The Art of Seeing is a challenging photographic journey with British photographer Peter Sanders as a guide. The professional who started out as a rock-’n-roll photographer and converted to Islam has coached similar workshops in Turkey (Istanbul), the UK, Kuwait, Malaysia and Indonesia before. The next stop are colourful and historical areas in Morocco: Marrakesh, Tizi n’Tichka en Ouarzazate.
Most starting, and even experienced photographers have no idea how to interpret the world around them. They try to capture this world in a single frame. The workshop Art of Seeing teaches how to not just shoot, but look at what you are shooting. The programme intends to, apart from developing photographic skills, enable students to tell a narrative by means of a picture, and in a spirited and creative environment at that. The initiators of the workshop are Peter Sanders and Faisal Mirza, founder of www.wijblijvenhier.nl (‘We are here to stay’, a blog for and by Dutch Muslims) and active at Minhaj ul-Quran. Faisal Mirza and Peter Sanders (1946) first met in 2010.
Peter Sanders: from The Rolling Stones to Mecca
Peter Sanders started out in the 1960s as a music photographer when he did portraits of the biggest stars in the industry like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who and The Rolling Stones. A spiritual quest at the end of the 1970s brought him to India, where he was introduced to Islam. The faith left such an indelible impression on him that he embraced Islam upon returning to the UK. Faith and photography are both part of his spiritual development. It was his quest was to record the essence of reality that led him to Islam, and, camera in hand, to the door of the Ka’aba. Sanders got the unique chance to, as one of the few western photographers, take pictures of the rituals surrounding the hajj, the yearly Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. These pictures appeared, among others, in The Sunday Times Magazine and The Observer.
Peter Sanders just returned from the ‘Prophet’s Route’ travel in Saudi Arabia. It is the journey from Medina to Tabuk the Prophet (pbuh) made with 30.000 soldiers to confront the Romans. “We camped out in the desert for six days and nights, and I photographed historical places along the route. Places which still to this day hold the fragrance of these great ones who passed that way so long ago,” says Sanders.
Since the 1970s Sanders worked in more than forty countries and published books like In the Shade of the Tree en The Art of Integration, Islam in England’s green and pleasant land. At present he is finishing the book Meetings with Mountains, a project he worked on for forty years.
Photography for Sanders is a way to record the spirit of Islam. He aims to show the real face of Islam through his photography. Sanders finds it worrying that images of extremists and terrorists prevail in the public image of Islam. “I realised that despite the destruction of many of our historical sites we have enormous photographical archives to remind us of what was once there. The more these places are destroyed, the more importance we attach to it. Whether dealing with buildings or people. The power of photography shouldn’t be underestimated in these times.” Sanders is looking for more traditional images to remind people of the real heritage of Muslims. “I am working fulltime to establish and create a comprehensive archive to represent the real beauty of Islam with my own collection of photos. But we continue our effort to add other important collections too.”
‘You don’t take a photograph, you make it’ – Ansel Adams
The Art of Seeing is for everyone interested in photography. For starters and professionals. “The workshop aims not so much at teaching technique, as inviting to look differently at an environment or yourself. It is more an art of living,” explains Faisal Mirza. The cities selected are mostly special historical places in a Muslim country. “The workshop is not religious, but what we try to do is make it Islamically acceptable. Therefore it should not matter what religion or faith you have. We choose beautiful cities of the world and learn to look at the world around us. It’s just like the hadith (a saying or act of the Prophet Muhammad) about the poet who wasn’t a Muslim but wrote poetry that was Islamic in nature”, Mirza says.
The workshop is pure field work with an experienced photographer. Peter Sanders shares his experiences and stories. “I have previously taught one-day workshops in different places in the world, like Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia and the UK. However, this was the first time I attempted a more in-depth workshop over a period of three to five days. As a matter of fact, I’m self taught because in the 1960s I didn’t find a lot of people willing to share their knowledge with me. But at the same time I was determined to learn and refine the craft. I learnt very much by trial and error. Today, the technical side has become very accessible through the internet, but what isn’t accessible is how to master your own individual style, how you look at creation, hence the title The Art of Seeing”, Sanders says.
The participants are being challenged to photograpically map an inspiring environment. After taking the pictures the results are discussed. Topics of discussion are the importance of perfect lighting, portrait photography and the notion of colour, among others. Peter Sanders advises his students to be their own sternest critics. To constantly try and perfect what you are doing. “I tell the students to take a lot of pictures and to be their own worst critic. I encourage them to always take light readings and not to rely on their camera metering. I remind them to take time when they are taking pictures and find the ‘decisive’ moment. I would really like to create a unique body of young photographers – and old – who are passionate about documenting the new facets of Islam giving it back its dignity and beauty.”
The last workshop consisted of a four day tour in Istanbul where they took pictures of the historical parts of the city. For 21 year old Tabina Bajwa from Princeton, USA it was an unforgettable experience: “The workshop inserted meaning into everything we did and extends with us until the present day. We were able to discover more about ourselves and reflect on something without a broken or mechanical view. This allowed us to generate a creative process and convey a striking narrative in our photos.” She was also full of praise for her teacher Peter Sanders: “Sidi Peters is an outstanding individual with so much wisdom. Sharing the spiritual odyssey with him and our peers was an incredibly enriching experience. He taught us how to release the premise of how we view things, and how to truly observe and perceive.”
Despite the many applications received the organisers aim at small groups. Mirza: “In the intimate setting of a small group of 15 you will have more contact with Peter Sanders. It is an enthusiastic group, with people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe. We try to keep it accessible and the fees are testimony to that. The planning is to also organise workshops in Jordan, Malaysia, Dubai and Qatar”.
The first upcoming workshop will be organised in Morocco (May 9 to 13, 2013 with a special programme extending to May 16) and Jordan (May 31 to June 3, 2013). Peter Sanders adds that every country has its own taste and light, but that he has a special bond with Morocco. “I’ve visited Morocco since 1971 and I know the country extremely well. I have experienced Morocco throughout all the changes that took place, but I love the people and Morocco has this special kind of light, uniquely suited to photography. In reality it is the students contributing themselves to these workshops, in fact, it’s not about me, but about creating a platform where we can all explore, create and exchange ideas. I love their enthusiasm and I am discovering photography all over again.”
Photos: Faisal Mirza
This post is also available in: Dutch