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New photography exhibition portrays essence of Sufism.

Dubai Photography from the perspective of Shems Friedlander is a universal language that bridges diverse cultures.

Friedlander is a multi-faceted person. Besides being a photographer he is also a designer, academic, poet, filmmaker and writer. The chairman of the Sony Gallery's International Advisory Board has a keen interest in the arts of the Middle East and is influenced by Sufism.

His latest exhibition aeFragrance from the Sufi garden' is based on Sufism. "Indeed it is," Friedlander says. "There is a Hadith of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that says: When you pass by the meadows of the Garden graze! They asked; O Messenger of God, What are the meadows of the Garden? And he replied, aeThe circles of remembrance'."

The exhibition comprises 30 photographs.

A 13th century Sufi master exerts a big influence on Friedlander's work. "The great 13th century Muslim poet and mystic Jalal Al Deen Roumi wrote about metaphysical love... who cannot be attracted to this," he says.

Friedlander graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1963. He is the author of nine books and his work has been exhibited worldwide. He presently teaches visual communication, drawing, painting and photography at the American University in Cairo.

According to Friedlander, photography is a process of seeing through one's inner being into a world of continuous impressions, and being present in a moment of active awareness that is recorded by the camera.

"It's a language that can merge the traditional and contemporary in such a way as to make it a meaningful experience in the world today. The photograph in its still, frozen form allows one the possibility to experience and reflect on its presence in the stillness of one's own being," he says.

Friedlander is convinced that "within each one of us is a sacred place".


With such a varied resume, what attracted Friedlander to photography? "I was the assistant art director at Look magazine in 1968 and was designing stories that were photographed by the best editorial photographers at the time, many from Magnum. I was looking at so many photographs that one day I decided to pick up a camera," he says.

On the techniques of photography employed in the exhibition such as the angles and the amount of lighting, Friedlander says: "The photographs were shot in natural light. I was able to move closely among the whirlers [dancers] hence intimate angles, and most of these photographs were taken with a Leica."

On his philosophy, he says, "There is a moment when the subject and the object become one and the camera records this moment. The frozen image can then be melted revealing its mysteries when the viewer opens his/her heart."

Friedlander grew up around photographers Walter Chappell and Paul Caponigro. "They used the art of photography to understand the secrets of life that lie within oneself by observing the signs of life outside of oneself."

Friedlander is currently working on a documentary.

Who: Photographer Shems Friedlander

What: Photography exhibition (Fragrance from the Sufi Garden)

Where: The Empty Quarter Fine Art Photography

When: Until May 15th


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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 22, 2010
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