On looking upon Eugene H Johnson’s artwork, I have had the single most enchanting and engaging privilege in my entire life to be introduced to a realm of photography that has since transformed my very definition of photography. I marvel and wonder at his artwork that he has presented in each and every black and white photograph taken across all sections of Oman. Stories after stories unfold from the black and white images I stare, spellbound, in his priceless book, Reflections from the Not so Distant Past in Oman.
Indeed, it is a journey into the universality of humanity that is so starkly captured and offered in the images. Hidden in these images, are poems that reveal themselves and I write down incessantly, verses after verses, unstoppably.
The two volumes contain retelling of stories collected after decades of greeting, meeting and bonding with each Omani elders, who represent every nook and corner of this beautiful desert land of Oman. The books are a lifelong wealth to be nurtured and used as first-hand historical research of personal oral accounts of history of those who experienced the days in their misery in the pre-1970 era and then experienced the Omani renaissance, the fairy-tale like transformation of their nation, their entwined fate, and witnessed miracles. Now, they live in the glory of the post 1970s, and to this day, indisputably salute the late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
A total of 250 pages in each volume contain the stories of these individuals of the time, written by Dr Eugene himself. To call these writings literature, historical accounts or exquisite portraiture is not adequate or comprehensive, because they are all of these all at once! So, I have had to call them Storimages. A collection of rarest black and white portrait photographs of each subject in the two grand volumes. The set is at once significant to the contemporary historians as well as the future historians who will want to know the past as it occurred and accounts straight from the masses, authentic and awe-inspiring. But most of all, a must-read for every Omani and every person living in Oman and claiming to love or even claiming to like Oman.
Rare or impossible it is to find a marriage of the intellect and the heart in an artist’s work. Prof Eugene H Johnson, world-acclaimed and inimitable photographer and literary writer, as well as artist, also superbly accomplishes a dash of light humour to enable the reader to smile with simultaneous tear drops held in the eyes as one goes page after page, image after image, story after story, to realise the insurmountable struggle, woes and victories of the unsung heroes whose survival is now immortalised in their own words with their own portraits. Anyone who values art and literature will be obliged to Dr Eugene H Johnson forever to have been granted an elevated experience that carries them to the highest possible pinnacle, the most objective history in the most authentic, genuinely compassionate yet subdued manner, at once restoring the balance of facts and feelings.
If a lifetime ought to be spent on a passion with compassion, these volumes are exemplary of human endeavours succeeding beyond imagination, and immortalising the subject and the artist all at once, and if this be the truest accounts of history, then they are also unmistakably worthy of being taught as history as well as literary flamboyances that to a keen reader or student of history and art and literature and photography would enthrall and inspire all at once, reiterating these books as a timeless collection of the Storimages of Oman.
By Amita Sanghavi
Amita Sanghavi teaches English at SQU and is also a poet.