© Ahmet Sel
 Ahmet Sel shoots environmental portraits that feel intimate, and respectful. Respectful in the sense that his subjects are not photographed as novelty or spectacle, but as equals of interest.

In some of the Kabul images, amputees are photographed, with  prosthetics apparent and arranged much as other props such as a kite, a hammer or balloons are used in other images. Other times though, the prosthesis are subtle almost overlooked. These latter images are a rarity in pictures of amputees – typically (and tiredly), amputees are photographed as oddities. It is refreshing and much more unique to see images that happen to include a prothesis, but don't rely on it for interest.

Sel has the skill of being able to hide or highlight an object with both results being equally powerful.

It would seem an oversight if Gens de Moscou and Tellaks weren't mentioned here as well, but by discussing those series we would then need to go deeper and deeper into Sels other works as well, since all are worthy.
© Ahmet Sel

© Ahmet Sel


AFGHANISTAN 50's and 60's

A laboratory at a vaccine research center
 I first saw these images of Afghanistan in the 50's and 60's in a facebook album belonging to Mohammad Rahim. In looking for more like them, I found them again on foreignpolicy.com, along with a nice article by Mohammad Qayoumi. The article in Foreign Policy led to an interview on NPR for which you can see the transcript of here.

As Qayoumi points out, Afghanistan is generally thought of as a backward, barbaric civilization that never made it out of the dark ages. These pictures show an Afghanistan that most people would have never thought existed. There are boys scouts and girl scouts, fashionably dressed (even in the western sense) students and families, and modern (for the time) looking laboratories.

Qayoumi writes, "A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real." 

There are images included in Rahim's album that are from other sources as well, and finding others still will become something in which to lose hours and hours.
Record Store

The InterContinental built in 1969



© Kristan Horton
Yesterday I was contacted by Sophie Hackett, the assistant curator of photography at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) in Canada. She is an organizer and a jury member for the $50 000 Grange Prize which is awarded by the AGO and Aeroplan. 

The Grange is an annual award for which the jury selects two Candian photographers, and two photographers from a partner country which changes every year. Once the jury has selected the four photographers, the winner is determined by online votes by the public around the world. By increasing the number of votes coming from our region, we will have a say in deciding who wins the award of a significant photography prize. 

The next step is to get a greater Middle East country named as a partner country so that two of our photographers have a chance at this award. GMEP has already started lobbying for this - now we need to show awareness and interest by voting.
Please spread the word.




click image to go to kickstarter

Amira Al Sharif is a photographer born in Saudi Arabia, living in Yemen, who is currently in New York to attend classes at ICP. Al Sharif is using the kickstarter website to raise money for a  year long project documenting American women in their twenty's.

Kickstarter is a site that allows projects to be proposed for private funding and donations can be as small as $1US. The target amount on this project is probably lower than would be ideal to make the project as much of a success as possible, so overshooting the target is sincerely hoped for.

The promise of a young, female, Yemeni photographer portraying young females in the US is appealing since so often, the citizens of this region are portrayed one dimensionally by US and western photographers. The hope is Al Sharif will be bold, and make images that enlighten, and that she won't be too concerned with feeling the project needs to be about brotherly (or sisterly) love. Sometimes the best photographs are ugly or shine a light on things the subjects sometimes would rather not be illuminated.

Al Sharif attended Stephanie Sinclair's class at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Istanbul recently so maybe because of that meeting, Sinclair will be available to guide and mentor Al Sharif. Now that would be more valuable than the kickstarter target by a long shot.



© Samer Mohdad
Samer Mohdad is known for a lot of things; his work with World Press Photo and Masterclass, his contributions as a photographer to VU photo agency, teaching photography at Notre Dame University in Lebanon and at The Visual Merchandising School in Switzerland, numerous exhibitions exploring the contemporary Arab world... All of this are solid contributions with a substantial ripple effect. 

It could be argued though, that if there was one project that is most responsible for his acclaim, it is his book and exhibition titled My Arabias. The work – like much of Mohdad's work – was shot in the Middle East and shows us a less represented side to the region. Shying away from conflict, refugees and ruins, Mohdad says (via his artist statement on the UNCA library site which has statements and bios from Mother Jones documentary photography award winners, 2000), "When we look at the Arab world from the inside, our vision changes. Three of the world's great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - originated in this part of the world. Over the centuries, nomadic tribes adapted to the changes brought by each successive religion, even as they absorbed the influences from Central Asian cultures."

