Photojournalism in Dubai

Asim Rafiqui was working in Gaza during the recent conflict, and will be teaching a workshop at Gulf Photo Plus


Why have you dedicated your life to photography?
It’s my voice, the only way I can speak and say that which sits inside me. I’m a poor writer, and an ever poorer speaker. The camera has liberated me from these handicaps. Once I realised that it gave me a voice, I could not step away. I am deaf and dumb without it.

What kind of photographer do you consider yourself?

I’m what you would call a photojournalist. I’m not a studio photographer. I work on the streets, and by walking and talking to people around me. The majority of my work is documentary in nature. I’ve done other work like commercial and portrait assignments, but regardless, my approach even to these remains largely documentarian.

We hear you’ve been working in Gaza recently. How was that?

It’s difficult to work as a photographer in Gaza because of how well and how extensively the place has been documented. But what this documentation achieves in numbers it fails in breadth.

How so?

A lot of photojournalists have photographed Gaza the same way. The writer I worked with out there, Elliott Woods, commented that most photojournalists seemed to be on some sort of ‘war tour’, being taken to the ‘right’ places by local fixers and then quickly moving to the next location. Any photojournalist working in Gaza, or even the West Bank, has to confront this reality and work hard to find something new to say or some new way to say it. The repetitive imagery has killed people’s understanding of the situation there and reduced their interest in it.

Have you tried to combat that?
I had support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and a remarkable magazine, the Virginia Quarterly Review. This meant I could work outside the constraints of daily news reporting and look for ways to show the aftermath of the most recent assault on Gaza in a more personal way.

What can we expect from your workshop at Gulf Photo Plus?
It’s a new workshop that I’ve not taught before, but I’m keen to try something different. Too many workshops focus on the abstract, like ‘developing your eye’. They fail to give students a hard, practical understanding of the challenges of a working editorial photographer.

So it’s for those who want to go pro?
Yes, it’s a primer for the working photographer. I’ll use my experiences to discuss what I did wrong, where an assignment fell apart, why other assignments were successful, the human and other resources that helped me get a story, the equipment that worked and failed, and even how to put together a portfolio and why.

What do you get out of teaching photography?

You learn a lot by talking about your work and exposing it to the criticisms of new eyes. There are no hard and fast rules in this field. Students challenge my ideas and prejudices, which is a crucial part of growing as a photo- grapher. This is a thankless craft, and one where personal sacrifices are demanded to make it work – not unlike other creative and ‘non-productive’ fields. I think only poets may have it worse! If, as a teacher, you can convince a few people to commit to it with the seriousness it demands and deserves, that can be very inspiring.

Photojournalism workshop, March 30-April 4 US$325. More info at

Photo Friday

The popular ‘Photo Friday’ event returns to Gulf Photo Plus this year, offering quick tips and techniques from more than 20 lectures, mini-workshops and live demonstrations.

April 3, Knowledge Village, prices start at Dhs49 per session or Dhs150 for a day pass. 04 360 2365,

Horse Show

‘Al Saheel: The Voice of the Horse’ is an equine extravaganza featuring stunt riders, tricks and even ancient Bedouin horse whispering. No, really. The show is scheduled to run throughout the year on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, Arab Ranches, Thursdays-Saturdays from April 2, 7.30pm, Dhs110-190 adults, Dhs50-85 children aged 6-12. No admittance for children under 5.

Zufi Alexander

Luxury fashion designer Zufi Alexander, brought up in Dubai and now adorning the arms of Beyonce Knowles and Sienna Miller with her wares, appears at Dubai Ladies’ Club with her latest collections. Ten per cent of sales on the day go to the Red Crescent Society.

March 30, Dubai Ladies’ Club, Jumeirah Beach Road, open to non-members but please register for the event, 04 349 9922,

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