Art, to most people is restricted to depictions in easel and clay. Paintings of still life captured forever in oil, or portraits of a particularly striking character frozen in almost lifelike form in a bust of hardened mud.

There’s another form of Art however, that’s catching up with the mainstream. Only this time the purveyors of the trade come armed with cameras.

Photography has now found itself being accommodated under the shade of the classical Arts. And it has now come to the point where the images of Leibowitz are on par with the works of Van Gogh.

It might sound easy, but there truly is a special skill that comes with the ability to convey emotion, expressions, and even thought all through a single photographed image.

Saeed Khalifa is one such captain of his craft. This very talented Emirati is creating waves in the Arts circuit with his unique perception of the world we live in. Khaleejesque managed to catch up with this virtuoso.

Khaleejesque Team: What exactly got you started on photography?

Saeed Khalifa: I’ve always been a visual person, and as a child it was so hard for me to read and learn. The process just seemed to go on forever! (Maybe it’s just that my brain didn’t develop properly. Haha.).


Anyway, I think it was a natural progression for me to move on and create an image rather than just visualize one. Besides that, my mother used to photograph a lot. She had a very unique vision and great artistic identity in her work, even though she’d only just photograph friends and family. I would go through her photo albums and feel hypnotised by the ‘atmosphere’ in her photographs and wanted to do something similar. It drove me to grab a camera and follow in her footsteps. It just felt right.

That’s how I made the transition from drawing and painting, to photography. Ever since, I ‘find myself’ a lot more now.

KT: In what ways do you feel your work differs from the rest of the mainstream?

SK: Different? Maybe. I do try to stay away from the more common visual styles in the region. The styles here are taken as trends, and every time I see a trend coming up I go in the opposite direction.

Though people actually tell me that my work is mainstream! Fashion photography is a huge influence in my work; the slick style and perfectly polished finish is something I always try to keep in my images. I think that’s probably why they’re labelled mainstream. Frankly, I just like to think of it as images processed to create a visual feast.

KT: What message are you trying to get across through your work?

SK: My work is a reflection of my thoughts, and the world I create (as vain as that might sound, that’s just me being perfectly honest). I think about something and I show it to my viewers (usually on my DeviantArt account). I want people to enjoy the place I’m in and relate to what I think somehow.

This hasn’t been going on for long though. A while ago I used to just want to express the beauty of my sorroundings, but now I want my viewers to join me in this certain kind of wonderland; sometimes beautiful, sometimes twisted.

 KT: What has been the response from the region towards your work?

SK: Some pieces get an overwhelmingly good response, whereas others are generally just favourable.

I’ve had a few pieces create quite a buzz though. Like the one that’s a macro shot of my eye with a pin going through the lower lid. Most thought I was crazy! Another was an image about sin (something I’d like to delve more in to) which had a crown of barbwire around my head. Some viewers pointed fingers saying that that had a reference to Jesus Christ (which might seem pretty obvious, but is in fact far what I was trying to convey).

Overall though, I’m pretty happy with the response I get. It’s very satisfying Alhamdulillah.

KT: At what point do you feel, does photography fall under the category of 'Art?'

SK: I think it depends from person to person. Personally I think that if you feel it, then it is. If that makes any sense at all.

When you feel you’ve created something worthy or memorable, that’s Art. Regardless if it’s a drawing, painting, sculpture or photograph. Create something to live art; breathe life in to something.

KT: Tell us about your exhibitions. Any more in the pipeline for the near future?

SK: My first exhibition was in 2009 and was part of a group exhibition held by Tashkeel called Silent Conversations. I was terrified! Although it was something I’ve always wanted, I was so scared that I’d mess the whole thing up.

Thankfully everything went well and I had two pieces up. Both were self portraits; one entitled DUO featuring two entities (both of them myself) representing that point of rebirth in life after a long emotional comma. The second was entitled FREQUENCY and it had the visual effect of representing the finding of an identity in a place where identities are either lost or without boundaries.

The very same year I took part in another exhibition with Tashkeel. This was very interesting.

I’d been experimenting with self portraits for a very long time now, and then Lateefa Bint Maktoum in a conversation said "push your limits. Avoid self portraits for the time being and create something new.”

I felt handicapped. How could I do something I hadn’t done before? How would I push my limits? In the end, the idea of creating something out of nothing came to my mind. I created an image of a dancer in the dark, comprised completely of flowing textiles. Nothing was involved in the making save for some material that I threw around and put together. This picture in particular was inspired by childhood memories where you’d stared at the clouds and see a lion or a bunny or a heart. When they looked at my photographs, I wanted adults to re-experience that. I wanted them to create something, and let me tell you, they created!

My third show was in early 2010. It was a tribute to my mother and her struggles as a child and a teenager, and how she stands as an inspiration to both my brother and I.

And well there’s nothing planned at the moment, but hopefully things will go as planned (I don’t normally talk about it before it happens. Wouldn’t want to jinx anything now, would I?

From his portfolio it’s clear why Saeed Khalifa’s work stands out. His striking visuals encourage the imagination, yet stay true to the essence of reality both at the same time. Inspirational enough to make you want to pick up your own point-and-shoot, and start clicking.

-Shaahima Fahim
Images courtesy of Saeed Khalifa

Previously Published in June 2010

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