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Title: Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World
Editors: Various
Copyright: © 2004
Publisher: Aperture Foundation
ISBN: 1-93178-885-5

Relevance: Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World offers intriguing images by 56 Arab and Western photographers that both intrigues and teaches photographers, reporters and others interested in this geographic region.

Review: Nazar is an Arabic word roughly translating as "seeing insight or reflection". Thus, the title Nazar is appropriate for a photographic book that showcases some of the many cultural, political, religious, economic and artistic forces that have worked to shape and continue to mold our perceptions and realities of this region.

Many of the 56 photographers whose work appears in Nazar are Arab making it a useful chronicle for those who want to see this part of the world through the eyes of those who inhabit it. Other images are shot by Western photographers illustrating the cultural differences and generational expectations of this most tumultuous area.

Michket Krifa writes a short introduction to the spirit and history of photography in the Arab world. Krifa, herself an Arab, was born in Tunisia and has for 20 years lived in Paris. For the last seven years, Ms. Krifa has served as cultural attaché for the European Union in the Palestinian territories.

Negar Azimi and Issam Nassar flush out much of the story about contemporary Arab photography. Isolde Brielmaier and Issa Touma also make good contributions in the form of short essays.

According to Aperture, Nazar originally served as a catalogue for a photo exhibition at the Noorderlicht Festival. The exhibition presented the largest collection of Arab photography ever exhibited in the West. Keeping with its Arab focus, the book also provides the essays in Arabic at the "back of the book" (which of course, is at the front of the book if one speaks Arabic).

Structurally, the book is divided into three sections: "Arab Eyes," "A Look Back" (early photography in the Arab world), and "Western Eyes." Other than this there is no distinct theme or organization in Nazar. Anyone who expects pictures of bloody bodies, occupying tanks and soldiers with guns will be disappointed to find Nazar's images far more record the everyday life of the average Arab.

To be sure, there are the occasional pictures of war-torn situations depicting death and destruction – but there are far more shots depicting life in its many more hopeful stages. We see people waking up, going to work, praying, laughing, learning, dancing, getting married, living, sleeping, relaxing and, generally, behaving like the normal people they are.

True, the book does have far more of an edge to it than a traditional Western photographic book, but considering the area's historical significance and tumultuous recent history, this is to be anticipated.

From a photographer's standpoint, we would have liked to see more technical explanations about each particular shot. Details about how each photo was taken, with what kind of camera, lighting conditions, lens and other necessary technical specs would add more depth to the story behind the image.

We applaud the publisher’s decision to include so many photographers in one single volume. Here, Aperture makes a statement that not one, two or even a few photographers can capture a clear image of so vast a region and so heterogeneous a population: only dozens can do it justice.

Lay people might argue that there needs to be a more consistent thread running through the book, uniting the images into a solid statement. But then again, perhaps this is the point: there isn't one consistent theme in the Arab world, just as there is not one consistent theme in the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or any other world that is bound at one end by religious and historic perspectives and yet is very much different from the present day reality.

Overall: We thoroughly enjoyed Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World. Although we would have liked to see more information on each photograph, many of the images are so evocative that we can excuse this small omission. Very suitable for photographers and photographic students and certainly all armchair travelers, this book is recommended.

End of Review

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