Objects of study / The archive of Shehrazade / Hashem El Madani
"My relationship with Hashem el Madani started when I visited his studio in 1999. I was doing a research on transportation for a project entitled The Vehicle: Picturing Moments of Transition in a Modernizing Society, and was looking for material that could orient me in any direction. I never expected to find anything in a portraiture studio, but Madani surprised me with images of people on their bicycles, next to cars they did not own, men fixing cars, and other images, all published in The Vehicle. Like many of his generation, Madani had worked as an itinerant photographer before he owned a studio in 1953. But despite his growing business, he always managed to preserve his practice in public spaces since it assured him direct visibility among Saida's population. It was important important to be seen active. Moreover, and contrary to in-studio photography, a picture taken out-of-studio is always a result of an accidental encounter that he did not want to miss. More than visibility, portrait photography in public spaces assured photographer a significant extra income that was hard to waist or leave to another photographer.
It never occurred to me back in 1999 that I would still be working on the same collection eight years later, and that I would be taking the studio and the entire archive in it as one body, almost archaeologically, documenting space, tools, walls, and planning for interventions in the photographer's practice. In the first period of my work on Madani's collection, I explored what I see now as the predictable concerning a commercial portraiture entreprise, particularly photography's ties to work and the production of capital. It was predictable to look at how photography was shaped by the notion of work. I started to consider what seemed convincing, i.e. Madani's relationship to the city in general, urban and social. And that was what made Hashem El Madani: Studio Practices, the first exhibition dedicated to Madani's photography, meant as a study of images, formal codes, and conventions in relation to physical studio space, almost a medium in a photographer's production, in relationship to society, traditions, beliefs, fears, constraints, desires and fantasies, all in a specific reality, Saida." - Akram Zaatari