'The Green Room' from the series Presence by Lamia Gargash
'The Green Room' from the series Presence by Lamia Gargash

An Emirati photographer and visual artist, Lamia Gargash's powerful images delve into multiple worlds; the rapidly changing interiors and exteriors of Emirati architecture, a moving tribute to her grandfather, a playful encounter with Louis Vuitton, and a piercing social commentary upon image and self-perception.

A keen observer, Gargash captures nuances and details that may otherwise be in danger of being overlooked and neglected and meticulously preserves them in her photographs.

Priyanka Sacheti spoke to the profound Emirati photographer to find out more about Gargash's vision and the creative processes motivating her work…

What made you choose photography as your medium of artistic expression?

Honestly speaking, as a child, I never ever thought of becoming an artist or photographer so it was a happy accident as to how I became one. When I applied for my MA at Central Saint Martins, London, I actually applied for graphic design. However, I was told that my work was more photographic and subsequently, placed in photography. I tried my best to get out of it as I wanted to pursue digital media; fate though had decided that photography was my destiny.

'Meelas Yadee' from the series Presence by Lamia Gargash
'Meelas Yadee' from the series Presence by Lamia Gargash

You mention in your biography that you were concerned with the relics of a self-renewing architecture and thereby you documented the private realms of Emirati spaces in your project 'Presence'. Could you elaborate on this?

I love what the camera captures, paying attention to details and using it to record and preserve what intrigues me. Space is a hub for many changes that occur around us; it dictates not only styles and eras but also a way of living. How a room is experienced leaves many stories within its walls. One always looks at the outside world as a sign of progression and expansion, but the true essence of change occurs within our own quarters. How one identifies himself within his own room and how he chooses to present his individuality and persona through it is what’s exciting.

Through 'Presence,' I sought to document a culture that exists in interiors and becoming extinct due to modernization and globalization. When I first started this project, I was studying in the UK. Coming back home, I was more aware of the changes happening and felt the desire to document my old home – and the work developed from there. I documented homes of people, who were shifting from them to newer ones as well as recording abandoned homes.

People always ask me why there are no people present in my photographs. To me the spaces and interiors not only narrate stories of the lives that existed in them but also give the viewer an insight into our culture; how swiftly things change in our country. The rate at which things are being destroyed and built is probably more obvious in the space we inhabit on a daily basis than merely the exterior urban landscape.

'The Sofa' from the series Presence by Lamia Gargash
'The Sofa' from the series Presence by Lamia Gargash

Many of these spaces are clearly private residences. How hard was the process of photographing these private and intimate spaces?

I found that documenting private spaces was much harder than taking someone’s portrait. Also, as we live in a quiet, conservative society, which admires and respects privacy, taking one’s photographs is quite a challenge enough – but taking pictures of their private spaces was even more challenging. Many perceived it as an intrusion and invasion of privacy to expose their most intimate spaces, whether it was a kitchen, bedroom or even bathroom. They would question: why would anyone be interested in living quarters? Go photograph the garden or the sunset instead! Initially it was very hard but I gradually found a language by which I was able to communicate my message.

Your collaboration with Brownbook magazine focused on the Emiratis fixation with fashion label Louis Vuitton. How did that materialize and what kind of a commentary were you making through this project?

The idea behind this project was to showcase the idea of Louis Vuitton, the brand, being submerged in our everyday lives and presented in a series of photographs that had a vintage feel. I am an avid film user and almost all my work is shot on film. Despite the difficulties associated with its post-production, I love the anticipation of waiting to get my images back and not knowing what they truly look like. The use of film helped capture the mood that Brownbook and Louis Vuitton were looking for.

I was given a brief and asked to recreate it in candid old school shots. The idea was to keep the images as honest as possible. 'Presence' actually was its visual guideline; the mood and style of the photographs inspired the creation of the Louis Vuitton series.

'Lindsay' from the series Through the Looking Glass by Lamia Gargash
'Lindsay' from the series Through the Looking Glass by Lamia Gargash

I found the 'Through the Looking Glass' project very relevant and topical, considering the almost obsessive preoccupation many people have their appearance. You included subjects belonging to both sexes and a spectrum of nationalities and ages. How did the participants feel about becoming involved? What did you take away from this project?

'Through the Looking Glass' investigates how we constantly view ourselves in comparison to an ever-elusive standard, prompted by the constant bombardment of media imagery dictating ‘how we should look’. Minor defects become drastic, resulting in even more drastic measures undertaken to reach that ideal standard of beauty. Our self-perception, and subsequently our identity, becomes indistinct, as if viewing ourselves through a distorted looking glass.

The photographic series comprises of diptychs, with one panel depicting a portrait of the subject as seen by the world, and an opposing panel depicting the subject as seen through their mind’s eye. In many ways, all the portraits I have created for this series is a representing of my own insecurities. We live in a world that is bombarded with information and supposed accepted norms – be it behavior or physical appearances. I have to admit I am one of those people whose lack of confidence affects me on a daily basis and I was keen on expressing that simple emotion and capture it photographically.

Finding my models was a challenge too as not everyone wants to have themselves presented in such a manner; it was crucial to have committed participants as it was a very delicate, time and money consuming project. I found that females were more receptive and excited about the project than men; they in turn were more reserved. The people I worked with were co-operative and understanding, I couldn't have asked for a better crew or cast. I also would like to thank Emirates Foundation who helped fund the project.

Your projects have included a gamut of subjects and themes: architecture, fashion, and perception. Your project, 'Yadee' however revolves around your grandfather and is therefore much more intimate and personal. What made you take up this project?

My grandfather was such a strong character in my family. He was a healthy, active, athletic persona who loved life, travelling and being young. However, he had a severe fall a few years back that shifted his whole world and in many ways affected him deeply. For me, coming to terms with the situation was hard and took a while. The series of images of my grandfather, who is still alive, merely captures the sad aftermath of the whole situation. It showcases vulnerability, sorrow and isolation. It is almost like being introduced to a whole new family member. I am a keen observer – I pay attention to so many details that it overwhelms me and the fact that I find it hard to accept change leaves me lingering in the details, trying to grasp whatever I can through my photographs. Every project I have documented or created was an outcome of personal melancholy or pure inner reflections.

Can you tell us about any future projects?

I have been working on a variety of business creative ventures with my sisters and family; however, regarding my next photo project, it will be a marriage between my love of interiors and implementing more of the “self” in the body of work.

I still believe that there is still a lot to investigate in the idea of space and that there is still plenty that it has to offer as creative material, and allowing the spectator to form his own narrative. After all, stories take place in every room in every house, building and structure. How space is constructed and how we choose to embed ourselves within it is inspiring for me.

To see more of Lamia Gargash's work visit www.lamiagargash.com

– Priyanka Sacheti

Images courtesy of Lamia Gargash

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