72. Desert of Pharan (slide)


2011 CE
1432 AH
From the artist’s own collection

I am a slide taken by the artist Ahmed Mater on his Sinar P2, Fuji Velvia film, ISO 50. The camera was bought from the old stock sometimes sold off by the Bin Laden construction company. I was taken using a long exposure, keeping the shutter open for ten seconds. As the light penetrated me, this is what I captured. Blind like a creature of the dark earth, like a new-born, I never know what’s coming. Then, just once, the image is burnt onto me. It is at once painful and celestial – how I would imagine the end of life or the birth of a new star.

The process lasted a particularly long time. So much artificial light, unnatural and glaring. I hate those lights – when they display me on lightboxes and in front of hot lamps. I like natural daylight, starlight, moonlight. Smooth light transitions. This artificial sort, it makes me sad. It kills, just as the slide before me was burnt to a crisp before it had even had a chance to be properly seen.

Standing on a precipice, at what felt like the edge of the world, he opened the shutter. I was sturdy and strong. I held myself there until the shutter closed, just before the camera and tripod fell over. You can see the Ka’aba, almost hidden, the Clock Tower, the cranes, and you can imagine the sounds of prayer. He took shot after shot, within the hour before they stopped him. Each shot is a burnt image of the artificial lights of the Desert of Pharan.

This work transcends the objects. Ultimately, what I’m working with isn’t only the artefacts themselves, but the stories attached to them. For me, each tale is the manifestation of the object, and each object is a tangible materialisation of an underlying narrative. The work finds its equilibrium somewhere between the stories and chronology they’re chaptered into, the objects becoming knots or points along the timeline, woven into stories as part of the language of this artwork. Each story draws out a tale that intends to trigger imagination and memory, mixing fact with fiction, with the ultimate aim of straddling, conflating and confusing fixed notions of history to open up the unofficial histories that shape the character of place and memory.
Ahmed Mater
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