Flawed images in Dubai

Syrian photographer Sara Niam on her new exhibition


At first glance, the distorted images that make up photographer Sara Naim’s debut solo exhibition are little more than overexposed stills. But further examination reveals the delicate effects that light can have on film and what happens when you try to capture something that is impossible to nail down.

Beautiful kaleidoscopes of colour seep into each other with what appears to be measured control. But, as the 24-year-old Syrian-born, Dubai-raised artist explains, the flawed images are not the result of deliberate overexposure, but rather a camera malfunction. ‘I noticed the edges of negatives that are sometimes left on contact sheets. I was blessed when my camera broke, which allowed me to see how interesting those leaks could become.’

Naim’s show, ‘When the Lights Went Off We Saw’, continues at The Pavilion until Wednesday October 24. We caught up with the photographer at her new home in London to learn more about her work.

What’s the idea behind this show?

Visible light occupies only one-thousandth of a percent of the spectrum. What we don’t see is often in question, and this series visualises the source of sight. Light is omnipresent, yet it is intangible. Light is the source of colour, yet it is of no colour itself. The exhibition examines the physicality of the intangible, and the possibilities of sight.

Can you explain the techniques used to achieve these effects?
No techniques were used – they were all faults of the camera. Often the shutter wouldn’t work when told, and that typical glitch of the first and last frame on a film roll would reveal light leaks. I never took an image specifically for the series; I collected accidental leak-filled images taken over the past seven years.

How does it feel to be presenting your first solo show?
Incredible. I think it’s symbolic of a turning point in my career as well, and has raised my personal goals. I’m happy that it’s at The Pavilion – it’s a great space with great light and I love the people working there.

What was involved in getting your work to a standard where it could be considered for a solo show?

I’ve been featured in 13 or so group shows, so I have experience with exhibiting. But now my work is louder, larger and stronger, so it evolved into the standards of a solo show.

Do you have any tips for aspiring photographers looking to exhibit?
Get yourself out there, meet people in the industry and push your work forward to gallerists.

What’s the best thing about being a photographer in Dubai?
You are always guaranteed strong, natural light.

What inspires you?
Experiences. Seeing, listening, smelling, touching, tasting – they teach you something new every day if you allow them to.

What are the most important qualities a photographer should possess?
Patience, ambition, focus, awareness and a slightly crazed streak.

What do you think separates a good photographer from an exceptional one?
The intensity of those qualities.

Any upcoming projects?
I’m working on a large installation that may move out of the gallery and into the outdoors. It’s political but playful, which has moved me far outside my comfort zone.

What’s your favourite thing to photograph in Dubai?
Just as I was about to move [from Dubai to London], I became infatuated with the demented palm trees that are left deserted in the deserts. They often make interesting shapes, and look as though they are on the verge of breaking.

View Three to watch

Three to watch

More local photographers that should be on your radar…

Ammar Al Attar
This Emirati documentary photographer captures candid pictures of street life and graffiti signs he stumbles upon in the UAE.

Siddarth Siva
An Indian-born, UAE-based portrait photographer with a unique way of capturing the characteristics and personalities of local subjects in their natural surroundings.

Daniel Cheong
This talented photographer, originally from Mauritius, shoots Dubai from unusual angles, incorporating a fantasy-like element through the use of colour.

The lowdown
Exhibition: ‘When the Lights Went Off We Saw’, until October 24 at The Pavilion, Downtown Dubai (04 447 7025).
Artist: Sara Naim
Price of works: Dhs7,000 each

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