The museum of fleeting moments
Imran Ahmed's unveiling of fringe life in UAE
The moment of capture is also the moment of uncertainty – and as we look at Imran Ahmed's images from the Sandlords series, we realize how the relay of a traditional sport, mud kusti (wrestling) in this case, is forwarded in sequences that thrive on the element of unpredictability. Imran, a Bangladeshi expatriate living in the UAE since 1976, began to consider photography as a serious vocation only recently – since 2009. It was the year when he began to document the life in Creek, the historic open harbour area in Deira, Dubai. As we say 'document' – here too Imran's acumen is invested in his attempt to arrest some moments in time by way of a series of chance glimpses into life, made available undoubtedly by contingencies of prevailing circumstances. Interestingly, what gets unravelled is mostly poignant moments discovered through an intimate, or should one say, intimational gaze.
Having been the place that was once Dubai's economic lifeline in the past, Creek presented a mixed cache of opportunities to shoot – which, though, did not effectuate a photographic language but the photographer's informed and intimate knowledge of a community played out in numerous shots of startling moments.
Imran's tryst with the nightlife in one of the busiest part of this fourteen kilometer water inlet went on for about eighteen months to finally culminate in a book he called Dubai Creek. The book was well received generating some interesting essays which in turn kept feeding Imran's passion for newer projects – one of which was the Sandlords.
The Sandlords series looks into an expatriate community's thirst for respite and their unique way of fulfilling that desire – by fixing on an aspect of life where construction labourers, mostly Pakistanis, invoke a piece of their homeland to reweave it into the desert life. The traditional open air wrestling enacted on the outskirts of the city of Dubai on Fridays received an extensive and sympathetic attention from this photographer who by now has taken to his craft with the seriousness of a professional.
The Sandlords series was published in the second edition of the Indian Quarterly magazine and was part of a Middle East photographers' slideshow ensemble at the Chobi Mela VII, held in Dhaka, Bangladesh in early 2013. The series has won Imran a place in the upcoming photo book project entitled The Other Hundred, a project dedicated to telling the 'stories of the ordinary people who are not likely to make the Forbes or other popular rich list'. In May, another series entitled Heroes was featured in the tenth edition of Gulf Photo Plus slide festival, held at the Knowledge Village.
The mud-wrestlers thrive at the edge of a fast track mainstream society that Dubai has become known for – one that prospers amidst the postindustrial splendours of towering, chic buildings, huge malls and up-scale gated communities modelled on globalized western culture. For a relatively brief span of time on each Friday, these men repair to Sandlords to transform a traditional show of muscle and power into a highly entertaining gig before a large crowd. That, it has provided a community with a means for its much needed collective emotional ventilation besides having entertained the tourists for years can never be overemphasized. Imran's projects have catapulted the scenes of symbolic clashes signifying male corporeal might into mainstream viewership as he continues to restage them at the sites of cultural interpenetration – namely art spaces.
- DEPART DESK