Director: Issa Touma
Feed Back  
  Sigrid Kurz / Participating Photographer  
  “Venue: I liked the Old Electricity Building as an exhibiting space.
Organization: It was very good.
Public Response: Some people were skeptical about using such an old building. They liked the atmosphere at Shibani Building more.
Personal Development and Benefits: The cultural exchange. We had the possibility to meet other artists/people in this interesting cultural surrounding. It was very enriching to me”.
  Jeanette Schou / Participating Photographer  
  “The venue: For me personally it was a great experience to visit Syria, also because I have never visited a Middle Eastern country before. I was quite surprised that the exhibition space was this old factory, at first I may have thought that an organization with such broad and qualified staff and with this amount of good artists and support would have more “normal” physical circumstances. Perhaps I thought it would be an exhibition space like “the white cubes” as we know them from the western countries. In more humble circumstances I have previously shown my work in odd places like cellars and old factories. But this has been very “underground” (in a positive sense), and not as official as I found the exhibition in Aleppo to be. But it has been my experience that it is not that difficult to convert a challenge into a benefit. And in the end I found that it became a very beautiful exhibition, which showed a variety of works in the media of photography. The big industrial space became a hall of celebration and meeting.

Organization: It is very difficult for me to say anything about the organization besides what I observed. I was very happy that even though Mr. Issa Touma, Haygan, Brian Hunter and all the others working in the organization, were very busy, I had a chance to meet, talk and get to know them. I felt that I was treated like a friend from the first moment, and the people were even concerned about our stay as tourists. I got to see some of the wonderful places around Aleppo and had rich possibilities to work with my camera.

The three of us (the Danes) had talked about how we should get the most out of the visit to Aleppo and we had agreed on using as much time as possible in the exhibition space, to use the possibility of meeting with photographers, artists and public from parts of the world of which we actually know so little. I felt that the organization fully backed up this attitude, and this fact gave us so many great meetings and interesting talks. Plus some nice social occasions in the evenings with 10 to 12 people from possibly 5 or 6 different countries.

Public response: Besides the personal meeting and handing out flyers I have little idea of how the public responded. I had the pleasure to meet with Syrian television, but I have had no reactions on this. Also I know nothing about what the press have been writing. Here normally there would be some reviews in the newspapers. I don’t know if this happened in Syria about our exhibition. (Did it?)

Personal development: I think you can read between the lines above, that I had a great experience by visiting the 6th Photography Gathering. It broadened my horizons and was quite inspiring. Also I found that I saw new things in my own work, when it was removed from the western cultural context. I had to find new ways to explain why I make the pictures I do.”
  Parisa Damandan / Participating Photographer, Author and Documentary Film Maker  
  “It is my pleasure to give some comments and my ideas about the Sixth International Photography Gathering in Aleppo. One difficulty is that I could not be there from the beginning of the festival to meet different people and photographers. But for me it was very interesting to see the pictures in a place like that Old Electricity Building. It was a good idea, travelling to Syria for the first time and was a good chance, to see the differences, the similarities, to find good friends, to hear helpful advice about my work and to improve it in the future”.
  Hussein I. El- Mudarris / Contributing Photography Collector  
  Honarary Consul of the Netherlands
  “The Photography Gathering’ in Aleppo is not a smaller version of some international festivals and gatherings such as ‘City of Arles Photography Gatherings’ in France or ‘Photo Spain’ in Madrid, but rather has its own unique identity. This gathering has all the conditions, which enable it to reach a truly international level. It is an event which Syrians and inhabitants of nearby countries look forward to every year.
The gathering has progressed very well if we consider the fact that this it is only six year since its inception. It provided the opportunity to individuals who are interested in this modern art form to communicate, to view and to interact with international artists. The Photography Gathering complements other international cultural activities. This is accomplished by taking the steps to bring artists, particularly those from developed countries to share their art locally. The Photography Gathering continues to cover and exhibit images from all photographic categories. Also by devoting itself to photography alone it exposes and draws attention to the art of photographic imagery as an art form in its own right. This process helps the Gathering to develop its own identity and the qualities that make the Photography Gathering unique.

