The Horse Whisperer (profile of Syrian photographer Jaber al-Azmeh)

Jaber al-Azmeh’s latest exhibition might focus on the beauty of horses, but he’d like to point out he takes photos of other things as well.

Photo by Adel Samara

Photo by Adel Samara

“No, I will not be taking photographs of any more animals,” Syrian photographer Jaber al-Azmeh keeps telling journalists at Damascus’ Atassi Gallery. “I chose to photograph the horse because it is beautiful, nothing more, nothing less.”

Clearly this is not the first time Azmeh had been asked if he will continue photographing horses since his Metaphors collection was put on display at Atassi Gallery last month. The exhibition was Azmeh’s first solo effort, but the array of questions fired his way signals that the 18 photographs of horses on show have left an impression on Syria’s art scene.

Azmeh explains that his love of horses is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, it was only by chance that the 35-year-old began photographing horses after the Qatar National Bank (QNB) commissioned him to work on an advertising campaign in his job as the director of Damascus’ Proline photography agency. Flicking through the photographs he took during the QNB shoot, Azmeh came across a black and white shot of part of a horse’s back, taken in such a way that its features become unrecognisable. Azmeh was struck by its abstract form – so much so that it inspired an exhibition.

“I really was taken by the relationship between shade and light in the photo,” he said. “The contrast between the black and white was so vivid that the horse wasn’t recognisable anymore.”

 

Stepping into the world of horse photography is not as easy as you may think, however. Indeed, horse photography – equine photography for the experts – has its own dedicated following and has been dominated by names like America’s Tony Stromberg and France’s Yann Arthus Bertrand for the past 20 years. Azmeh chose to break with tradition and photograph horses in such a way that his pictures take on a dream-like character. While Stromberg and Bertrand’s photos catch horses in their natural real-life state, Azmeh decided he would use horses as an abstract concept.

In fact, it is sometimes difficult to even distinguish Azmeh’s horses because he reduces the photos to black and white lines, caught in different lights and merged into shades of grey. At first the photographs might seem like simple portraits of horses, but on closer observation they often take on a different appearance. Some of the horses come to resemble the curves of a woman’s body, while others look like mountains.

Azmeh entitled the exhibition Metaphors to illustrate the fact that each piece can have more than one meaning.

“This abstract depiction of horses allows viewers to give their own connotations to the works,” Azmeh said. “I enjoy taking the photos and I think it’s wrong to stop viewers from imagining the shapes in the photos as they want.”

Metaphors will travel to Dubai later this month, but Azmeh is already thinking about his next project.

“I’m not telling you what to expect next, so you’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “You know that photography is an art to be seen.”

This article was published in Syria Today magazine.

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