Fine art, not just a shot

Growing number of Omani photographers, both men and women, have won international laurels for their magical talent. They paint with light and lens to transform something into work of art

t’s deemed the ultimate attempt at capturing reality with all its mundaneness, and then enticing you to transcend the same to reach the unknown realm of understanding the familiar. That’s why photography still matters, even after almost two centuries of engaging more or less the same technicality involving light.
Nobody, in my view, went beyond Alfred Stieglitz who said, “In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” Why, because there is nothing more to be said.
Photographs still amuse us because, as Dominique de Font-Reaulx observed, they establish a paradigm of representation at once original yet familiar. However, debates over whether photography is a fine art or not show no signs of settling down.
It was the advent of the Pictorialist movement at the end of the 19th century, with its highly refined aesthetics and innovative approach to images, which included a lot of alternative processes that redefined images in artistic terms, that set off the debates.
Photoshop didn’t exist then, and the only option for Pictorialist photographers was to rely on the dexterity of hands to manipulate the negatives. They used multiple negatives and masking to create a single print, and applied soft focus and diverse toning methods to create stunning effects. All this was done to circumvent the plain mechanical look of the photographs.
If photographers and their works haven’t lost the power to converse with today’s art lovers, it’s all because of the Pictorialists of those times, who relentlessly explored hidden possibilities.
A photograph can be a fine art; or it can be just a photograph. The choice, mostly, lies with the viewer.
Strangely enough, by the early 20th century, even Pictorialists felt the need to go beyond Pictorialism. Alfred Stieglitz, an ardent Pictorialist, started working on “straight” photographs, which involved the printing of a negative from edge to edge with no cropping or any kind of “editing” as we say today.
His experimentation with abstract photos brought out the beauty and appeal of the medium’s ‘precision’ and its wider possibilities, prompting modern-day photographers to refrain from making photographs look like paintings.
What art critic Clement Greenberg bluntly said in 1946 still reverberates in the domain of photography. Clement noted that “Photography is the most transparent of the art mediums devised or discovered by man. It is probably for this reason that it proves so difficult to make the photograph transcend its almost inevitable function as document and act as work of art as well.”
However, the medium has found ways to transcend itself. And, joining the league of photographers who create exceptional works of art using the camera are a young crop of Omani lensmen, some of whom have won international laurels for their creative talent.
Waheed al Fazari, a noted wildlife photographer from the Sultanate, won the top honour at last year’s Xposure International Photography Festival, organised by the Sharjah Government’s Media Bureau, for the image of wild beasts’ migration in Africa. He beat as many as 10,000 photographers from 94 countries.
A couple of years ago, Said bin Ali al Wahaibi, a member of the Omani Photographic Society, won the gold medal at the Al Thani Award for photography that is annually held in Qatar, for his picture “Fading like Smoke”, along with another Omani photographer Abdul Hakim bin Said al Oujaili who also won gold at the same competition for his work “Hunter”. In all, 8,488 photographers representing 99 states participated in the competition with 46,658 images.
Yet another award winning Omani photographer is Samir al Busaidi, who is the only Arab to win the Palanga photo competition held in Lithuania last year. He was feted for his work that captured the quintessential charm of the Ibri desert.
He also won several global awards including an FIAP gold medal and a PSA silver in the Nature category for his amazing images of the Omani deserts.
Exceptionally talented Omani female photographers such as Shams al Harthi and Meyyan al Said, to name just a few, have elevated the art of photography to new levels. While Shams focuses on the abstract elements of images, Meyyan’s works play on nature and architecture.
The Sultanate will continue to produce outstanding images that the world will take note of. And we are indebted to creative minds such as Khalid al Busaidi (known for his stunning images of art performances on stage at the Royal Opera House Muscat), Ahmed al Toqi, Rashad al Wahaibi, Sausan al Busaidi, Ahmed al Kindi, Hussain al Balushi and a number of others who keep clicking with great passion.