Lebanese photography Ziad Antar walks us through his Portrait of a Territory exhibition at the Sharjah Art Foundation.
Ziad Antar's photographs are not 'perfect' but tell a story
The photographs are not perfect. Some are blurred, and one reveals a reflection that shows the picture was perhaps taken through a car window.
"I like imperfection," says the Lebanese photographer Ziad Antar, as he walks through his new exhibition at the Sharjah Art Foundation titled Portrait of a Territory. The solo exhibition features 211 photographs of the UAE coastline taken over seven years between 2004 and 2011, as part of a Sharjah Art Foundation Residency, along with a book under the same name launched alongside the exhibition, which continues until May 16.
The common theme is the sea, including structures, factories, landscape and construction. The idea began in 2004 when Antar began taking photos out of personal interest. Eventually he covered all seven emirates.
"I wanted to discover and learn about the modern change of the country and its history," says Antar. "I had an interest in the trade issue, installed in the docks of Sharjah. You see products wrapped ready to go or are coming. I was interested that these products say something about the history of the region, the country – through trade."
The pictures are not Photoshopped and Antar does not own a digital camera, opting to rely instead on original film and disposable cameras.
"I covered the whole coast and I don't work on making something nice. I saw many mistakes I made even aesthetically or technically but I assume them. I'm not just somehow painting with my camera. It is the camera that documents, so it's both."
In 2009, he decided to turn his interest into documentation and would spend one month at a time travelling through the Emirates.
The result is photographs ranging from colour to black and white and curated by Christine Macel, the chief curator at Musée National D'Art Moderne Centre Pompidou Paris. "I like to take pictures, to think through the images and build ideas around it," he says. "The cameras I use are simple in display and machinery."
He describes both the book and exhibition as a "poetic feeling on the coastline".
"It represents the coastline with its changes, variations, the country, history, the crisis they passed, modern history, the boom - everything is in the exhibition," he says.
Antar depended on people he interacted with for research and local radio stations to avoid "fast, superficial ideas".
"I always listened to the local Ajman radio station programme, Abu Rashid, it's very famous. You listen to social issues in the UAE to understand, not to come here for two days and think everything is shining or people don't care," he says.
No description is offered for the individual photographs.
"I named no photograph. You can name it anything you want," said Antar. As he stops next to a black-and-white photograph taken of Jumeirah beach in Dubai of a man and woman strolling, he smiles and says, "I call it 'Lovers'," as the name popped into his head.
Another picture shows the beginning stages of Saddiyat Island that he feels depicts the "evolution of how they conquered the sea".
"Imagine the museums of the Louvre and Guggenheim, and the discussions about building. When you say 'Abu Dhabi', you will imagine many things but not this," he says. The abandoned houses in Umm Al Quwain or "ghost houses", as some describe them, are also featured, as is a striking image of a plant on the seaside of Khor Fakkan.
"You can feel there's a nice intention because it's irrigated. So the hand of man is there in the whole exhibition," he says.
All photographs were developed in the UAE.
"When you make images here and develop them in, let's say, France, they become more French but when you develop them here, with all the mistakes that might happen, you'll be more real towards your material," says Antar.
Next, he plans to stay in London for two months where he will complete another residency and perhaps a new project.
For more information visit www.sharjahart.org