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Telling tales of light with the camera

(Feature in wknd magazine of Khaleej Times dated 26 February, 2023)

Bombora. The name of Australian photographer Andrew Semark’s booth at the Xposure International Photography Festival in Sharjah sounded intriguing and exotic at once. The walls were adorned with lavish visuals of the ocean in all its resplendence – the azurine tones, emerald greens and matte greys merging with the frothy whites of breaking waves.

Breaking waves. That’s what Bombora means. And it is what Andrew has been obsessed with for 15 years, an obsession that he captured in photographs and exhibited to the world.

Andrew is besotted with the ocean and has known the waves from close quarters. He learned to surf them first, and when he became adept at reading the characteristics of the surging waters, he committed himself to seize their grandeur, beauty and power in his camera. Commitment - it is what defines Andrew’s passion for the art that depicts the dynamic nature of the sea surface in breathtaking ways.

Everything that one sees in the picture is natural – from the shapes of the waves to the myriad hues they display. Although the sea is blue in popular description, one look at Andrew’s work and you know it is not just blue.

‘It is all about light. It illuminates the water differently at different times of the day,’ he avers when I express disbelief over the changing colours of the ocean in his images. The sheer magnitude of his attempts to bring the ocean to life in his photographs is evident when he talks about the detailed planning, the dangers he confronts and the need to be present in the moment while he is capturing the images.

An error in judgement or failure to respond quickly to an oncoming wave could mean catastrophe, which nearly had him drowned two years ago. ‘My eardrums were ruptured, my arms seriously bruised by the camera when I was tossed around and pushed to the bottom of the sea by a huge crashing wave,’ he reminisces without a shudder.

The ocean is where Andrew has anchored his life. The risks don’t deter him from going out into the waters because the ocean humbles him and brings peace and purpose in his life. He concludes by comparing the waves to humans – each one different, at times quirky and violent, but always with a beauty of their own.

A journey of self-discovery

If human spirit had to be summarised in pictures, if the meaning of life can be distilled into a phrase, it is in the compelling visual stories that Michael Aboya crafts and titles ‘The light within’. To all those who thought photography was about clicking a few random pictures in our aim and shoot devices, it is time to reconsider their fallacy.

27-year-old Michael’s foray into photography has spiritual undertones to it. His journey began at a point when he was searching for meaning in life, asking hard questions like why he was born and what his purpose in being here was. They were questions that sprung when he was 19, in the wake of his father’s untimely demise, a loss that made him feel colossally lost. It was photography that pulled him out of grief and made him look at life and the world around him with a new perspective – a perspective that he wishes to share with the world through his riveting people pictures.

Each image is a depiction of bursting hope, joy and love spontaneously captured. ‘It reflects the light that we all invariably carry within us. Photographs can speak to us, and through the pictures I shot, I wanted to tell people to be strong and have faith despite all the darkness around. Also, I realised that in order for me to find myself, I must capture other people’s stories because regardless of what they went through, people always found a way to be happy. I decided to find how they did that by taking their photographs and studying them,’ says Michael, who is filled with unwavering faith and wisdom.

The profound notes that accompany this Ghanaian photographer’s works are an exposition of his philosophies and his positive outlook. Together with these, his photographs make a ready reckoner for life and an instant motivation to distressed souls. ‘Your art made my day,’ a visitor’s remark sums up the impact of Michael’s works on his audience.

Bringing dead leaves to life

If Bambora is an intriguing title and ‘The light within’ is uplifting, ‘Fallen leaves’ might sound a tad melancholic for its connotations, but what I was treated to at Filipp Kabanyayev’s photo booth were the most sanguine sights that one can get at a photo exhibition. Leaves, leaves and leaves, but not one alike nor in the shape or colour one would associate with fallen foliage. ‘Is this photography, really?’ I ask the 35-year-old year old Russian photographer from the US in disbelief.

‘It is. It is a combination of nature’s elements and human technique. Leaves are not something that people consider beautiful, especially the fallen ones. So I wanted to bring out their beauty by showing them through light painting photography,’ Filipp explains about his unique art form.

There is nothing elaborate in Filipp’s creations. They are minimalistic yet striking with vivid colours and textures. To bring such magnificence to something as mundane as fallen leaves takes immense effort and patience, and Filipp finds his devotion to his art deeply soothing and meditative. ‘The hardest part is,’ he says, each leaf is different, and it takes time to find the right angle that would reveal its unique qualities.’

For someone to whom expression of thoughts through words doesn’t come easily, his art helps him showcase his view of the world in an artistic manner. To him, like Andrew and Michael, photography is not a mere hobby or a means to make a living. It is life itself. It is what sustains them and keeps them in sync with their soul. Their pictures are dependent on light, both external and internal, and every click of theirs is a magnum opus in itself.

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