Arab Photography Now, edited by Rose Issa and Michket Krifa, is a book recently launched. Claiming to chart North Africa and the Middle East’s ‘leading’ photographers of today, it is unusually limited in scope. I mean 30 artists only! Really? To select thirty artists, and to state verbatim that these are the leading figures seems strangely hyperbolic. Where is Shadi Ghadirian? Steve Sabella? Halim Alkarim? and all those artists and photographers who are continuing to shape our perception of the world around us? This does not mean that the artists mentioned do not deserve to be included in the book’s project and scope. On the contrary, these artists indeed all have a profound message to communicate via their photography. However, my concern is that art critics, curators and gallerists put their favoured artists on such a pedestal that the audience, or public, or viewer, is not told that these selected artists are indeed a handful of a wider many.
My second, but also lesser, concern is the choice of title. Why is the title specifically ‘Arab’, only to be told later that the photographers are from North Africa and the Middle East? Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Shouldn’t the title be broad, and then later narrowed down? For the term ‘Arab’ excludes Iran, which is part of the Middle East. Anyway, enough of that. Let me speak of an exhibition, which opened earlier in October 2011at London’s Tate Britain: Gerard Richter: Panorama. Unlike the early photographers of the nineteenth century, who drew inspiration from paintings in order to be accepted in the fine art circles of elitist Paris, Gerard Richter turns the tables and employs photographs, not the fine art type of photography I have discussed here, but journalistic photography and commercial photography, that has a more direct approach than fine art photography.