“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Image Credits: Courtesy of Max Pam and East Wing