Shifting focus from landscape to portrait was his moment of truth as he zoomed in on the faces to discover the agonies and ecstasies of life. Alvin Thomas meets Syrian photographer Khaled al Azem to learn how things click into place
They say photography is the only language that is understood anywhere in the world. And keeping that belief close to his heart is Syrian-born expatriate Khaled al Azem. While there is a string of photographers who would lobby to fight for top spot in the international scene, this man is doing it all – but from behind the lens of his camera; quietly.
And Khaled’s passion for photography stemmed to life only five years ago, which was when he started clicking images of landscape, flora and fauna.
“I started by clicking images of small things like the landscape and so on,” he says, with a smile. “After that, I felt that it was not my forte – and I felt I wanted to do something new in Oman; something no one had done before.
“So, I just started planning on focusing on portrait photographs. I am doing portraits of faces – and that’s something really rare and unique. I haven’t seen many other photographers in Oman trying this style of photography either.
His efforts paid off too when his photographs – not one but two – were placed in Nikon’s Portraiture Competition – the 100 powerful portraits in 2017.
“There were almost 4,000 entries and they chose only 100 – and I’m proud that they featured my works,” he says in a humble tone.
But he then goes on to tell me that one of his portraits also went on to win the ‘People’s Choice Award’ in the Middle East.
“The awards mean a lot to me because this is the first time I have won an award in something I love. The photos that won all had a story to it.
“When some people saw the pictures, they said that I was just clicking pictures of faces. But in my books, faces mean a lot: If you want to know somebody, you will get to know about the person from the interactions and expressions you have with the face.
“If you take a look at my photos, you will see that most of it are of ageing people. Each line from the wrinkles means a lot of things: Life experience, hard life, age, maturity and so on,” he explains.
Khaled has since joined several photography clubs to widen his reach; the prestigious Ibri Photography Club being one among them. He laughs: “All of the members are Omani and I’m the only expatriate. But they see and treat me like an Omani and a brother – and that’s why I love Oman.”
To showcase his work – most of which have an Omani element to it – Khaled has applied to be a part of the Fédération Internationale de l’Art Photographique, which is a famous photography club with over one million individual photographers.
“I don’t have a plan as photography is my hobby. I do not earn any money from my photographs either, but I hope that one day the people will see me as somebody who is worthy to stand alongside the famous Lee Jeffriesor, or even call me the Lee Jeffries of Oman.”
He then goes on to tell me about his humble roots in photography. “When I had just began, I started clicking photos with a Nikon 3200, which is the smallest one in the range. Then I slowly switched to the Nikon D7200 – a professional camera setup.
“But in a few months, I hope to purchase a full-frame one, preferably a Nikon D750.
“Using a camera is like going to school. You cannot simply upgrade yourself to a full-frame camera on top without having the experience to use it. If you just take the camera, you must be able to work with the manual mode – and there are a lot of parameters you must keep in mind.
“That’s important – and should also be in the mind of anyone looking to get into photography. Start small but aim big,” he advises, before we conclude our short and fruitful interview. ν