A new hub for photographers is due to open later this year at Manarat Al Saadiyat. “World-class facilities” are promised, including an alternative processes darkroom (no word on the detail, but platinum printing would be fun). There will be a library, too, and space to hold professional workshops and master classes.
TCA Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s tourism authority, is responsible. It says the initiative “will contribute to enhancing the art scene and fostering talent within the emirate’s photography community … [It is] designed to support an inspiring community of photographers … [It will be] the essential platform for professionals and artists to improve their skills, expose them to new techniques and the latest approaches in photography, and assist them in maintaining a steady and professional growth of their talent”.
Picking through the thickets of enthusiastic verbiage, this looks like a pitch for more soft-power leadership in a strategic arts sector – Abu Dhabi emirate is fabulously photogenic, after all, and nothing promotes tourism as effectively as the visual evidence of photography.
Abu Dhabi has long positioned itself as the mothership of opportunities for UAE nationals, and the photography hub is also being seen as another opportunity for UAE nationals to establish a presence in the international arts community.
The press release gives these words to TCA Abu Dhabi DG Saif Saeed Ghobash: “As we strive to catalyse creativity in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, nurturing an artistic environment has been our core focus, and through this initiative we strive to introduce the new generation to the art of photography … The [initiative] will promote photography as a form of art, cultivate the capabilities and skills in our talented photographers, and ultimately will enable the emergence of a group of aspiring young professionals.”
The Manarat initiative also represented a use for the accumulated collateral and goodwill that had been built up around the Emirates Photography Competition, last held in 2015 but previously a regular annual event (2015 was the ninth edition). TCA Abu Dhabi organised the EPC with accreditation from FIAP, the Fédération Internationale de l’Art Photographique to give it credibility. But it has rather lost out in scale to Dubai’s Hamdan International Photography Award – HIPA has the world’s richest photographic prize pot, this year totalling a massive $424,000.
TCA Abu Dhabi had a first pass at the “inspire a new generation of photographers” in Summer 2016, with a public programme of workshops, meetings and seminars that were promoted as part of the education and outreach programme of the Emirates Photography Competition (the 2015 EPC was being exhibited at the time). Some of those sessions were held in the Manarat, others at the National Theatre and Al Ain’s Al Qattara Arts Centre.
Above: The Grand Prize winner at the 9th Emirates Photography Competition was “Love on the cooking bench” by Chengliang Liu (China)