Some criticisms: There is a necessity to improve the physical plant, the lighting, to provide informed individuals and staff to assist the public, and to install seating. Finally the gathering should work to expand the provision of more expert opinion and art criticism in the form of lectures or talks that help us to gain a better understanding of the art of photographic image from all perspectives including visual, historical and regional”.
  Doctor Samir Antaki  
  “When we were young, we often passed by this massive, old and strange building, which uncontrollably belched smoke from its chimneys. We would hear strange and frightening sounds coming from inside. We were bewildered and wondered what was going inside that forbidding place. Later, we learned that it was an electrical generator pumping out power that was sent through the wires that we could see in the streets, reaching our homes and schools to supply us with lighting and the electrical energy needed for appliances. We didn’t understand how this process worked at the time, however we were in awe of the secrets that this mighty building held.

Time passed and as we grew up the march of progress brought to the city of Aleppo an improved infrastructure. That grand building ceased to pump smoke and the generators went silent. Inexplicably the building was abandoned, left deserted, and became an empty and desolate monolith in the heart of Aleppo. When we enquired about the old electricity building, we were informed that the energy consumption needs of Aleppo required the closure of that station and a new, larger and modern generator had been built to replace it in the Ain al-Tel area of Aleppo.

Again years later, one day in May, I was surprised to receive an invitation card for The International Women’s Art Festival to be held in this very same building. I thought that there must be a mistake. But all the posters, around the city confirmed this to be true. When I went to this art festival and opening ceremony I found that this huge and once desolate place had been brought back to life. The building was alive with crowds of people, all the walls covered with art work in the form paintings and photos created by artists from all over the world. I walked with the other visitors among the engines, the open pits and machine oil spots on the floor, enjoying the beautiful artistic work. The startling contrast added charm to this international cultural phenomenon. This mighty structure, once a great source of electrical power, sadly negected during a long sleep had been transformed into one of the most important artistic and intellectual gathering places in Aleppo.

The head of the organizing committee for this process is Mr. Issa Touma. He is a photgrapher who has devoted his life to art and to raising the profile of his country, Syria, in the international cultural and artistic areana. He works non stop to organize art exhibitions, particularly photography exhibits, sparing no effort, with great energy and commitment. This was not the first time he accomplished such an achievement for he was the person who recognized the potential of Aleppo’s archeological treasure, the Shibani Building. Here to, he transformed it to a meeting place for all the artists who gathered from all over the world, to participate, to exhibit their paintings and photos, to dialogue with Aleppo public, to attend musical concerts, lectures and to initiate literary discussions.And so it was that these deserted buildings became the cultural gathering places for the all peoples.

The latest Interntional Photography Gathering, which was held in Septemer 2002 in the Old Electricity Building was a great success. Those responsible for organizing this cutural exchange showed great energy and vision. The Patron of the Photography Gathering, Prime Minister Miro took the time to preside at the oppening along with many ambassadors and dignitaries who reside in our flourishing country.

During this two week cultural experience many international photgraphers brought their experience to this rare cultural exchange in this beautiful building. The building was brought back to life with the photography exhibitions, music concerts and discussions. We all hope that the Photgraphy Gathering will be an example to be followed. The transformation of this old deserted place into an art exhibition space was an innovation that deserves recognition and evaluation from those responsible officers in the administration of our great country
  Christian Steiner / First Secretary  
  Austrian Embassy Damascus
  “It is always a particular pleasure for me to visit Aleppo and to attend the International Photography Gatherings organized by Issa Touma and his staff. These events are so well received by the public and provide an excellent selection of images by artists coming from many countries of the world. It is also a great opportunity for the participants and visitors to exchange ideas and become friends. I therefore see the festival as vivid and highly successful contribution to the dialogue of cultures and civilizations and between people coming from different regions of the word, acting as a meeting point between East and West. I am very happy that Austrian photographers have been able to participate at the last three festivals with the support of the Austrian Embassy in Damascus. I am looking forward to further co-operation and wish Issa Touma and his team well in the preparations for the 7th International Photography Gathering in 2003”.
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