“Everyone’s become a photographer, and there’s this curiosity that goes beyond selfies and cat photos,” says Mohamed Somji, the co-founder of Gulf Photo Plus, the photography centre based in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. “And there’s an enormous disparity between that and the high-brow conceptual work that artists do. What we’re trying to do is to bridge that gap.”
A week of photography events in Dubai
Alserkal Avenue explodes into a celebration of photography this week, with the annual GPP Photo Week running from February 7 to February 12. The event, which has been running since 2004, brings the community and art spaces of Alserkal Avenue together in looking at different forms and modes of photography.
GPP has set up exhibitions at its site, as well as at Concrete and in the Yard, where images from one of the best named series of the past few years, Osborne Macharia's Kenya's League of Extravagant Grannies, will be on show.
It’s also organised daily workshops, panel discussions, and information sessions, on such topics as lighting and fashion photography, as well as more specialised interests, such as an introduction to astrophotography – taking images of stars – and a session for portrait photographers on making subjects feel comfortable during shoots.
Somji, who is a working photographer himself, explains that working with photography has changed: an event like this is less about learning new technical specifications of cameras – “that’s all on the internet now” – and more about new means of engagement with photography: seeing what you can do with it. “You can think about photography as more than aesthetics, but something you can use for activism, or for documenting social issues, or for a fine art or conceptual project.”
What's happening at Concrete this week
The mainstage for the week is Concrete, the Rem Koolhaas-designed multi-function space in Alserkal Avenue, which GPP Photo Week is using for the second time. Concrete will be split into a stage for the free programming of discussions and workshops over the event's six days, and into a space for the work of Khalik Allah, the Long Island-born photographer well known for his early portraits of the Wu Tang Clan. Allah shows part of his series Souls Against the Concrete, moody images in the historically black district of Harlem, and Arabs of New York, his new work on the young Arab diaspora in the city that explores different fissures in identity.
What's happening at the GPP space this week
In the GPP's own space in Alserkal Avenue, which is used year-round for their courses and exhibitions, they are showing British-Egyptian photographer Laura El-Tantawy's series Beyond Here is Nothing, which was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. The project is based around loneliness, with the almost literary device of a mediation placed between image and subject: such as a profile visible through smoke, or an image formed by through a reflection in a window.
What's happening elsewhere in Al Serkal
Ancillary programming around the Concrete exhibition includes the photography show Found at the Third Line, who are also showing Tarek Al-Ghoussein's photographs of the Gulf, and Saudi Seen at Art Jameel.
Somji explains that the community of Alserkal Avenue got together around the idea of photography, with thejamjar, leading a workshop for children and even the chocolate shop Mirzam participating. “They’re chocolate makers – they didn’t have to do it!”
For workshops, the key event is SONY PhotoFriday, which is geared towards both amateur and professional photographers. It offers hands-on 90-minute sessions led by major photographers such as Tanya Habjouqa, Tasneem Alsultan, Toufic Araman, and Maggie Steber, as well as talks and discussions.
“Then we’ll have music,” he says. “It’ll just be a fun evening.”
Gulf Photo Plus runs until Monday February 12. Find a list of workshops here, a list of exhibitions here and a list of photo tours here. Call 04 380 8545 for more information.