Q&A with Zelda Cheatle, Head Curator of Dubai Photo Exhibition

With 700 photographs by 129 fine art photographers, Dubai Photo Exhibition promises to be a feast for the eyes. Eighteen curators worked on the selection to present this museum-quality exhibition, organized by the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA) and supported by the World Photography Organisation.

“Beyond any statistic or number — it is the first time these works will all meet and provide such a dynamic and exciting visual odyssey,” says head curator Zelda Cheatle, “The work is so diverse, across such a broad global reach, it is a first in many ways.”

Based in the UK, Cheatle helped establish photography as art through her eponymous Zelda Cheatle Gallery (1989-2005), where she exhibited works by 20th-century masters of the medium such as Robert Frank, Bill Brandt, Lee Miller, Abbas Kiarostami, and Eve Arnold. She also set up and managed the now defunct Tosca Photography Fund, the first photography fund that primarily collected fine prints. The experienced curator talks about the ambitious Dubai Photo Exhibition and what to expect:

How has the appreciation of photography evolved since you started?

In the 35 years I have been working within fine art photography there has been a huge and burgeoning appreciation for the medium. Huge museum exhibitions, important galleries representing new artists, great university courses with inspirational lecturers in both photography, art history, and curating — all this has brought the medium of photography to new audiences and a receptive public.

It is now a part of contemporary art, a part of every museum collection — and the medium has a vast number of collectors.

What do you think is the appeal?

It is a medium that allows new collectors an accessibility, and for those seasoned in collecting there are new fairs and events globally that bring together great curators and artists and collectors. Auction houses are the measure by which financial success is measured — and that looks healthy — but there is a huge market, unobserved, which occurs in private galleries.

What was the overall idea behind curating the Dubai Photo Exhibition?

The exhibition was intended to educate as much as to illustrate the medium of photography, so I was asked to select curators from the 23 countries and regions that Dubai had chosen. These curators in turn, had to work with up to four 20th-century photographers and up to four 21st century photographers. The exhibition will help those new to the art of photography; it will trace the beginnings of photography to the very contemporary, and will show many distinctly different ways of approaching the medium — from daguerreotypes to film.

The Dubai Photo Exhibition has a stated aim to capture “a global portrait of the changing face of photography” — so what is that portrait right now?

I think by seeing the show you will ascertain that it is as varied as life itself; from analogue to digital, from documentary to conceptual, it is wide open.

Of the 23 countries which have been independently curated, which one surprised you most?

Very hard to choose as I like all of them! For the UK, curator Martin Barnes has made an interesting parallel with how Dubai, and its building, currently has similarities to the way the Industrial Revolution in Britain shaped the land.

The Brazilian exhibition curated by Iatā Cannebrava has taken many forms before arriving in its current shape, with wonderful modernism from the 1930s and 1940s, and a book that at full stretch extends 20 meters!

Any specific photographers whom you found are breaking new ground?

There is a young Japanese photographer, Takashi Arai, making daguerreotypes. I think it’s fascinating how he has returned to the beginning of photography to make his contemporary statements. There is also a young Chinese photographer, Yan Preston, who has spent four and a half years photographing the Yangtze from its source to the ocean, photographing every 100 km. There are four young women from Morocco in an exhibition dedicated to photojournalist Leila Alwoudi, (the photojournalist) who was killed in a hostage situation recently. The UAE also has promising young photographers chosen by Jassim Al Alwadi, whose work show how the teaching of photography, not technically but philosophically, is taking shape and form.

Do you observe any differences or similarities amongst the interests of these artists right now?

There is nothing discernably similar from one country to the next, but overall there are certain issues like the environment, climate change, migration, economics, or reaction to disasters. But these are treated in such different ways they are not noticeably the same.

The exhibition will take place in a pop-up museum in the Dubai Design District (d3), March 16 to 19.-

As published on Blouin Artinfo.com