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Foto8 Magazine – The Islam Issue

The current biannual copy of 8 Magazine focuses on Islam.  According to their website, “8 Magazine looks beneath the surface and shines a spotlight on the issues that shape our world” and “8 Magazine represents the very best in photojournalism, writing, design and print, and follows a graphic format that uses the medium of the printed page to its fullest”.

The contents of the current issue are timely and shed some light on the various protests and demonstrations that have happened over the past half a year in the Middle East and North Africa.  Commonly referred to as the “Arab Spring”, these protests started off in Tunisia in December 2010 and has since spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Algeria, Yemen and other countries in the region.  The photo essays in the magazine are excellent.  Two photo essays that I really enjoyed were “Observing Islam” by Munem Wasif and “Uprisings: Algeria” by Christian Als.

Wasif photographed family and friends in Bangladesh as they lived out their own interpretation of Islam.  In his essay, he says:

I wanted to produce a body of work that could counter conventional photographs of “fanatics”, “fundamentalists” and “terrorists” to show Islam as a presence in people’s lives rather than as a symbol of suppression.  This is a story of my family and friends, about little views that we don’t see in the headlines of newspapers. This is a story about how “we” see Islam.

Als’ photo essay was on the high rate of unemployed youth in Algeria (approximately 50% are unemployed).  It is a heartbreaking story of the current generation of Algerian youth who see no hope of a better future in their home country and want to leave.  Many of the youth abuse drugs, live on the streets at night with friends and cut themselves just to feel alive.

Finally, of special note is an excellent interview of Magnum photographer Abbas in the magazine.  I posted a review of his current photography exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore last week.  I like to get into the thought process of photographers rather than hear them talk about their equipment and technique and this interview gave good insights into what makes Abbas tick as a photographer as well as his personal views of his body of work on religion.  When asked if his photography changed after 9/11, Abbas says:-

“I am the same photographer as I was when I started photography in 1968.  I was using a 28mm then, which distorts a little.  Now I use a 35mm.  But my photography has not changed.  I would take the same picture.  There are many discussions at Magnum about how to “go forward”, whether to start using colour, to try 6×6.  I don’t have to change.  I renew my subject, not my style.  I describe my style as “the suspended moment”.  When I take a photograph, it contains an essence of what was happening before and what would happen after.  I don’t freeze the moment; I look for continuity.

The most important thing in relation to my work is the sequencing, not the single photograph.  When I say I am a “photo-grapher”, that means I write with light.  That is how I see my work: writing.  The “graph” of photography can mean drawing or writing; for me, it is writing.  My photographs make up individual sentences, paragraphs, chapters, in a flow.  When people understand photography culture, it is possible to make a whole book without words; the sequencing would tell the story.  But otherwise; words are necessary.  Never as substitutes for the image, but to inform the image.  That’s why the book is the definitive statement.”

8 Magazine can be ordered from the Foto8 website.  I’m looking forward to see what they feature in their next issue at the end of the year.

(This post first appeared on The Invisible Photographer Asia on 30 June 2011.  It is a great website and I am privileged to be regular contributor.)