8 November 2022
In Close Quarters
Before my first birthday, I had lived in Pune, Cochin, Salalah, and Sharjah. This pattern of movement between ‘home’ and a temporary base in the UAE continued over the years. I grew comfortable in the dividing line between arrival and departure, feeling safe in the anticipation that comes with being in transit.
To be on the move was to be at ease.
In attempting to negotiate the subtle but lingering sense of isolation that often pervades the nuclear home environment of an expatriate family, I found a sense of connection and familiarity in bus routes, neighbourhood grocery stores, and fleeting interactions with strangers on the way; a kind of meditative ritual unique to the urban scenescape.
The technological acceleration of the 2000s added a new layer to my experience of the city with the coming together of ‘mobile’ and ‘camera.’ With this shift, it became instinctual to photograph my surroundings, wondering what it means to move, to document, to remember, and to preserve.
To click a picture is to tune our attention to the spaces at closest proximity ー the here, the now, and the ground beneath our feet. It is to negotiate and recreate space, to think anew of the often overlooked.
This exercise in visual excavation guides us to dissect a whole, to rearrange the fragments of our environment, and to recontextualise; a puzzle that obscures as it solves.
They say if you repeat a word a few too many times, it tends to lose meaning; it begins to sound alien. But listen closely to silence, and it might reveal truths that even language cannot articulate. It works similarly with what lies in our register of sight.
Stare at the light too long and it may be blinding ー you close your eyes for a moment of calm or you turn to the shadows. You begin to adjust to the dark, finally seeing clearly; perhaps better than before.
What happens when nothing happens?
What does silence convey? What does the dark bring to light? Through photography, I return to the drawing board to find a vocabulary for the in-between and often incommunicable: the interplay between past and future, arrival and departure, absence and presence, dark and light.
In a time that celebrates race over reverie, to trace the light in your neighbourhood, to pause in your steps, and to look in more directions than just straight ahead, is an act of resistance.
Shama Nair is a photographer and an arts and culture professional based in Dubai, UAE.