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Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi addresses the opening of Xposure 2021 at Sharjah Expo Centre, today. Image Credit: Ramzan/ Gulf News

Sharjah: The Xposure International Photography Festival in Sharjah raised the curtain today on 1,500 images from 400 renowned and emerging photographers from around the world.

The opening ceremony at Expo Centre Sharjah was attended by Shaikh Abdullah Bin Salem Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah; and Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman, Sharjah Media Council (SMC). Organised by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB), Xposure 2021 runs until Saturday.

The ceremony began with a video highlighting the importance of images, and celebrated professionals who go to great lengths and often risk their lives to open our eyes to the realities of the world.

Searching for the moment

Shaikh Sultan, in his welcome address, praised “the unparalleled struggles of photographers who leave their families behind to face the unknown in search of a moment, which they immortalise through their lenses. Through our examination of modern history, we see the instrumental role of photographs in highlighting the needlessness of war and in alleviating people’s sufferings”.

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Visitors at the Xposure International Photography Festival in Sharjah Expo Centre, today. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

He added: “Other images have helped bring wild species back from the brink of extinction, rallied behind environmental causes, and climate change. Xposure is a celebration of every skilled photography professional in the world who wields their camera to document an event, and in the process, the photograph transforms into one. A picture is worth a thousand words and tells an important story ... Each story has the power to influence change ...”

Photography a tool for change

Among the 51 photographers who are leading the Xposure 2021 programme are Brent Stirton, South African photographer with an extensive history in the documentary world; internationally acclaimed professional travel photographer, writer, and educator, Elia Locardi; and English documentary photographer and writer, Giles Duley. All three delivered a talk at the ceremony.

‘This is why we are wearing masks today’

Stirton looked back on the ten months he spent last year, during which he chronicled the global illegal meat trade. Showing the audience an image of a young hunter in Democratic Republic of Congo with a sack of monkeys, another one of bat collectors ferrying their catch on the Congo river, and a few photos he took of people in America who practise hunting as a sport, passed down to generations. Brent said: “This is where zoonotic diseases come from. This is why we are wearing masks today. We need to create stricter laws against the sale of illegal wild species for human consumption.”

Locardi, who has flown two million miles around the globe visiting more than 65 nations to satiate his curiosity for exploring the unknown, made the first public announcement of his brand new project ‘Moments in Time’ chronicling his travels in motion. “Photography is an element that unites us, that transcends cultures, religion, or beliefs. It has united me with people all around the world. What I would like you all to think about is, photography can be a tool for change, not just for observation,” he said.

Mars photographer

Duley, who lost both his legs and an arm as he stepped on a land mine while on an assignment in Afghanistan in 2011, said: “As a photographer, I was always driven by curiosity. I wanted to know what lay beyond. Yesterday, I watched the news, and a photographer did exactly that. A photographer went to capture images never seen. That photographer was the Probe called Hope.” Duley congratulated the UAE on the incredible achievement of being only the fifth country in the world to have led a successful Mars mission.

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Visitors at Xposure International Photography Festival in Sharjah. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

‘I document love’

Duley went on to share formative experiences he had with three women while documenting the refugee crisis in Syria, Lebanon and South Sudan. He spoke of the amount of hope they gave him despite living in despair. “I go to some of the worst places you could imagine, but what do I find there? I find a grandmother feeding her grandson, I find a father on the floor teaching his children math, I see families who stay together no matter what. I realised I was not a war photographer. I document love, I choose to document not war, but love.”

Tour of exhibits

After the opening ceremony, Shaikh Abdullah was escorted on a tour of the festival, during which he took a look at the works of participating photographers and listened to the human and aesthetic dimensions of each image.

Through the four-day event, Xposure will run 54 exhibitions, 21 panel discussions, ten workshops presented by seven international photographers, 14 expert-led portfolio reviews and ten in-focus groups.

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Xposure is being held this year to support photographers and assert the importance of their work and messages while enforcing precautionary measures, including limiting the number of persons at the venue to 2,000 at any given point, restricting participants at workshops to 20 persons at a time, temperature checks at all entry points, detailed cleaning procedures and strict social distancing policies. The safety protocols being implemented at the venue prioritise visitors’ safety in strict adherence to UAE guidelines.