Life in a frame

As an artist, Mohammed is down-to-earth.  He believes in the power of the small and the insignificant. And that could partly explain why he loved making art using dried grass stalk and straw, in the beginning of his artistic pursuit. Straw art meant spending weeks and even months to complete a single artwork.

T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR

“I have discovered photography…. I have nothing else to learn.”
— Pablo Picasso

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Every one of us is born a photographer. Our eyes click a billion pictures every day, which, after processing, are duly stored in an album, called the mind. Some are black and white, some sepia-toned. Quite a few remain as colourful as ever, of course.
Thus it looks quite ordinary to be a photographer. Till you meet Mohammed Ahmed al Breiki. True, he sees what we all see; but he sees more, that we don’t see. Probably using a third eye, sort of. For those who don’t like mystery, that third eye could be a camera lens also.
Fundamentally, when Mohammed sees something, what he sees in fact is the throbbing life in a frame. The emotions, the drama, the triviality and futility as well as the everydayness of our daily grind, the hopes, frustrations, triumphs and magnificence. Even stillness has life, he feels. But luckily, his photographs never veer towards overblown surrealism. At the most, some of them hint at distant realities. They are just photographs. Some of them are art; some others, pure fine art. But, as we know, these distinctions don’t get us closer to anything. Period.

p3dAs an artist, Mohammed is down-to-earth. He believes in the power of the small and the insignificant. And that could partly explain why he loved making art using dried grass stalk and straw, in the beginning of his artistic pursuit. Straw art meant spending weeks and even months to complete a single artwork.
But love for the lowly grass got him appreciation from, you won’t believe, His Majesty the Sultan as well. The story is not long-winding: Eight years ago, Mohammed made an almost life-size picture of His Majesty using dried straw, and presented the same — along with a map of Oman, a khanjar, and an old house window, all made of straw — to the Diwan of Royal Court to be handed over to His Majesty. The art work was duly appreciated, and His Majesty handsomely rewarded Mohammed.
The work was highly demanding. Months of single-pointed dedication, which involved choosing those straws with the perfect shade from a bagful of dried straws, cutting them to shape and sticking them up one by one against a set pattern…. It all took a toll on his health: increasing muscle cramps and disorientation became normal. “After a day’s work, it was difficult for me even to properly hold a pencil…,” Mohammed says. Still, he didn’t give up, because he could not. He was obsessed.

p3cAnd here lies the twist. With the money he got for his straw art, Mohammed bought his first professional camera. A Nikon D 7000. And it cost him almost RO750. And it also marked the end of the straw artist in Mohammed.
Why would a teenager in his early twenties spend that amount to buy a camera?
“Because I loved photography from an early age. Straw art helped me get away from the madness of life. Straw as a medium was quite powerful, but I needed to move on to something with a higher potential,” he said. Also, as a straw artist, Mohammed’s fame began to spread to the nearby villages too, and demands from friends and others for his straw art went out of control. And photography saved him.
When the urge to capture images grows in intensity, Mohammed, a Nikon D 7000 slinging over his shoulder, would leave his home to wander about in the deserts, atop the mountains, in the valleys and woods, in cities and busy markets and where not! And he shuns friends and companions on his shooting journeys. “Taking pictures is an intimate affair. It’s always me and the object. A second person is a distraction,” Mohammed says.
His photo expeditions took him to almost all the places in Oman, especially Nizwa, Dakhiliyah, Al Wusta, Sharqiyah, and of course, every nook and cranny of Salalah, and further to the UAE, Saudi and Yemen as well in search of pictures.
He realised the possibility of colours when he was a child: “I am from a lovely place called Al Qarad, in Salalah. I grew up conversing with the enchanting nature. Every possible colour blossomed there against the lush green backdrop. The coconut trees there are quite awesome!”
“Anything is photography material for me. The busy markets and eerie desert wilderness, the magnificent palace and a crumbling old adobe house, the smile and tears, the mountain peak and a grass tip… all have their own story,” Mohammed explains his visual philosophy.