Tucked away in AlSerkal Avenue in Dubai’s Al Quoz neighborhood, is Gulf Photo Plus (GPP), a community organization that is considered to be the region’s leading photography center. Other than offering workshops, studio rentals, printing services and photography related products, GPP also hosts exhibitions and talks featuring photographers from around the world. Up until 2019, it was known to host the region’s longest-running international photography event, GPP Photo Week. Running a business in the creative industries can be challenging, especially within a niche sector such as photography.

We had a chat with Mohamed Somji, director of GPP,  to understand what it takes to sustain Dubai’s longest running photography studio while providing value to the artistic community since 2004.

Mohamed Somji, director of Gulf Photo Plus (GPP)

Business approach

Adapting to different revenue streams over time is important because it allows companies to respond to changes in the market, shifts in consumer demand, advancements in technology, and disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic. By diversifying their revenue streams, companies can reduce their risk and increase their resilience in the face of economic downturns or industry disruption.

GPP has managed to sustain itself over the years by diversifying its revenue streams, as Somji says, “we have come to accept that in the line of work that we do, we cannot take anything for granted and have to continually assess the different revenue streams and decide how to allocate our resources efficiently.” This approach of remaining grounded and holding on to the overall vision is key to managing risks and uncertainty.

Over the last 10 years, GPP has three streams including art programming, education, and services and resources. In art programming, GPP promotes regional photographers and improves critical literacy through exhibitions and educational talks and seminars, both online and at the education space in Alserkal Avenue. For public education, GPP provides workshops for over 11,000 students covering various aspects of photography with materials that are suitable for all ages and skill levels including workshops, seminars and corporate training. Lastly, GPP offers facilities such as a fine art printing lab, film archiving and processing center and film materials. As a platform, they also represent over 35 artists in #Editions.

Somji also shares, “we try to have a pragmatic approach and are continually trying to understand the shifts within the industry so we are able to respond to changes and take advantage of opportunities. We also try not to overextend ourselves and always remind ourselves of our overarching goals in everything that we do.”

Measuring success

As a growing organization, GPP directs its generated income towards its artistic and educational programming. Somji says that they aim for "a healthy bottom line" that allows them to host exhibitions and conduct programming for the public. To measure the success of these programs, they also include key performance indicators (KPIs) such as attendance rates, social media engagement, and customer feedback which can help them identify trends and patterns in their performance over time.

Somji's role as a curator and a  jury member representing photo festivals around the world, such as the bi-annual BredaPhoto Festival in the Netherlands and the Arab Documentary Photography Program under AFAC (Arab Fund for Art & Culture) in Beirut, allows GPP to be exposed to a wide range of works allowing to push forward talent and propel their work beyond the Gulf region. Being surrounded by commercially driven experts and enthusiasts also helps GPP stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in the photography scene.

Audience engagement

GPP champions photography from the SWANA region while supporting emerging and established photographers through programming and hosting events such as Slidefest, Market Days, GPP Photo Week, and Arab Street, which attract international audiences and participants. They also partner with well-known entities, such as Warehouse 421, Google Arts & Culture, Apple, Art Jameel, Dubai Tourism, SONY, FUJIFILM, National Geographic Arabia and the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, to implement cultural programs from education to exhibition. They provide opportunities for artists through open calls for community exhibitions and capacity building including portfolio reviews, talks and workshops. 

“We are very attuned to what is happening in the photography scene in our region and we have a great relationship with the community and when we see a project we like, we engage with the artists and see how we can bring that work to GPP in various forms,” said Somji.

Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) has a strong online presence, reaching audiences around the world, particularly in the MENA region. Their website receives over 10,000 unique monthly visitors, and they also have a significant following with a total of 34,000 followers on Instagram. Additionally, GPP has a large email subscriber base, with over 10,000 subscribed to their newsletter, allowing them to keep their audience informed about upcoming events, exhibitions, and programming.

To sustain an independent gallery in Dubai, it is crucial to have a diversified revenue stream with a pragmatic approach. Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) has successfully created a reputation as the region's leading photography center through its three revenue streams, art programming, education, and services and resources. GPP aims for a healthy bottom line and measures success through key performance indicators according to the project scope. GPP's strong online presence and partnerships with well-known entities also help attract international audiences and support emerging and established photographers.

For more information, visit www.gulfphotoplus.com

– Marsya A. Abdulghani

Images courtesy of Gulf Photo Plus

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