RIYADH: Photographer Faisal bin Zarah’s first three-day solo exhibition, ‘Raw Kingdom’ transformed Riyadh’s Lakum Art Space into a vivid love letter to Saudi Arabia – the result of 15 years of hard work.
The exhibition, held from September 27 to October 2, featured photos of the vast expanses of the northern region to AlUla in the west and the beautiful landscapes of Riyadh in the central region.
“Every Saudi knows his work, but they don’t know it’s Faisal,” Dana Qabbani, the exhibition’s curator, told Arab News. “His photos are in the passport section, on the Absher app, in every ministry you can think of. His commercial work is well known.”
Bin Zarah spent much of his life photographing for commercial purposes and found that the tremendous amount of time and effort invested in his unique shots made them more valuable than a mere business transaction.
He sees his work as something to think about and think about. In a single exhibition, he redirected his path from corporate to creative.
“A photograph that took me two years to create should not be posted on any website or used for commercial or promotional purposes. A better use is to regard it as a work of art,” Bin Zarah told Arab News.
But how do you turn a commercial photographer’s work into a work of art? For the curator of the exhibition, the challenge was not in the content but in the presentation.
“We chose the best materials to present his work and we chose a certain order for these (photos), we sort of gave his work a timeline. We took you on a journey,” Qabbani said.
“I made this art gallery because all you see are our limited edition prints, exclusively for collectors and art lovers,” he added.
Bin Zarah believes that the widespread use of his images for social media or commercial promotion will diminish the value of his work.
“For me, a photo is much deeper than a click of the shutter and you can see it. It’s a message. It’s an idea. It’s a story. I am a storyteller,” Bin Zarah said.
The story of this long-awaited love letter springs from love itself: Bin Zarah began his journey with photography when his wife gave him his first camera in 2007 and taught him the basics, which he proudly proclaims.
He started feeding his eye visually through photo sharing sites like Flickr until he found his style and turned to rural and urban photography.
His work is twofold: one aspect of it focuses on the growing civilization and the other on the industrialization in Riyadh.
He describes his capture of the full moon rising over Faisaliyah Tower as a “moment of joy” in his work titled “Lift Off.”
For someone who works in telecoms by day and takes care of four children, he sees his photographic escapades as an escape from all the stress and negativity.
“I enjoy this time. That’s what drives me… When you create something, no matter what – even Lego or puzzles – when you’re done there’s a reward, you get that feeling of accomplishment and accomplishment. That’s what I get when I complete a project,” Bin Zarah said.
Its unique angles even impressed Kingdom Tower’s owner, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who has the photo of it hanging in his office.
It was exhibited at Lakum Art Space as part of Bin Zarah’s ‘Dawn to Dusk’ photo series, which takes you on a journey through the course of the sun to various locations in Riyadh.
His dedication shows in his work. Bin Zarah spent two years waiting for the full moon each month to capture the perfect moment as he grazed both Faisaliah and Kingdom towers in his moon series.
“His work ethic really made curating and installing a breeze. So what I loved was that it wasn’t just a photo exhibition, it was basically a person’s career from A to Z, a different goal,” said Qabbani.
The other aspect of his work follows his love of traveling to discover gems in the kingdom. In doing so, he hopes to inspire people to venture into these spaces and appreciate their beauty.
“My message is this: we have an amazingly vibrant kingdom from north to south, east to west, and it has so many undiscovered gems, untouched by human or otherwise. I’m just a person showing a side of beauty. The real beauty is when you physically visit the place and see it,” Bin Zarah said.
In his AlUla collection, he features various self-portraits taken under the night sky of the northern part of the city, Al-Gharamil, enclosing all the stars in single exposures found in his works Interstellar and Message to the Galaxy .
Bin Zarah uses a Sony A7R Mark IV, a 60-megapixel camera with various zoom and wide-angle lenses to capture even the smallest details. Standing parallel to his work easily gives the audience an instinct to reach out and feel the texture.
He often uses drones and stitching methods to ensure the details are vivid enough for the human eye to discern.
“I go to common places and try to capture them in unusual ways… The drone camera is wide by design. So it will capture the whole thing even if you are at 200 meters, but nobody has used it to cover an area of 4 square kilometers. I did a sky scan to show these amazing details,” he said.
In his amazing “Veins of Earth,” he snapped 21 photos from 500 meters away, which were stitched together to reveal the red dunes and mountains near Thadig, a historic town north of Riyadh.
The unusual landscape scenery stretches for 3km, sculpted by wind and rainwater rushing through the fissures of the land.
As a photographer who has been touring the Kingdom for years, his work acts as a documentation of the landscape ahead of the initiation of several Vision 2030 giga-projects such as NEOM and Qiddiya.
He sees the projects as elevations of these spaces without manipulating the surroundings. They actually reflect the underlying history of the region.
“NEOM, that’s The Line, is a mirror. So there is no interference with the environment. It will be in it… Saudi Arabia is the land of civilization. The history of the whole earth began on the Arabian Peninsula,” said Bin Zarah.
“The new projects are good for the citizens and I am very happy that they are thinking about the environment. They don’t destroy anything, they actually preserve it.”