Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed tours the Xposure gallery in Sharjah.
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah and Chairman of the Sharjah Media Council (SMC), witnessed the opening of the 7th edition of the Xposure International Photography Festival, at the Expo Centre Sharjah. Organised by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB), the festival is hosting its biggest-ever edition this year with over 100 leading photographers participating from around the world, alongside 68 spectacular solo and group exhibitions comprising 1,794 photos.
The welcoming keynote at the opening ceremony was delivered by Tariq Saeed Allay, Director General, SGMB, who spoke about the powerful role of photography in breaking stereotypes that lead to wrong and inaccurate perceptions in society about people, countries and events. He illustrated his statement with an awe-inspiring image of an equestrian on his horse at a beautiful beach, which no one in the audience could have imagined was in Palestine, due to the harsh and dreary global image that persists about the country.
“Studying images deepens our understanding of facts and reminds us that beauty can be found even in the most challenging circumstances. Beauty is everywhere around us and our mission is to see it, live it and appreciate it. The message we aim to convey at Xposure is that photographs stir emotions and rectify perceptions while guiding our priorities as human beings”, noted Allay.
“Since its inception, this festival has been serving as a reminder that beauty exists amid chaos, and what makes our journey sustainable is Sharjah’s unwavering vision and commitment. And also the fact that all of you join us every year to be enthusiastic global messengers of art, entertainment and creativity. Our collective resolve to utilise this medium as a promoter of noble values is what brings us closer to our objectives. We support responsible creativity that benefits humanity, preserves our ability to inspire, and instil a sense of security and hope in our hearts,” he added.
Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, the Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, attended the opening ceremony, which heard from acclaimed photographers such as Dan Winters from Southern California, self-taught American photographer Karen Zusman, James Balog who has turned the spotlight on pressing global issues throughout his 40-year career as a photojournalist.
Dan Winters: ‘Photography has taken me places’
“I began photographing when I was a boy and started with newspapers and magazines because I grew up with picture magazines. During my Apollo 11 capsule project, I was shooting the space landings but we went over budget. My editor at the National Geographic Magazine said something that resonates with me to this day: ‘How do we expect our readers to take the journey if we don’t take it ourselves?’
Winters added: “Photography will be 200 years old in the next three years. Roughly 50 billion images are made every year now, as phones have become image-making machines. I’m interested to see where all this goes and whether it impacts photography’s key role of documenting.”
The portrait photographer who showed Xposure 2023 audiences his masterful captures of the likes of sports legend Michael B. Jordan, actors Leonardo di Caprio, Angelina Jolie and other Hollywood A-listers alongside US Presidents, pointed out: “While I enjoyed these projects, my real passion has always been in space photography. Photography has taken me places as I would have never imagined to be part of the Apollo mission starting age 7.”
Karen Zusman: ‘To become an effective storyteller I needed to be a photographer’
“I came to photography later in life”, photographer Karen Zusman said, noting that writing poetry and her meditation practice took her to Myanmar where she witnessed the horrendous incidents of little children being trafficked illegally into child labour.
While looking for ways to turn global attention to this, the self-taught photographer realised she needed to visually document the same. “To become an effective storyteller I needed to be a photographer”.
Zusman’s powerful photography in highlighting the plight of these children working in Myanmar brought education to them.
Her next project was in Cuba, in the midst of which she was stuck in the US due to the Coronavirus pandemic. While in the US, she joined the #blacklivesmatter movement in New York’s Bronx area following the death of Geroge Floyd, and found herself photographing children in predominantly black neighbourhoods.
From there came about the birth of her globally acclaimed ‘Superpower of Me’ Project in which she photographs striking portraits of children at various beaches and offers poetry writing lessons to her young subjects who then write poems about the superpowers they have. The photographer is going to lead this project in Zanzibar, Tanzania, next with a smaller group of children.
James Balog: ‘Climate Change is not an abstraction’
James Balog stressed that today’s world has a surplus of information and a deficit of attention, emphasising, “as photographers, we can utilise our perceptual process to help people pay attention through captivating visual storytelling”.
He also spoke about the unique and delicate connection between humans and nature as he sifted through his striking archive of nature-inspired photographs. The Earth Sciences major turned the audience’s attention to a phenomena called ‘Human Techtonics’, saying “humans are capable of altering the structure of the earth’s crust, not just earthquakes and volcanoes, as we are going through what NASA calls ‘Earth Fever’. In the past 20 years, the average temperature of the earth has increased 1 degree Celsius each year, and more in some areas. So, Climate Change is not an abstraction.”
The photographer presented stark visual evidence through timelapse videos shot between 2007 – 2022 of glaciers in Iceland and Canada that have melted considerably, sending more waters into oceans, elevating sea levels and making hurricanes and floods more devastating than ever.
After the conclusion of the opening ceremony, the Deputy Ruler of Sharjah went on a guided tour of the festival, saw the exhibitions and met with the photographers behind them who offered a detailed explanation of their creative process. He was also familiarised with the technical aspects of the images.
The Deputy Ruler of Sharjah continued the tour, visiting pavilions of the trade show exhibitors and sponsoring agencies, who have been supporting young photographers through various events and initiatives.
What to expect at Xposure 2023
A source of inspiration for both amateur and professional photographers, the Xposure agenda includes 41 seminars and panel discussions with leading photographers, as well as edutainment events hosted at “Stage X” to boost visitors’ engagement with the festival. Moreover, 63 workshops will enable photography enthusiasts to acquire additional skill-sets and expertise in clicking photographs under different circumstances and at various places, utilising advanced technologies and drawing from the expertise of seasoned photographers, their travels and experiences in diverse types of photography.
One of the festival’s key events is the Conservation Summit, which focuses on Climate Change and the role of photography in documenting it on our planet. The festival also includes a Photo Fair for art collectors, book signings, awards ceremony, and a trade show that highlights the latest photography equipment and tools that help photography enthusiasts and adventurers to create their projects with innovative technologies that meet various photography purposes.
Alongside the Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, the opening ceremony was attended by the emirate’s leading officials including Sheikh Saud bin Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Digital Office; Sheikh Salem bin Muhammad bin Salem Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Commerce & Tourism Development Authority; and other heads of government departments, as well as international photographers, enthusiasts, and media professionals.