3. View Master I


1960–1980 CE
1380–1400 AH
Found in an old shop in Mahbas Al Jinn, Mecca, now demolished, 2011

I am shutter sounds mixed with the sweet salts of nostalgia. With every click of my dial, I enlist old memories to support the limitations of my images.

There was a time when I was the favourite. I was passed around from hand to hand. Children, parents, grandparents would point me to the sun, gaze through me and study my tales of Mecca. Some would reminisce; I could feel the salt on their lashes as they remembered times of congregation, the peace in the crowd, the contemplation, the prayer and recitation of the Qu’ran during tarawih, their loved ones on their pilgrimage during Hajj. Or, if a younger set of eyes, their lashes would tickle with dreams of their own pilgrimage and their anticipation of a journey that must come.

I am the oldest of my particular kind, my family of Viewfinders, and as such, I have been abandoned for newer generations. But hold me in your hands. Feel the weight of my making. The finest artisans in Italy formed these lenses and encasing.

I’m easy to dismiss, but look through these lenses and you can see images rich in history that look to Mecca before the siege of 1979. I might work through a trick of the eye, but my depictions are real, captured on film. I hold the Mecca of before. But let me tell you that whilst my trick holds a truth, I do not offer the earliest depictions of Mecca and its pilgrims.

My ancestors date back to the thirteenth century and are spread across the globe, having travelled continents and seas. They too journeyed to and from China, hand to hand, owner to owner. They sit in museums, sacred sites and albums or muraqqas. It is thought by some that human depiction had long since been completely forbidden, but in these ancestors of mine, these miniature paintings, large numbers of figures are drawn out, one by one.

The visions of my kind are of mass congregations, of bodies and figures moving as one. We are the rose windows of the rituals and secrets of Mecca. Our legacy is that we are kept private and the creators of the pictures we hold are anonymous. To be invited to share our visions is a privilege, for we can reveal with freedom the things that paintings and sculptures cannot. Whether in a book, album or viewfinder, our images are shown only to those chosen by our owners, and our scenes work as one, with each making up part of a wider collective view.

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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