The Photobook

Artist Blog by Eman Ali

2019 was a year that felt like a turbulent romance between me and photography. I remember sitting in my studio at Ridley Road in London, feeling completely disillusioned. The spark had vanished, and I couldn't find the motivation to capture anything through my lens. Various factors contributed to this state of mind - turmoil in my personal life, a relationship that had prematurely ended, and the soul-sucking algorithm of Instagram that perpetuated a monotonous feed. I felt trapped in a dark and repetitive cycle, losing my own voice and my way of expressing how I saw this world, both its beauty and its pathos. Photography, which had been a source of healing for me, turned into an empty void. I would call out to it, hoping for a response, even the tiniest flicker of emotion. But all I received was silence, as if photography had walked out on me. Was I pining for something that no longer wanted me? It was a tough pill to swallow, but I had to surrender to this creative block, hoping that there was some deeper reason behind it all.

In the summer of 2019, I stumbled upon my father's collection of newsletters titled Oman.These publications were released by the Omani embassy in London during the '70s and '80s, shedding light on the transformation of Oman into a modern state under Sultan Qaboos bin Said's rule. My father, who had worked at the embassy, had collected and carefully preserved them over the years. As I delved into these newsletters, I found myself captivated by the images they contained. They were like portals to a bygone era, a record of a chapter coming to an end. I felt an undeniable urge to also preserve them, to hold onto these fragments of history.

I embarked on a mission to create a digital archive of these publications. It was a week-long endeavor, scanning each page with meticulous care. As I handled these historical documents, I became acutely aware of their significance. They were precious, not just because my father had cherished them, but also because they held a piece of Oman's journey. But little did I know that this project would be more than just preservation. It would lead me back to photography, reigniting my love for it and expanding my practice in a new direction. While scanning the newsletters, I found myself instinctively capturing the photographs that spoke to me using my iPhone. It was an intuitive process, following my gut and seizing the elements that caught my eye - a captivating shape, an intriguing figure, or a mesmerizing background. It was all spontaneous, and I had no concrete reason behind it. I would crop and re-frame the images on camera as I was shooting and I simply trusted that these images carried meaning, even if I couldn't decipher it just yet. By the end of it all, I had compiled a collection of hundreds of photographs, each with its own story to tell.

Then, in the autumn, fate intervened. David Drake, the Director of Ffotogallery, reached out to commission me to create new work for an exhibition he was curating titled "The Place I Call Home." I needed a challenge, a chance to break free from the creative stagnation that had plagued me, and what better way than to dive headfirst into uncharted territory? I had never made a photobook before, nor had I worked with archival material. It was the perfect opportunity to push myself beyond my comfort zone and find the excitement in image-making once again.

This commission came at a time of great tension in Oman. The looming death of Sultan Qaboos signaled a new era, leaving the nation on edge. We knew change was imminent, but we had no clue about the direction it would take or who would guide us. I needed an outlet, a way to cope with the uncertainty of everything. And so, I embarked on a critical inquiry into the role of archives and records. I delved into Oman's modern history, questioning my own understanding of it, and exploring the crucial role photography played in shaping a new national identity. My photobook Succession became a bridge between the past and the present, a reflection on the power of images and their ability to convey meaning.

Creating a distance from my usual way of working was important in finding my way back to photography. I had to rediscover it as my muse and working with archival material liberated my creative process, allowing me to let loose and play. It opened up new avenues of exploration, making me question how I could reinterpret these images and communicate my own messages. I made a deliberate choice to exclude captions in the book because I believe in the raw power of photographs to convey something at a deep emotional level. Captions can sometimes limit the viewer's interpretation, whereas the absence of words allows the images to speak directly to the psyche. I've come to understand the immense influence that images hold and how they can shape new meanings and evoke a range of emotions. It's fascinating to explore the ways in which we can manipulate the reading of photographs, creating a dynamic conversation between images that blurs the line between reality and fiction. It's like steering a ship, deciding how closely we want to approach the truth or venture into imaginative realms. This play with ambiguity is what draws me to photography. Each turn of the page marked a new spread to explore and contemplate. The title Succession not only provided context for the overall project but also invited readers to ponder the relationship between the images and the larger narrative they collectively wove.

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