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Sharjah : Xposure Festival by Aidan Sullivan


Aidan Sullivan sends us this text and his photographs about the Xposure Festival in Sharjah at the United Arab Emirates.

“There’s a new Photo Festival launching this year in Sharjah called Xposure.”

That was a conversation I had with my dear friend Tom Stoddart back in 2016. I traveled there with Tom and Sir Don McCullin for the inaugural Festival, the brainchild of its Creative Director Simon Newton.

We were very impressed; it exceeded our expectations.

The amount of effort and detail put into the exhibitions and event space was formidable, their hospitality another level, and above all, the respect they showed to the photographers unsurpassed.

Simon, the curator and creative director of Xposure, personally examines every file detail of the selected photographs, emphasizing the importance placed on showcasing the work of photographers in the best possible way. This hands-on approach reflects his passion for the craft and dedication to honoring the artistic vision of each participant.

And that’s how it began.

So where is Sharjah and why are they holding a Photo Festival?

Sharjah is the third-most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, after Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It has established itself as the de facto Cultural Center of the UAE and the festival is a part of their impressive program.

Are there cultural differences, of course, but the UAE is considered one of the most liberal of the Arab nations and every effort is made to make all visitors and participants comfortable.

The festival has deep pockets and it shows, flying photographers in from around the globe, the printing, the construction, the tech that goes with the events production all add up. Thus far there have been around 1200 individual shows.

Along with the exhibitions, they run a comprehensive and free to enter Awards program with a prize pool value of over USD 60,000 across multiple genres. Photographers of all ages, backgrounds, and experience are eligible to enter and this year they added a category for film makers.

As one would except there are portfolio reviews, focus groups, seminars, workshops and an undaunting and remarkably discreet Trade Show.

Kathy Moran hosts The Conservation Summit which attracts photographers like James Balog and other leading industry experts and enthusiasts to discuss the importance of conservation efforts in the field of photography. Topics covered included the role of photography in raising awareness about environmental issues, the use of photography in wildlife conservation, and the impact of photography on the natural world.

Cut to 2024 and its 8th edition, the festival has grown exponentially, but they have lost none of their original approach and commitment to excellence, demonstrated through its meticulous attention to detail. That has earned them a formidable and envious reputation amongst some of the most revered Icons in our community.

His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed bin Sultan Al Qasimi is our official host, when it all began back in 2016 he was head of the Sharjah Media Bureau, now he is the Deputy ruler of the Emirate. He attends most days and takes time to meet with the photographers and to hear about their work as he and his entourage stroll around the 300,000 sq foot exhibition space. In short, he is a really nice guy, approachable and as a keen amateur photographer, genuinely interested.

Invitations go out to photographers across all genres from Photojournalism to Fashion and everything in between, offering them the chance to bring their work to the UAE.

The long list of those who have attended and been given exhibitions reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of legends, from the aforementioned Sir Don to James Nachtwey, Steve McCurry, Dan Winters, Paula Bronstein, Neil Leifer, Stephen Wilkes, Greg Gorman and Nicole Tung – who gave a tremendous keynote speech this year. David Hume Kennerly and Pete Souza made a great on stage duo as they recounted their tales of life in the inner circle of the Whitehouse, and this year I had the privilege of interviewing the acclaimed and much beloved J.P.Laffont.

Beyond this reputation for extraordinary attention to detail in printing, framing and overall layout of the exhibitions, they have managed to create something rather unique. A real sense of comradery and community which has contributed to its status as one of the most important festivals in the industry.

Those of us who braved and navigated the pandemic to attend in 2021 were all grouped together in a bubble to keep us safe, and that’s when the real connections began.

Young aspiring photographers, many having their first ever exhibition, spent time with many of their heroes. Giles Duley gave the keynote that year, and his incredible story echoed around the auditorium, there was total silence as the audience tried to comprehend the sheer audacity of this man, who having lost 3 limbs to a landmine in Afghanistan, stood in front of them and recounted not only his story of survival but showed them what real defiance and determination looks like.

A year later, a packed auditorium fell silent again as Jim Nachtwey took to the stage and gave a powerful oratory entitled A Perspective on Visual Journalism in an Era of Social Media and Alternative Facts, as eloquent as it was disturbing.

Jim is known for his incredibly powerful imagery and an exacting attention to detail. To be honest, we were all a tad skeptical when Simon mentioned he would be attending but attend he did. His exhibition was remarkable, and Simon and his team had managed to meet all of Jim’s high standards.

Jim clearly thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, stayed on as we all took some ‘time off’ on an excursion into the desert and on to the Eastern coast of Sharjah.

Next it was Steve McCurry’s work and his life’s story that thrilled the crowd, again I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve on stage and taking a deep dive into the research allowed me to trace his career from his early days shooting black and white in Afghanistan during the war there that put him on the map. Steve called Xposure “one of the great events of the world.”

Full disclosure, I receive renumeration for my consultancy and as MC interviewing photographers on stage, along with my dear friends and colleagues Kira Pollock and Lars Boering.

The 2025 program is already coming together, and it will be somewhat epic as we will see both Sir Don McCullin and Jim Nachtwey topping the billing together.

Hope to see you there!

Aidan Sullivan


Xposure International Photography & Film Festival
Expo Centre Sharjah
Al Taawun St.
Al Khan – Sharjah – United Arab Emirates

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