Abu Dhabi exhibition captures history of photography through lens of the art's masters

From the first portable camera in 1685 to the ones we carry in our pockets daily, The Shot puts the development of still images in focus

The Shot is an expansive exhibition exploring the artform's inventors, designers and artists. Photo: Manarat Al Saadiyat
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A new exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi offers a glaring reminder of how far photography has come.

Taking place at The Photography Studio, The Shot, running until April 24, is an expansive look at the art form as well as the invention and development of the camera.

The exhibition starts with a nod to the word camera, a name derived from the Arabic word Alqura, coined by the Arab mathematician, astronomer and physicist of the Islamic Golden Age, Ḥasan Ibn al-Haytham. Known as the father of modern optics, al-Haytham’s early work and research in a dark room, where he invented the camera obscura, led to the development of the camera as we know it today.

Scroll through the gallery below for more pictures from The Shot exhibition

From there, visitors are guided to an installation of large lenses, each highlighting a significant moment in the history of photography.

Starting with the very first portable camera in 1685, visitors can clearly see a timeline leading them through to the first colour photograph taken in 1861 by Thomas Sutton, to the first Kodak camera sold in 1888. Then there's the first colour transparent film in 1935 and finally the modern reinvention of the camera as it appears in our phones in the early 2000s.

Detailed information is presented in a visual, easily digestible manner which continues throughout the rest of the exhibition.

There's also a section featuring a number of early models of cameras, from the Escopette in 1888 made by Albert Darier, to the first all-metal camera, The Photosphere, designed by Napoleon Conti also in 1888 and used by explorers in hot and humid climates. There is also a stunning example of the Express Detective Camera by Paul Nadar, made from mahogany and brass trims, which was used to take photos either through the use of glass plates or celluloid film.

From here, visitors are introduced to the most absorbing section of the exhibition. Chronologically curated, starting from the early 1800s to contemporary times, it features photos from a number of pioneering photographers and artists across genres.

Lighting is dimmed to spotlight particular spaces and give visitors a clear focused view of the photos that range in size and subject matter. A large screened column at the centre of the space projects enlarged versions of the images on show.

Early examples of photography include landscapes, black and white portraits, photojournalistic work that documents churches, mosques and old heritage sites such as the Great Pyramids of Giza.

The eerie and atmospheric work of Antoine Mazel, whose landscape shots of Switzerland in the early 1900s are both a documentation and artistically expressive. Czech photographer Frantisek Drtikolf, founder of the Czech modernist movement in the 1900s, has one of his stunning art nouveau-influenced portraits on display.

An expansive exhibition of the history of photography is on display in the capital. Photo: Manarat Al Saadiyat

French photographer Pierre Gassmann's portrait of a woman holding a cigarette, which displays his own experimentations with shadow and light, is also on display.

There are also works by renowned photographers such as Robert Frank, known for his book The Americans, which documents his cross-country road trips in the mid-1950s through stunning black and white photographs. Louis Stettner, is another important figure in the history of photography whose streetscapes and portraits of New York and Paris capture the reality of the people and streets they live in.

The exhibition continues with works from more contemporary photographers such as French photographer Pierre Jahan and his surrealist approach to the medium, and Swiss photographer Rene Burri’s intense portrait of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

There is a striking work by the American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman who photographed some of the world’s most famous figures including Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon and Audrey Hepburn.

The exhibition also has a dedicated space for photographs from the Zaki Nusseibeh Collection. The photos, photojournalistic in nature, are a glimpse into Abu Dhabi's history.

Another space is dedicated to a photographic project entitled Reverse Moments by Emirati photographer Ammar Al Attar in which where recreates photographic studios of the UAE from the 1960s. It is an engaging show that looks into the social history of the UAE while exploring a particular photographic aesthetic and technique.

The Shot runs until April 24 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi

Updated: March 28, 2023, 6:59 AM