Responding to the west's perception about the Middle East, Mohdad stated, "Seen from the outside, the Arab world looks like a powder keg ready to explode. Conflict and hatred seem to dominate the Middle East, as people divide themselves along religious lines. Westerners believe that being Arab means being Muslim. Our minds are saturated by the misleading images on our television screen. These photographs map a long inner voyage into the landscape of my emotions. Since photography is so subjective, it lends itself to diverse interpretations. I have tried to capture the realities of this region without making any judgments." 
© Samer Mohdad
© Samer Mohdad



© Philip Cheung
Today's post is work that falls into the "... or about the greater Middle East" part of the GMEP tag-line. While all the work we've featured until now is about the region, very little of it was created by someone who doesn't live here or have family roots here. That wasn't so much by design as it was a result of our top priority being to promote photographers of the region. The collateral damage of that has been our ability to paint a more layered image of the region - afterall, a lot is being said (shown) by photographers working in the region who aren't necessarily from the region. Adding context to the work and the photographers is important, and the context will be more complete by not omitting content concerning the region based on genealogy.

The recent work of Philip Cheung, who is based in Beirut, is a smart, unique approach to photographing the U.S. army in Afghanistan – and it adds greater context to the work being shown on GMEP. One work informs another.

With army embeds being as common as G10's for photographers, the war in Afghanistan has been shot to death and there is very little that is new or different coming out of the country. Having spent time beyond the wire in Khandahar, and Helmand province during embed vacations (Cheung was actually on holiday both times he made the trip), it was in the relative safety and calm (I stress the word relative) of Kandahar Airfield that Cheung shot his most memorable work.

The series, called Soldiers' Angels – which is what the other soldiers call the Mortuary Affairs Specialists – is an intimate look at the people who are charged with sending their deceased (over 1000 of them) fellow soldiers home to waiting family and loved ones.

Cheung's statement explains:

Those who serve and die on the battlefield in Southern Afghanistan are tended to by a small group of dedicated soldiers who have been trained to provide dignity and respect to their fallen comrades.

Their responsibilities include the retrieval, identification, preparation, preservation and transportation of the dead back to the United States. In other words, they are the ones tasked with the entire post-death process; from cleaning corpses and remains to documenting personal belongings- down to the serial number of a crumpled dollar bill - and meticulously wrapping transfer cases with the American flag before sending them back home to their loved ones.

These specialized soldiers take great pride in what they do. But their daily routine is a constant reminder of the tragedy of war and dying young. The feeling of family that takes hold in the Army makes it that much more solemn an experience. To them, those who die in combat are brothers. And so, theirs is a daunting task executed with a deep sense of honor.

This is a profile of a close-knit unit of those men who live and work in a secluded area of Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan.
Officially, they are known as The Mortuary Affairs Specialists. But to many of their fellow servicemen, they are Soldiers’ Angels.

© Philip Cheung
© Philip Cheung



Taxonomy of Time 1
Afshin Dehkordi series Muniments: Iran, is both beautiful and interesting. It is -so far as we can tell - a work about borders, perception and the photographers relationship with the east and the west and his movement from one to the other. That is a little simplistic. Consider the simplicity a reaction to the text of the press release for the work.

Muniments: Iran is about a lot of things according to the text. We at GMEP may lack the vocabulary or the intelligence to easily digest the statement, but in its effort to say so much, we've been overwhelmed by the maze the words create and the work has been overshadowed. That is a shame because the work is strong and of course, the text should strengthen it by adding context. The writing by Annabelle Sreberny, down-loadable from Dehkordi's site, does a better job of illustrating this context via George Orwell and Dehkordi's Work from an Unknown Irananian Journalist.

The press release tells us the work is about "...the utopia of a perceived reality and the ambiguity of physical borders." It is about "...cultural identity and the way it is refracted and reconstructed through photography and by the media." So far so good.

The works also "display the underlying drama and construction of the ’story,’ inherent within the language of journalism and an important concern within Muniments. A shift in awareness occurs as the mix between migration, architecture and borders reveals seductive social and personal ideals or longings that are sharply displaced from focus." "Muninents interest lies in the politics of appearance, in terms of tracing experiences, memories and histories that are rendered largely invisible and how this invisibility occurs in reality."

You may also be interested to know, "The exhibition appears to move between the surfaces of a personal use of utopia—not escapist or apolitical, but one where it becomes a critical force against the perceived reality that exists and the closed bi-cultural language of the past."

It's possible this language leads some people to believe the work is more profound or important, and artist statements and texts about art have a tradition of this approach. However, crossing the line between authoritative and inaccessible is at odds with GMEP's attempts at raising awareness and understanding of photography from the greater Middle East.

Dehkordi's work is featured in the book Contemporary Art in the Middle East. Published by Black Dog publishing, the book is the first in an ARTWORLD series meant to "open up the most challenging and under-exposed art scenes in the world." That's certainly a mandate we support completely.

Muniments: Iran is currently being exhibited (Sept. 30 - Nov. 11) at the Black Dog space in London. 10A Acton Street + 44 (0) 207 713 5097
Black Lake White Mountain 2