and celebrate the gift of image making.

Sharjah Events exhibition

In a bid to celebrate the hobbyist’s artistic eye, the SGMB initiative, Sharjah Events, recently launched ‘Sharjah Shines’ — an online platform, which collates user-generated content, that is, outstanding photographs and videos by UAE residents and visitors capturing Sharjah’s beauty and year-long activities. A selection of these works will be displayed at Xposure 2021.

Competitions

With a whopping 33,187 entries that have poured in from 125 countries for 20/21 edition of the Xposure International Photography Awards, the stage for the hardest fought battle in the competition’s history has been set this season. Winners across all 10 categories of the competition will be announced during the closing ceremony of the festival on February 13.

Xposure’s global #homecaptured photo contest, which ran for six weeks in April — May last year, attracted 7,803 entries from 83 nations. SGMB announced the competition in a bid to offer individuals across the world a way to stay positive and creative amid the lockdowns that were being assumed globally to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Timothy Allen Photography Scholarship Award (TAPSA)

Xposure’s Timothy Allen Photography Scholarship Award (TAPSA) was in high-demand this year with a record participation of 1,600 applicants vying for its prestigious 10-day residency programme. The five winners of this edition of the scholarship are Michal Novotný from the Czech Republic for ‘Faces of Faith’, an exploration of manifestations of faith across the globe; Kiran Ridley from Great Britain for his extensive coverage of an unfolding political crisis titled, ‘Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protests: The Revolution of our Time; and F. Dilek Uyar from Turkey whose ‘In Epicentre of COVID-19’ documents the work of front line workers at the intensive care unit of her local hospital.

Also on the winners’ list this year are Ata Ranjbarzeydanlou from Iran who explores the lives of poor, garbage collectors in ‘Living Among the Garbage’; and freelance Russian photographer Natalia Gorshkova’s evocative tale of people challenging the odds titled, ‘Spin Control’.

21 seminars and inspiring talks

Xposure 2021 will open dialogue and enrich perspectives with award-winning visual storytellers, photojournalists, and emerging photographers coming together to share insights into their techniques and styles. They will narrate the moving stories behind their impactful images through 21 panel discussions and artist talks, focusing around current and pressing themes of female voices in photography, the human — animal conflict, mental health in conflict-ridden nations, among several others.

14 specialised workshops

The fifth edition of Xposure will push on its commitment to nurturing emerging talent in the region by hosting 14 expert-led workshops, which will be delivered from 10 — 13 February in safe environments. These interactive, hands-on workshops will feature instructors skilled in creating targeted learning experiences, across three proficiency categories — beginners, intermediate and advanced.

Portfolio reviews and focus groups

Xposure’s unique offering, the one-to-one portfolio reviews of amateur and professional photographers by international industry stalwarts is back with 14 sessions, which need to be pre-booked on their website https://workshops.xposure.ae/product/portfolio-review/. Aidan Sullivan, Ray Wells, Lars Boering, Muhammed Muheisen, and Timothy Allen, who specialise in varied genres of photography, have been selected by Xposure 2021 to lead these review meetings.

Additionally, eight free-to-attend focus groups will be held across the four-day festival, enabling up and coming photographers as well as practicing professionals to pick up invaluable lessons from international award-winning image makers.

Precautionary measures

Festival organisers are gearing up to host guests and visitors in a safe environment and announced that SGMB will be implementing globally practised health and safety standards to throughout the four-day event. Common areas, workshop booths, the main auditorium and lecture halls will be sterilised the completion of each session in addition to an overnight sterilisation of the Expo Centre, thermal cameras will be installed at all entry points, and hand sanitisers will be made readily available across the festival venue. SGMB has stressed on the need for visitors to adhere to all the precautionary guidelines, maintain safe distance from visitors and wear a mask at all times when they are at the festival.