Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Dhu al-Qaadah 9, 1445 H
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Capturing ambiguity and enigma with a camera


To someone seeing her in one of her outdoor photo walks, she might look like an aimless wanderer taking photos of inanimate objects that don't make sense at all.

Artist Reem Al Shaikh will definitely not disagree with that observation as being a fine art photographer working in abstract and creative photography, her process begins with exploring the great outdoors without a definite goal.

"The process starts with an outdoor photo walk. When I go out to take pictures, whether in nature or on the streets, I like to be alone and without an agenda. I know my tools – my camera, my body, and my lenses – but I like to leave my picture-taking to be a discovery, without prior planning what I will be photographing," she shared.

This ritual, Reem said, has a dual purpose: a vague form of meditation and a creative outlet.

"This complete immersion recharges me and allows me to be present in other areas of my life. Over the past thirty-five years, taking pictures became an integral part of my well-being and an essential routine I live by," she said.

Reem is one of the artists whose work is currently on display at the "Name Place Animal Thing" Notebook Exhibition happening in Fikra in Old Muscat.

"This is a unique project I worked on that I will be exhibiting in the form of abstract street photography along with other artists, illustrators, and photographers, and I am very excited about it. Besides this, I am currently working on a new series about Oman’s seascapes, a series I started during the pandemic," she shared.

Providing insight into her art pieces ahead of the exhibit, Reem shared that "Ambiguity and enigma are elements that intrigue me, and creating abstract photos was the tool for delivering that."

When one looks at Reem's art pieces, the first thing one would notice is the dizzying array of colours all blended into mesmerizing chaos that gives way to beauty. Her current collection includes pieces she called Pink Dust, Gold Dust, Sea at Dusk and Waves (to name and few) and they take the viewer into the wild, often, an uncensored perspective of an artist who relishes the creative freedom she has achieved.

"We see the world with our own eyes as it is, but with abstract photography, we can see differently. My process starts with taking a ‘base’ picture and building upon it with the interplay of colours and shapes until a vision starts to emerge and a story starts to unfold," Reem said.

She added, "I aim to invite the viewer to bring their own story into my photo. Everyone sees differently and the interpretations are endless - that is the beauty of abstracts. I bring my life experiences and memories and the viewer brings theirs, slowly unveiling the ambiguity they might have experienced at first glance as they spend more time viewing the piece. I name my photos based on my interpretation and that is usually the beginning of the thread for the viewer to follow as they wander the frame, deciphering it."

"The photos come to life in my home studio where I edit my images. The sea, the sand, the rocks, the sky – they are often the main subjects of my photos," she said.

Reem picked up her first borrowed camera at the age of 11 and back then, was heavily doing portraiture and documentary photography. Photography became a full-time career in 2011. From 2012 to 2021, Reem's fine art photographs had been showcased in numerous exhibitions and had also been a part of the Bait Muzna's Gallery collection. A member of the Photographic Society of Oman (PSO), her work has been privately acquired not only in Oman but in places like the USA, Canada and Thailand.

"This passion for photography continued throughout the years until it materialized into a profession in 2011 with a focus on portraiture photography. Influenced by beauty, connection, and the fleeting moments of life, I took pictures that represented these ideas. As I progressed through the changing stages of my life, these genres took on different forms and a few new ones emerged such as landscape and abstract," she narrated.

She added, "I am a lover of art and watercolour paintings in specific. But as much as I felt my fingers could paint, I found it to be a painfully time-consuming medium. Besides having been introduced to the medium of photography at a young age, what I love most about it is the instant gratification I get once I take a photo. I utilize the camera as my paintbrush instead and paint with camera movements. It is this ability to turn a real scene into a photo that crosses over into a painting-like piece that I thrive on with this medium. The result is rarely close to what anyone can see with their own eyes."

As an artist, Reem believes that Omani women artists need to be more represented locally and internationally. "There is a wealth of talent that should be more exposed to the world. Most of the art I see is reflective of the Omani environment and culture and this should be celebrated by showcasing it to the world," she said.

For those wanting to venture into her own kind of photography and art, Reem encouraged, "Photography is a beautiful art medium. It is transportable, mobile, diverse and can be learned at any stage in one’s life. The number one piece of advice I tell people is to start to see through a frame!"

To check more of her work, you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram: @reemalshaikhphotography

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