Dubai exhibition Spirit of a Place evokes mystery, peacefulness

Two photographers attempt to capture the spirit of a place in a joint exhibition at The Empty Quarter in Dubai.
The Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiori and the Grand Canal in Venice by Sami Nabeel. Courtesy The Empty Quarter
The Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiori and the Grand Canal in Venice by Sami Nabeel. Courtesy The Empty Quarter

What do the canals of Venice and the temples of Myanmar have in common?

Probably not a lot at first thought, but in the current exhibition at The Empty Quarter, the photographers Sami Nabeel and Martin Smith have managed to seamlessly link them with the jungles of Cambodia and the street signs in Tehran.

The duo have brought together a variety of black-and-white photographs of landscapes – images taken over the past 15 years – into a show titled Spirit of a Place. But, conversely, Nabeel says that a place cannot have a spirit.

“I don’t think it is possible for a place itself to have a spirit; what we see is thousands of years of people who have left their spirits in a place.”

Nabeel, a Jordanian engineer who lives in London, shot all his images for this exhibition in Venice, where he says he has been “mentally walking the streets for the past 15 years”.

He moved there in 1995 for work with an architectural firm and spent a lot of time walking through the city at night when it was mostly empty.

As a result, all the images in this show are void of people and are captured in an almost gothic style that conveys great mystery.

“The beauty of Venice is the mist that shrouds it, it is a mythical place,” says Nabeel. “Also, if you look at the history and what it has achieved compared to its size, it is beyond belief.”

Photographs of St Mark’s Square in the dead of night, trees, unknown back streets and a wonderful collection from the city’s graveyard open up the debate that Nabeel himself started – do they show the spirit of the place or simply the millions of people who have contributed to Venice’s history?

Smith, a British mathematician who has combined his passion for photography with a successful career in the financial services industry, has travelled extensively over five continents to produce his body of work.

Choosing mostly South East Asian locations such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Iran, Smith has shot some of the world’s most famous, as well as unknown, locations that show the majesty and power of the natural world.

“The common link between my images is that for me, I was blown away by the environment and the peace in these remarkable places,” he explains.

Smith has also explored the human stories by visiting landmarks such as a temple in Benin, West Africa, and comparing them with political slogans of religious parties in Iran as well as capturing a number of holy places across the world.

“What we are trying to show is not the place effectively but mirrors to the people who have inhabited these places,” concludes Nabeel.

Sami & Martin: A Spirit of a Place runs until Thursday at The Empty Quarter

Published: May 19, 2014 04:00 AM


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