I’ve worked in the Middle East a good deal, and, courtesy of the photo organization known as Gulf Photo Plus, spent a lot of time in the UAE, mostly in that highly improbable amalgam of glass and steel that has swirled out of the desert in dizzying fashion, Dubai. GPP is gathering again, next week, and I will miss it for the second year in a row.
Sorry for that. I have dear friends in Dubai, and certainly will miss all of my fellow instructors. Anyone attending who reads this blog, please go up to Maggie Steber and give her a big hug from me! If you see the Strobist, encourage him to take a deep breath, relax, and try TTL. Baby steps, David, baby steps.
It is a terrific, buzzing week of photographic learning, and I’m glad it’s still ongoing. It started years ago (I first attended in 2007) and was a bit, well, let’s call it informal and loosely organized. It was taken over by Mohamed Somji, and his wonderfully intuitive business partner Hala Salhi, and they have worked tirelessly to make it a go-to photographic resource in an area of the world where such get togethers are not all that commonplace.
Mo and Hala have become dear friends. They welcome all the instructors and participants with open arms and between the two, they pull off an organizational miracle out there in the wild desert. Hala has also doubled as a photo subject, on occasion.
The desert is such a brutally barren source of photographic inspiration. I made one of my favorite pictures of Annie out there in the great sandy beyond. I had always wanted Annie to come to Dubai with me, for the experience, and to meet everyone. I knew she and Hala would hit it off, and they indeed became like sisters quite quickly.
Annie and I have always wanted Mo and Hala to come visit. Sadly, that window seems to be closed, at least for a while. Hala is Syrian, and her family is from the Aleppo area. They have scattered, but are safe. I know the strife in her homeland is an ongoing pain in her heart. If it ever ends, she and her family would go back and rebuild in a heartbeat.
So, I say hello from afar this year, as many disparate people from all over gather under the big tent known as photography. That’s the thing about pictures. They are important. They cross boundaries simply and directly. They need no statehood. They are, at their core, expressions of love, tolerance, decency, sympathy, friendship and understanding. They don’t sow fear. They don’t exclude. They beckon, and embrace the viewer.
They don’t need a visa.