Sharjah: Around 8,000 people visited the Xposure International Photography Festival that ended at Expo Centre Sharjah on Saturday with an award ceremony.
Over the four days of the event, the visitors, who had to follow COVID-19 safety rules, had browsed over 1,500 images by more than 400 photographers, some of whom won the Xposure International Photography Awards on Saturday.
‘Agents of change’
Speaking at the closing ceremony on Saturday evening, Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi, Chairman, Sharjah Media Council (SMC), said: “As the journey of the fifth edition of [Xposure] concludes, the stories behind each picture we saw will live in our memories forever. We learnt so much from these images … We learnt that we all have a bigger responsibility towards the world. We learnt that photographers are noble agents of change.”
He added: “They are the first to witnesses exceptional moments and open our eyes to the world. Their pictures serve as a reminder that change is needed. Their images spur awakening and rally the masses. They push for change to happen. As I explored the exhibitions, I saw that people across cultures have won over challenges. These photographs reaffirmed my belief that the trials humanity faces today will surely pass. We will overcome them, and the outcome of our experiences will reflect in greater resilience.”
The SMC chairman and Tariq Saeed Allay, Director, Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB), honoured the winners of the 2021 edition of the Xposure International Photography Awards at a gala award ceremony. The competition saw 33,187 entries from 125 countries. Hossein Fardinfard was announced the overall winner for his image ‘Blackout’.
The winners in the other categories were Anna Wacker (Architecture), Albert Dross (Drone), Abdullah Al Raese (Junior), Sheng Liu (Landscape), Pedro Luis Saiz (Macro Photography), Alain Schroeder (Photojournalism), Kevin Shi (Portraiture), Zahra Kababian (Short Film), Wei Fu (Travel), and Mohamed Noufal (Sharjah Government open category).
Also honoured at the ceremony were five winners of the 10-day residency programme, Timothy Allen Photography Scholarship Award: Michal Novotný, Kiran Ridley, F. Dilek Uyar, Ata Ranjbarzeydanlou, and Natalia Gorshkova. The award saw 1,600 applicants this year. Additionally, all participants of Xposure 2021 — photographers, group exhibitions and photo societies — whose works were featured in the festival were honoured with participation certificates.
Xposure 2021 launched Gallery X as a permanent exhibition to be housed at Al Majaz Amphitheatre, hosting a monthly exhibition featuring a collection of the works of world-renowned photographers who have previously participated in Xposure. It will also display winning and nominated images from the past editions of Xposure awards.
Xposure, organised by SGMB, showcased 54 exhibitions — 41 solo and 13 group — as well as 21 public seminars and talks; 14 workshops; eight in-focus groups; and 14 portfolio reviews. Xposure’s global #homecaptured photo contest, which ran for six weeks in April — May 2020, attracted 7,803 entries from 83 nations. Sharjah Events, another SGMB initiative, recently launched ‘Sharjah Shines’, an online platform that collates photographs and videos by UAE residents and visitors capturing Sharjah’s attractions. A selection of these works was displayed at Xposure 2021.
Photographers in focus
“Photography is our truth; it is our lifeblood,” said Giles Duley, winner of the prestigious Amnesty Media Award for Journalism, at the concluding Xposure seminar on Saturday. “As photographers, we have a gift of telling stories, and I have been inspired by the many stories shared by world-class photographers here at Xposure,” said Duley, founder of the Legacy of War Foundation, at the session titled ‘The Power of a Story’.
A campaigner for the rights of both refugees and those living with disability caused by conflict, Duley — who lost three limbs following injuries caused by a blast in Afghanistan in 2011, recollected how he was wheeled in for the first of his 37 operations in the UK. He was in a critical and unconscious state with minimal chances of survival, but the words he whispered to his family were “I am still a photographer”.
Duley, who went back to Afghanistan 18 months after his accident, narrated several stories of men, women, and children he has since documented following the return to a full-time career. “By sharing their stories of resilience, love, and laughter — they are the ones who ultimately gave me my life back.”
Another photographer, Paula Bronstein, while presenting her picture stories on the concluding day of Xposure, depicted the hardships of people in conflict zones in South Sudan, Afghanistan, Ukraine as well as the stateless Rohingyas of Myanmar.
“As a photojournalist for more than three decades, I examine the underreported human, economic and political issues to expose silent victims of conflict in a variety of war-torn countries. My series on Ukraine focuses on the vulnerable, fragile, elderly population that is frozen by conflict, trapped in a war, impoverished, and abandoned to survive in dilapidated homes.” Ukraine has the world’s highest proportion of elderly population affected by war.
Bronstein also provided an insight into daily life in Afghanistan through her pictures. “My work in Afghanistan spans around 20 years since the beginning of the war. Most of these stories are hard to tell, but I feel it is very important to tell them,” said Bronstein.
Meanwhile, in her series on the Rohingyas, Bronstein has captured a human flow that has made headlines and prompted condemnation across the globe with an exhibition entitled ‘Stateless, Stranded and Unwanted: The Rohingya Crisis’.
Also on Saturday, photographers Robin Hammond and Muhammed Muheisen, told their stories at a special dinner arranged for all photographers participating in Xposure 2021 at Sharjah’s newest cultural hub, House of Wisdom.
Human rights advocate
Award-winning National Geographic Explorer Hammond founded Witness Change, a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing human rights through visual storytelling, in 2014. On assignment in South Sudan in 2011, he witnessed people with mental health conditions chained and locked up in prisons. “I visited the nearby prison and was shocked to discover dozens of men and women living in the most horrific conditions,” he said. Hammond resolved to use his camera to document evidence of human rights abuses and make a difference to people with mental health conditions. His work has since led him on a mission to end the abuse and the stigma as he chronicled stories of people with psychosocial, intellectual and cognitive disabilities in 17 countries and refugee camps.
A voice for the voiceless
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Muheisen has been documenting the refugee crisis around the world for over a decade and is founder and chairman of the Dutch non-profit Everyday Refugees Foundation. He focuses exclusively on documenting the stories of refugees and internally displaced people. “Nobody leaves their home unless they’re forced to leave their home, and that is what I try to show in my images,” he said. “I show their daily lives and the challenges refugees face. I try to put names and ages because they are not only refugees and numbers, you know. They are people,” he added.
After the session, which included a talk by Duley, the visiting group of photographers was taken on a tour of House of Wisdom, a library that was built to commemorate UNESCO’s naming of Sharjah as World Book Capital 2019 — 2020.