PROFILE:
Arab Documentary
Photography Program

PROFILE: Arab Documentary Photography Program

The Arab Documentary Photography Program (ADPP) was created in 2014 through a partnership among the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (AFAC); the Prince Claus Fund, in Amsterdam; and the Magnum Foundation (MF), in New York. Each year an ADPP committee selects a group of ten “creative documentary photographers” and provides them with a grant and mentor to aid their projects. TAP Review intern Isoke Samuel conducted an interview with Emma Raynes, director of programs at the Magnum Foundation, to find out more about ADPP.

TAP: How do you define documentary? Do you think restricting the program to documentary photography limits the experimental elements that could arise without that guideline or naming?

Emma Raynes: This program values work that addresses critical social issues in the world—and is open to photographers who would like to use a range of creative approaches, from more classical reportage to projects that employ conceptual frameworks. In this context, I think documentary serves to ground the work in contemporary critical issues.

With this program, we’re pushing the parameters of the documentary-photography genre. We select the grantees and the mentors specifically to cover the range of creative approaches I mentioned, and I believe the program stands out among others for its range of approaches within documentary practice that we support.

TAP: How do you think the encouragement of creative documentary work will affect media and art in the Arab world? Who will benefit more from this outpouring of photography, non-Arab viewers or Arab viewers?

ER: We’re hoping this program will both build capacity of individual grantees and stimulate communities of practice in their home regions and beyond. We hope the photographers who participate in this program will become leaders in facilitating dialogue in their home countries on photography and the social issues that are addressed in their works; most photographers come from regions where there are restrictions on freedom of expression and a lack of infrastructure for supporting the production, distribution, and development of practice in the field of photography. It’s critical that this program support grantees in their efforts to build networks in their home regions that will help inspire other practitioners.

The work they produce is equally relevant for both Arab and non-Arab audiences worldwide, and it’s our hope that the stories will be distributed widely and strategically. The stories produced through this program often provide perspectives that are alternative to those that are prevalent in the daily news. Through creative approaches, the work brings nuanced insights on critical issues to viewers regardless of their background.

TAP: How do you find your participants? What are some components of the mentoring process they go through?

ER: Partnering institutions the Prince Claus Fund, the AFAC, and the MF circulate the open call through our networks, and request recommendations for applicants as well. 
At the first workshop, we pair grantees with mentors. The first intensive workshop focuses on story and creative-approach development. From the first workshop onward, the mentors provide support on all aspects of a project’s development and also the individual photographer’s growth as a practitioner more generally. The mentors help grantees think through access issues and think through relationships with the subjects of their work. They encourage the grantees to experiment with different approaches, with different ways of building a story, different ways of developing the work conceptually and aesthetically. After the first workshop, mentors continue to assist with the editing process, provide sounding boards for exploring new ideas, and connect grantees to relevant experts or other resources. The Magnum Foundation also plays a role in mentoring, and helps grantees think about distribution, final form, and how the work will function in the world.

Beyond mentorship, the personal and professional connections the grantees make among themselves and among mentors have proved to be enormously fruitful. In parts of the world where creative communities face a host of challenges, the connections the grantees make with each other throughout the program provide an anchor. Grantees support each other and share ideas and resources. The ADPP program’s community has become a safe place for exploration and experimentation and has provided ongoing support and connectivity for the grantees across the Arab world.

TAP: What are some examples of photographers/participants who have gone on to do work beyond the project?

ER: Omar Iman is a great example. After the program, his work has gained significant attention. He’s now exhibiting internationally: in spring 2016, he’s exhibiting work in a group show with one of the program’s mentors, Tanya Habjouqa, at East Wing gallery, which is in Dubai.

TAP: How does the program go about showcasing the documentaries of the photographers? How can the public get access to the works produced by participants in ADPP?

ER: We assist the photographers in placing their work in both local and international publications, and we’re also involved in curating work for international exhibitions.
The partnering institutions also share the grantees’ work via the ADPP website ( http://arabdocphotography.org/).

TAP: Why is this project so important to the world of photography?

ER: This project stimulates the practice of independent storytelling about critical issues in regions of the world where there’s a lack of supporting infrastructure and limited freedom of expression. In addition, the field of photography is in need of diversity of perspectives. Through active inclusion of diverse voices and capacity building, this project plays an important role in expanding the field of documentary photography.