For Beirut-born photographer Christian Ghammachi, beauty can be found in the most unassuming of places. Often when picturing Africa, we are presented with images of wild grasslands and safari landscapes. But for the Dubai-based artist, the real splendour can be seen in less obvious places – a stranger’s face, isolated buildings or in the middle of the desert – which he showcases in his photography exhibition, ‘Mzungu, The Aimless Wanderer.’
Running until July 29 at La Galerie Nationale, the 25 new works were captured during the artist’s solo motorbike journey across Africa, from Cape Town to Djibouti over a period of six months in 2014.
Titled ‘Two Wheels Across’, the expedition saw Ghammachi travel through sixteen African countries and over 19,000 kilometres. The result is a collection of photographs of people, places and objects encountered along the way. Ghammachi’s passion for photography spans over two decades, but it wasn’t until two years ago that the former lawyer decided to pursue it as a career. Having first visited Africa in 2010, he says he immediately felt a connection to the continent.
‘I lived and practiced law in Cape Town and I had just discovered the joys of videography so I went on this journey, crossing Africa from Cape Town to Djibouti,’ explains Ghammachi.
Sponsored by Rhino Africa, a safari company, Ghammachi spent his trip alternating between lodges and camping in designated sites throughout the continent. The exhibition title was inspired by Ghammachi’s encounters with the African people. ‘Mzungu’ a Swahili word that refers to someone who aimlessly wanders, is commonly used to refer to a foreigner. Having often been called ‘Mzungu’ during his journey, the title felt fitting to the photographer.
‘I was weary crossing Africa myself. I love Africa and the people in general, but you don’t know what to expect so you do have some concerns for your safety. In reality, I was greeted by kindness and generosity. The only threats were the weather; it could get very hot and muddy and rainy. A few of the roads were a total nightmare and I didn’t know if I would make it sometimes through the sand and mud,’ says Ghammachi.
The photographer carried out two test trips in order to prepare himself for the conditions when camping, shooting film and driving his motorbike. However, the first attempt at the project was brought to a halt following a painful crash.
‘I started the first time in October 2013 but I had an accident in the first week that I was on the road, so then I started in April 2014. The whole trip had tentative routes, and I researched and found specific places beforehand that I wanted to visit, but other images were of something I would stumble upon,’ he explains.
The exhibition includes a selection of images, such as an abandoned hotel in Xai Xai, Mozambique, as well as images of African people.
‘I wanted to search for places that I like to take photos of, abandoned places and wildlife. There are two photos of a building in Tanzania that was abandoned in the late 1930s. It’s amazingly beautiful and is sat on top of a hill. It has a whole story about people running away from it because of leprosy and it stands in beautiful ruins. This story was just breathtaking because it was as if fate had put that on my path.’
Inspired by the resilience of the African people, landscapes and wildlife, Ghammachi spent his time seeking out overlooked details, finding beauty in hidden elements.
‘I started with portraits in my life. When I’m shooting a subject I don’t take a hundred photos, I wait and wait until I feel the electricity pass and then I snap. I often desaturise my photos because I think colours can distract the viewer from the subject itself. I will never remove or add something,’ he says.
One of the images in the exhibition is a panoramic photo of a truck crossing the desert followed by a trail of dust and clouded skies. It was this image that Ghammachi felt a real emotional connection to.
‘It was taken on the last 100km of my journey, when I had crossed into Djibouti. It was as if nature was throwing everything at me, it was hot and windy then there was a thunderstorm and a sandstorm. It was quite an intense moment.’
Each of the images featured in the collection showcase the photographer’s interest in displaying extreme strength and enduring passion despite adversity, whether it is through natural forces or humanity, offering viewers a small glimpse of his travel experiences across Africa.
Free. Open Sun-Thu 10am-9pm. Until July 29. La Galerie Nationale. Al Quoz 1, Alserkal Avenue (04 380 46 52).
Galleries featuring photography works
Gulf Photo Plus
Take part in an iftar experience combining photography on June 28 from 6.30pm starting at Al Ras metro station.
Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz (04 380 8545).
The venue sells photography from international artists at an affordable price.
Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 388 1516).
The Empty Quarter
The gallery showcases works from fine art photographers.
Gate Village, DIFC (04 323 1210).