Medieval depictions of historical events in Shi’a art and illuminations often depict the prophet Muhammad with a golden flame enveloping his head or show his face entirely shrouded by a veil; an attempt at reverence in both his depiction and concealment. This primary tension between two states of being – overlapping and interacting sources of representation – is instrumental to the way I make images. Within intersecting visual languages, the potential for transformation is vast and irrepressible. I am using photographs to explore these intersections of form and meaning, looking particularly at geopolitical signifiers and religious violence.
Photography’s contemporary role in art and populist models of thought as well as its relationship to art history continues to prove problematic in extracting meaning and narrative from the medium. I find myself drawn to the inescapable duality and tension between the photograph’s role as the arbiter of record and its inevitable problems as a constructed image. I employ this tension between representational forms as a means of exploring the volatile and mercurial dynamics of the Middle East. This historically dense region’s narratives are often borne of both the control and immediacy of images and their symbolic weight.
I have been working for over a decade with large format photography and it is still the means by which I conceptualize, associate and produce my work. The decision to use this increasingly archaic form of photography reflects my interest in various historic models of representation. Nineteenth century American landscape photographers used large format photography to depict an “unsettled” and “wild” new world in the American west, ready for European expansion. These landscape photographs are unyielding in their formal beauty and promise of unfettered exploration while often neglecting the presence of Native communities. This visual form of manifest destiny confuses representations of beauty with availability – a trope found in 19th century French Orientalist painting as well as 19th century mythologies regarding historic Palestine.
My images are often constructed in a studio, within a controlled environment and require much in the way of sculptural and spatial problem solving. The images are contingent on having been shot “in camera” so as to reinforce the visual abstractions contained within them. It is critical that these spaces and objects exist physically, even if only for a brief moment and dependent upon the limitations of the camera. This process of control and physical contingency seems to reflect the vulnerability of photographic images, as well as the transitional and elastic spaces of the Middle East.