Juror’s Choice winner for Mainland Sheikah Alyazia AlQassimi speaks about being a photographer in Dubai.
Describe your path to photography.
Photography started as a youthful intuition. I began photographing as soon as I got my hands on an old analog camera at an early age. I even made use of any disposable cameras I could find. By the age of 12, I had already started developing my own film in a dark room. Ever since, I have never parted from a camera. I attended the American University in Dubai, and majored in Visual Communication, where I continued with Photography. Although a lot of my work is conceptual, I became drawn to various genres. My photographic work ranges from street and documentary photography, to landscape and architectural photography. However, I seem to be very discreet about my work, which remains mostly within my personal collection. To me, photography is my visual diary. A visual diary, where my memories reside.
Juror's Choice Award, Bridge.
What is it about the night and darkness that appeals to you as a photographer?
Night photography is intriguing in various ways. Available light at night is captured in ways daylight tends to miss. There's a certain calmness about night photography. A calmness that demands patience.
You live in a part of the world with a unique landscape. What role do your surroundings play in your work?
Quite a vital role. The UAE is a country that is growing globally. It comprises both the modern and the traditional, with beautiful desert landscapes and expanding infrastructure. As modern and as prosperous it has become, it still holds on to its Bedouin roots and traditional values. Hence, this motivates me to share a unique comparison in sceneries. From vast deserts and mountains, to cities filled with skyscrapers. I am privileged to be able to photograph a wide range of landscape choices. Photographing your ‘mainland’ is an opportunity to contribute and leave a lasting impression of where you come from, with other parts of the world.
Your work is focused on formal aspects of composition and high contrast. Describe your style in your own words and how you arrived at it.
I would say, ninety percent of my work is in monochrome. Working with black and white has always prompted me to experiment dynamically with shadows and light, along with details. When I can, I always take numerous shots of the same scene. I expose correctly on a few shots, and purposely underexpose the other shots in order to save the highlights and bring out shadows and details. This use of monochromatic contrast, yielded a specific style to my work. I find black and white photography dynamic in every way, straightforward, and timelessly classic. In my opinion, simplicity in composition is what defines a photograph.
Walk us through a typical shoot. What happens and what do you think about when behind the camera?
As I always happen to carry my camera with me. I do not plan my photographs. Sometimes, you have to wait for a photograph to happen. When framing a shot, I either wait for the scene to walk into my frame, or I compose accordingly. Behind my camera, I’m completely attentive, and disconnect myself from my surroundings. The only thing that matters, is what appears in my viewfinder.
As a photographer located in Abu Dhabi, showing work in the United States, how would you describe the differences in the contemporary art scene? How does your work fit into each?
Abu Dhabi has a flourishing and dynamic art scene. Which will soon include the Guggenheim and the Louvre museums. Contemporary artists from around the world join local artists and galleries to showcase annually at the Abu Dhabi Art Exhibition. The differences vary due to the distinct geographical locations and cultures. Some artists seek the traditional aspect, while others are more keen to show a contemporary, modern, and abstract side. I prefer to create a common ground with both art scenes, and work with both the traditional, and contemporary approach.
Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, what does success in art mean to you?
Success is being determined to achieve, and dedicated to what you enjoy.