Morning Coffee With…Mohamed Somji, Co-Director of Gulf Photo Plus

Lindsay Judge   |   21 - 02 - 2019



Co-Director of Dubai’s premier photography centre joins us for a chat over a cup of morning coffee.


Describe your morning routine.

That’s an easy one. I have to start with my obligatory coffee, my espresso. It’s a good time to catch up with the news. It’s good time to decompress before the day gets crazy. Then I go online and check Twitter and newspaper sites.


Tell us a little bit about Gulf Photo plus.

We are Dubai’s photography centre, we’ve been around for 15 years and the festival has been around for 15 years. We teach photography to all levels, we host exhibitions, we have artist talks, we are resource for photographers so they can come and do printing with us, the can share their work with us and with a wider community and we have photo books and film resources, so we are really meant to be a hub for the photography scene here in Dubai and the wider Middle East



And what is you role?

I curate exhibitions, I try to find interesting workshops that the people might like, and do everything really.


What is the photography scene like in the region?

I think we haven’t had the head start compared to countries where photography has be integral to the arts and culture scene. I think outside the Gulf there has been a tremendous surge of young photographers making some incredible work that is thoughtful, that is layered, very new angst in their reporting very interesting and important stories. In the Gulf I think we’re a little bit behind and that’s why we’re trying to champion people getting outside decorative and ornamental photography and being more serious in their approach. That’s what we’re hoping to change and improve.


And what do you think makes a good photographer today?

A good photographer is somebody who is good at storytelling and not just as an observer, more as a participant. I think we all have interesting stories that we are part of and I think that telling that to a wider audience and going in depth with the work, both from a visual but also leaving behind an impact. We come across social phenomena all the time, but if a photographer can tell that story that leaves more questions than answers, I think that’s a measure of a good photographer. Who can find these stories and find interesting ways to tell them.


How have Smart Phones changed the photography industry?

We’ve been able to make photographs from different devices, but what I think is interesting is that they have been a catalyst for distribution. I’m not interested in an iPhone or a smart phone as a medium, but rather social media platforms like Instagram or the internet in general, people who didn’t have access to be able to share their work, it’s given them an incredible platform. And with good work, these images and stories are being noticed. And yes, to an extent everyone has a device that can capture photographs and it’s helped improve visual literacy because now people are not just casual consumers of photography and are actively making their photographs, and I think it’s widened the scope of who is taking the photograph and what’s being taken. I think I’m excited about the possibilities of that.


What do you look for in emerging talent?

I think we talked about story-telling, it’s very difficult to have a good idea and then execute into meaningful work. I’m less interested in how technically good they are, but if they arrest by you having a very strong thread of images and it doesn’t have to be just images it can be a variety of mediums, that’s just something that we like to champion and show as well. The ability to tell stories and find ways to make those stories engaging.


What do you consider the biggest success with GPP?

I think we championed the idea of using photography to be a catalyst for thinking about issues in a different way. When people start their photographic journey, they get excited about making a good photo and what we are really proud of taking that casual interest in photography to people who are taking that talent and skill and doing something really interesting work that’s going to plant that seed in the viewers mind. They think about an issue in a different way or they ask questions and dig into the things that they’ve seen, and I think expanding that narrative around what photography is and can be is something we are proud of.


What has been the biggest challenge?
The industry is very dynamic. New camera’s come out, people are shooting a lot more with their mobile phone’s than camera, so we had to evolve our workshops that are very much camera-focused when this shift happened, understanding that these trends are taking place and then reacting to them. So now we have a lot more workshops about mobile photography and mobile video. Constantly keeping people engaged and interested, there are a lot of resources online but being able to get people to come in through the door and getting them to participate and purchase our product and services while still making available for them the art programming and the resourcing and the talks. So that has been a challenge but we thrive on that.

What’s is the motto you live by professionally?
Less is more. Simplifying things. Whether it’s what we eat or how we make presentations, how we take photographs, I think less is more.


What do you still want to achieve?
So many things. I want to make more photographs, I want to tell more stories, I want to have more exhibitions at Gulf Photo Plus, I want to help young photographers to share their talent with a wider audience, so much.


If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I’m still young! Slowing down, not rushing into things, being deliberate. I think instinct is good but I think you can slow down and let things fall into place rather than trying to force them.


When should you compromise?

I think if you keep site of your big picture or main goals, everything else is details and there are compromises to be made. I think if you have a goal and a clear vision, and compromises aren’t going to effect the big picture then by all means, make all the compromises you need to make.


And when should you never compromise?
So when it comes to your principles or your values. I think, especially we see this a lot with photographers and creatives, it’s to never compromise you self-worth. I think in this very capitalistic and consumerist world there is this notion to get more for less and to drive prices down. We provide an important service, just like a product, and I think we are always advising photographers to know their value and never compromise on that, and it’s hard because it can be very difficult at times but I think if you’re a photographer and you’re sure of your talent, don’t ever compromise that.


What book are you reading at the moment?
I try to switch between fiction and non-fiction. I just started The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy, and the non-fiction is very serious but well written, it’s an academic book, the language is a lot more clear and simple and it’s called Good Muslim, Bad Muslim by Mahmood Mamdani.


How do you want the world to remember you?
I don’t really care if they remember me, I just hope that they remember what we did at Gulf Photo Plus and putting it on a platform and the ability for photographers to share their work, and remember the stories that we tell.




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