MYRIAM BEN SALAH Your photographs are richly textured and deeply layered, challenging codified expectations of how images are constructed. From documentary to classical portraiture, and even the seductive, lush finishes of fashion photography, your use of different stylistic, iconographic and conceptual registers is definitely playful. What is your process in building an image?
FARAH AL QASIMI My work is a direct result of growing up in the Emirates, where design preferences lean towards maximalism and commerce has to serve a pretty diverse population. You’re surrounded by a lot, all the time—at the mall, at the grocery store, at the souk. So I feel like that spirit of rabid color and abundant visual information stays within the work. These days, I really like Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Florine Stettheimer, living rooms in 1980s Egyptian cinema, and looking at cake accounts on Instagram. I work in many different ways. I’ll go for long walks with a camera and respond to things quickly—that’s one way of making photographs. Sometimes, I see things happen separately and think they need to happen at the same time, like a little melodrama in a still image, so I’ll stage that—but even when I do, there’s still some element of truth to it. I like not being able to tell which photographs are “staged” and which are “natural”; I think that question is getting less and less relevant in non-journalistic photography.
MBS Your practice is often defined as one that looks at identity and its perception in terms of gender, nationality and class. However, I feel like your photographs are full of contradictory cultural signifiers: they disturb the vernacular and defy cultural categorization. There is definitely something “of the Gulf” in them—a digestible presentation, almost playfully replicating the clichéd Western gaze. What is your take on that? How do you deal with the notion of representing a certain idea of the Middle East in America?