Max Pam’s Unquenchable Wanderlust: Ramadan In Yemen

“What could I say about Yemen that did it justice. I tried in my journal to work it honestly. I tried with 60 rolls of black and white 120 film to translate the experience. That hot, spare and beautiful Ramadan.” –Max Pam

Max Pam is an Australian photographer who spent Ramadan of 1993 traversing the rugged terrain of rural Yemen. This is the first time that this many of these images have been exhibited in their entirety, and they have found a very fitting home at the latest addition to Dubai’s burgeoning gallery scene, East Wing.

The Suq. From Ramadan in Yemen

The Suq. From Ramadan in Yemen

Although Pam did not make it to Dubai for the opening of Ramadan in Yemen, I was lucky enough to correspond with him and receive his behind the scenes take on several of the photographs from the show that especially spoke to me. I’ve added his comments into the captions.

Many of the photographs were mounted on paper, ringed with memories about each image handwritten by the artist. I found myself rotating my neck in awkward circles, stretching to make out each of the stories. I may have looked like a heron watching a fish dart below the surface of a marsh standing there, moving like that, but I simply couldn’t tear myself away from what I was reading. The handwriting made me nostalgic for a time when it was normal to receive postcards from wandering friends, and to know someone so intimately that I could recognize their handwriting. Those days of personal correspondence are quickly dying out.

Max Pam's distinct handwriting framing a photograph from the series

Max Pam’s distinct handwriting framing a photograph from the series

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From Ramadan in Yemen

From Ramadan in Yemen

Photography at its most powerful achieves the project of making unfamiliar issues or cultures relatable and unforgettable and Pam has accomplished that here. The images are highly intimate glimpses into every day life in Yemen, from buying an iftar chicken in the market to taking a day long taxi over the mountains to visit family members, to fixing a car—little mundane moments that anyone viewing the images has surely experienced in his or her own cultural context.

This makes it easy to relate to the subjects in a way that makes us realize that the people of Yemen are not that different from people anywhere else. The sensitivity and respect with which Pam shoots is what drew me in above all. I was amazed to learn that he reached this level of comfort with his subjects and their culture rapidly, as the entire journey was made in a matter of weeks.

Abdullah Fixing the Broken Toyota. Pam: "This shot happened on the road from Shihara to Sanaa, the back axle almost fell off and took 3 hours to fix.”

Abdullah Fixing the Broken Toyota. Pam: “This shot happened on the road from Shihara to Sanaa, the back axle almost fell off and took 3 hours to fix.”

North Yemenis, 1993.  Pam: “Here two and three generations of men—grandfather, son, and grandson were photographed on the high ridge Shihara occupies on Shihara Mountain, 2,600 Meters high.”

North Yemenis, 1993.
Pam: “Here two and three generations of men—grandfather, son, and grandson were photographed on the high ridge Shihara occupies on Shihara Mountain, 2,600 Meters high.”

Although he has an enviable home base in Fremantle, Australia (check out this interview and home tour if you’re curious to know more), Pam is a lifelong wanderer and is well known for books like Supertourist that document his field trips. His wanderlust manifests itself as an unquenchable craving to see and capture far off lands and the people who live there.

A Russian Gun, 1993. Pam: “I met him on a track firing his Russian handgun out into the massive view. He introduced me to his grandfather and son.”

A Russian Gun, 1993. Pam: “I met him on a track firing his Russian handgun out into the massive view. He introduced me to his grandfather and son.”

The Chicken, 1993. “This is so typical of a country without supermarkets— you buy meat live in the market and take it home to be killed and eaten.”

The Chicken, 1993. Pam: “This is so typical of a country without supermarkets—
you buy meat live in the market and take it home to be killed and eaten.”

Taxi to Taizz, 1993. Pam: “9 people rode in the Peugeot 404 station wagon, the common vehicle of choice for the intercity shared taxi service. These were the people directly behind me on that ride, from Aden to Taizz, a full day’s drive.”

Taxi to Taizz, 1993. Pam:
“9 people rode in the Peugeot 404 station wagon, the common vehicle of choice for the intercity shared taxi service. These were the people directly behind me on that ride, from Aden to Taizz, a full day’s drive.”

Newcomer DIFC gallery East Wing is a serious addition to Dubai’s growing art scene and promises to bring some of the top names in contemporary photography to the city for exhibitions, master classes, and art salons. The space also has a tempting collection of photography books on offer arranged on shelves that made my inner intellectual shiver with envy. The books are not shrink wrapped in plastic, so you can actually hold them in your hand, turn pages and browse over an afternoon. Director Peg Amison said that plans are in place to host a number of educational talks and events beginning over the coming art season.

An installation shot of the show at East Wing's new space in Dubai's DIFC

An installation shot of the show at East Wing’s new space in Dubai’s DIFC

The library at East Wing. I am coveting those bookshelves and the reading nook.

The library at East Wing. I am coveting those bookshelves and the reading nook.

Good Ideas: Ramadan in Yemen will run at East Wing in Dubai’s DIFC through 10 September, 2014. You can also purchase a copy of the accompanying limited edition book published by Editions Bressard. For more information about the show and East Wing go here.

The cover of the limited edition publication of the work by Editions Bressard

The cover of the limited edition publication of the work by Editions Bressard

Image Credits: Courtesy of Max Pam and East Wing