Wednesday, 3 April 2013

New Light From the Middle East

I had been wanting to go to this exhibition for ages, but had been waiting for a moment when my husband and I could both go, as I thought that he'd enjoy it, being very keen on photography himself (we spend a lot of weekends standing underneath the Westway while he photographs concrete formations from underneath - it's actually quite beautiful when you get into it) and because we went to Algeria on our honeymoon and I thought there might be some nice snaps of Algiers, or something, to transport us back to more carefree times.  At the moment, if we want to be reminded, we have to watch either The Battle of Algiers or Of Gods Or Men.  The subject matter of the first is self-explanatory, Of Gods Or Men - while brilliant - is about a group of seven French monks being murdered in Algeria.  Neither film is exactly uplifting.

But Algeria is a really beautiful country. And we had a wonderful time there. It's not exactly a top tourist destination, and if anyone does go I'd recommend taking a healthy wodge of cash as the ATMs don't accept international cards, and we spent the last week staying in hovels and almost starving because I had spent all our money buying a carpet in the M'Zab Valley, where we'd gone to look at some of the buildings that influenced Le Corbusier.  It's the most amazing place, the M'Zab Valley: they give all children kittens so that they learn to look after another being, and it is run along a series of utopian ideals whereupon the rich give to the poor and fund schools and hospitals and the whole community is self sufficient and self supporting and it actually works.  I'm desperate to go back and buy more carpets.  And it's beautiful, truly truly heavenly. Just look:

So now I've made you look at my honeymoon photos.  And the whole preamble has been almost irrelevant, because there aren't any pictures of Algeria in the exhibition (and yes, I know Algeria technically isn't in the Middle East, but the exhibition includes works from North Africa.)  But there were photographs of some other places that I love; in particular those of Syria are the closest I'm likely to get to visiting that country for a while unless a miracle happens and the war ends.  But aside from all that it's a great exhibition, and I discovered the works of photographers that I didn't know, whose work I now want to see more of.  In particular:

This is by Issa Touma, from Sufis: The Day of al-Ziyara.  Touma spent 10 years photographing the same subject, winning the trust of the Sufis.  I love the sense of joy and celebration that comes out the images.  

These works are by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, and are both from the Wonder Beirut series, which is the invented story of a pyromaniac photographer called Abdallah Farah.  Between 1968 and 1969 Farah was commissioned to take photographs of Beirut by the Lebanese government which would then be used as postcards.  In the autumn of 1975 Farah systematically burnt the negatives in accordance with the damage done to the sites by shelling and street fights.

So go.  It finishes this weekend.  I eventually went without my husband because he was never going to be free at the right time, and I'm really pleased that I didn't miss it.

New Light From the Middle East is at the Victoria & Albert Museum until Sunday 7th April.