MONØkult Feature: Exploring Bahrain’s Photography Scene
Turning Points, Photobooks, and Trailing a (Photography) Path Less Pursued
One of the very first things I did when I came to Bahrain in 2017 was to look for a photography/artist community . I left Manila a bit dismayed because I was already starting to immerse myself more into creative activities and meeting like-minded individuals.
There was a cathartic realization that the kind of photography I want to pursue will be beyond its technical and aesthetic aspects that are often viewed and misunderstood under commercial form (I would like to expound on this matter in another article); that understanding visual language and creating narratives out of photographs would be a life-long pursuit; and that I just want to take pictures as long as I’m living.
Over the past two years that I’ve been staying in Bahrain, I have little progress on learning about its art and photography landscapes. It is more of a shortcoming on my part but I am trying my best to participate as much as I can.
While photography in the island has a strong community of amateur and professional photographers both locals and expats, I am interested more in finding works from photographers/visual artists that are able to voice out their inner truths — What are their dreams? What do they genuinely care about? How does it differ from all the other works that are already saturated with common themes we are seeing and experiencing at present?, and with consistency in their image-making process.
Meanwhile, I have been frequenting an art space, the Bin Matar House, in the old town of Muharraq mainly because of their impressive collection of photobooks — from the old masters such as Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander to contemporary photographers Bruce Davidson and Alec Soth; Japanese photographers Rinko Kawauchi, Masahisa Fukase and Hiroshi Sugimoto; and Indian photographer Dayanita Singh among many others.
The photobooks are nothing short of a visual feast and information if anyone is interested to learn about the history of photography, and photographers who contributed to the evolution of the medium and helped shape our visual perceptions.
There are around two or three photobooks in the collection about the Middle East that I have yet to view and read. Camille Zakaria, a prominent artist and photographer in Bahrain, has quite a unique “photobook” — it consists of loose photographs, commissioned by one of the organizations in Bahrain to record disappearing old places in the island, turned into postcards. The book itself serves as a case to hold the postcards. His photography, from what I’ve seen from an exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum and from his other book, often records places and topography.
I don’t know how many visitors the library gets or how many other individuals I share this enthusiasm with photobooks here but if you’re reading this and you’re a photographer, or you’re just generally interested in photography who happens to be in Bahrain, I encourage you to make an effort to visit the Bin Matar House and experience the joy of touching a physical book, flipping through its pages and looking at the images for as long as you like.
To quote the American photographer and writer Teju Cole from his recent article about photobooks in The Guardian, “Instagram is like frozen pizza, exhibitions are noisy — but a photobook is an act of analogue rebellion in an obnoxiously digital world.”
Bahrain’s photography scene is flourishing especially in the commercial field. My only concern is that I hope there will be more opportunities to attend workshops that teach photographers to dig deeper with their themes/subject and image-making, and hone their visual language; go past the obsession with gears and mastering technicality.
I’ve only met a few artists and photographers in Bahrain who understand what I’m talking about. I am writing this to contribute something noteworthy to this little country that I am serving. After all, I came here to work as a photographer and to see more than my limited world views.
We are generally no strangers to the plight of the Islamic world but Bahrain being a multicultural and developing country teeming with expats/migrant workers, and with the gradual changing perspectives of the Muslim youth and other conservative cultures, there are endless topics and themes to be explored and recorded through images past its stereotypes. I guess it’s time that we focus our lenses on making images and creating narratives that matter.
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