Hrair Sarkissian, Winning Artist, Abraaj Group Art Prize 2013
Background, Six duratrans prints, 180 x 227 cm
‘Background’ marks the eclipse of a tradition of studio portraiture integral to the twentieth century history and development of photography in the Middle East by documenting one of its central artefacts: the studio backdrop. Hrair Sarkissian photographed hundreds of examples he found in studios across six Middle Eastern cities-Alexandria, Amman, Beirut, Byblos, Cairo and Istanbul finally selecting one from and for each one. Large-scale, backlit and hung unframed, like the backdrops themselves, these photographs both monumentalise and eulogise their subject. Without the distraction of a sitter in the foreground, our focus shifts to the backdrop itself, to the tools and spaces historically used for studio portraiture. But the spaces are empty and the backdrops appear disused, like ruins or relics of a tradition that has finally run its course, the absent sitter introducing a melancholy that radiates from the emptiness.
Hrair Sarkissian is a photographer, living and working between London and Amman. He has recently been exhibited as part of the 7th Asian Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, Ici, Ailleurs, MarseilleProvence 2013 and Encounter as well as in the The Royal Academy in the Middle East, Cultural Village Foundation, Katara, Doha. He is represented by Kalfayan Galleries, Athens/Thessaloniki.