From the oldest selfie in the world to a special display of unseen images from the private collection of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, the Dubai Photo Exhibition is an enormous show, mapped out as a kind of ode to photography from its very beginnings up to the present day.
Accompanying the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (Hipa), the show at Dubai Design District (d3) brings together more than 700 images by 129 photographers from 23 countries, with about 10 per cent of the pieces loaned from museums or institutions.
“The number of images you will see is roughly four times more than any museum exhibition in the world,” says Zelda Cheatle, the exhibition’s chief curator. “We have organised it into sections, or galleries, which have each been curated separately, so it will be more like viewing 18 museum-quality exhibitions all under the same roof.”
As part of her mammoth task, Cheatle assigned a curator to each of the 18 sections, which represent one or two countries. Each was given 100 square metres to display work by four 20th-century photographers and four 21st-century photographers, from original vintage shots and large-scale digital prints to a 20-metre-long consatina-style photobook on a plinth.
UAE through the lens
The exhibition opens with the UAE section, which is curated by Jassim Al Awadhi, a lecturer in the faculty of Arts at Sharjah University and a long-time advocate for photography in the UAE, who has chosen several contemporary contributors for the exhibition. Amani Al Shaali's struggle with depression informs her heavy, atmospheric images, including Blue Skies Are Calling. Sulaiman Ahmed bin Eid Al Hammadi, from Khor Fakkan, is known for his arresting portraiture, which has won him several international awards.
Ammar Al Attar, who is fascinated with vignettes of daily life, will show images such as The Dominoes. Also showing are Jalal Jamal Bin Thaneya's images taken during his explorations around the country.
From a royal collection
Sheikh Hamdan’s treasure trove of photos will be on show in a separate area. The images cover a range of subjects, from those of Al Ain’s Al Awamir tribe to the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, his grandfather, offering a look at the Trucial States during the 1960s and 1970s before the UAE was formed.
The oldest image in the exhibition is by pioneer Hippolyte Bayard of France, who invented his own photographic process in the mid-1800s. Portrait of the Artist as a Drowned Man is the first known photographed self-portrait. Dated 1840, the image is an interesting precursor to our modern-day selfie craze.
In the section from the United States and Canada, curator Natasha Egan decided to use only portraiture, among them Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, which became the symbol of America's Great Depression of the 1930s.
“It is a really interesting way of reading America,” says Cheatle. “The many portraits present one portrait of the country’s history.”
Morocco is dedicated to the memory of Leila Alaoui, the French-Moroccan photographer who died in a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in January. In the same section, which also encompasses Egypt, is a series of surrealist portraits from young photographer Lubna Abd El Aziz.
Photographs from Brazil include Cassio Vasconcellos’s image of an imaginary airport – a composite of many different images captured while flying over the South American country – is one of the most intricate in the show.
Martin Barnes, senior curator of photographs at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is behind the UK and Ireland section, which concentrates on “the sublime as a very British phenomenon”, and compares today’s Dubai to the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom.
Highlights include photographs by Maurice Broomfield, John Davies and Garry Fabian Miller.
“In the Dubai and UAE there haven’t really been photography exhibitions on this scale before, so this is an essential part of creating a platform in the country,” says Cheatle. “It is not only for photographers but also for the audience. I’m sure it will act as a springboard for many more ambitious projects in the future.”
Supported by the World Photography Organisation (WPO) and held in a temporary museum in d3, the Dubai Photo Exhibition will be held at the same time as the Hipa competition, which will offer up prize money of more than Dh1 million.
• The Dubai Photo Exhibition will be held from Wednesday until Saturday at d3 in Dubai