By: Rush Webster
Photography has the ability to transport the viewer to an entirely different place and tell unique stories in a way that words alone cannot begin to express. Margy Dudley is a local photojournalist who documented her recent excursion to a country called Oman in a series of pictures that encapsulate her experience in this hidden gem of the Middle East.
Dudley’s new photographic exhibit at the Durango Arts Center, the Sands of Oman, reveals the beautiful diversity found in a geographical region generally painted with a broad brush of violence and terror.
Oman is a small haven in the midst of Middle Eastern turmoil and conflict, which is why Dudley decided to seek it out and discover how it has remained such a peaceful oasis within the war-torn desert.
“I would say that Oman, actually was one of the safest countries that I’ve ever traveled to,” said Dudley, “The media will tell you generalizations about, let’s say, the Middle East, but I like to find out for myself.”
Oman’s peaceful nature is especially surprising due to its close proximity to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, two countries so well known for violence and conflict. Dudley set out to discover why it remains an island in the center of such chaos.
“The Sultan uses the [oil and gas] money for infrastructure. Money goes into schools, into hospitals, and into healthcare. It seems that everyone has a house and a car and a job. It is progressive; women can vote, they can drive. They can leave the house without a man, they cover their hair but they don’t have to cover their faces,” said Dudley.
These factors undoubtedly are to be credited for the integritous and neutral nature of Oman. A large contributing factor to the conflict found in the Middle East is the ancient division and hostility between Sunni and Shia Muslims; this characteristic aspect of many middle eastern countries does not afflict the peaceful society of Oman.
“The Sunni and Shia Muslims could pray in the same mosques,” said Dudley, “and that’s huge. So these things along with the proper use of oil and gas money, have created an incredibly safe society.”
Aside from the lack of danger and the tranquility of this Middle Eastern sanctuary, Margy found many other alluring aspects of Oman that prompted her to take this photojournalistic expedition through the region. When taking her pictures, the question arose of what image she wanted to paint of Oman with her pictures. What story does she want to tell? What perception of Oman does she want her audience to take away?
“ I wanted to capture the beautiful side of a place that we hear so much negative news about, and I would say the people too. In my photographs my story would be the beauty of the place; it’s a story about place – a visual story. At first I was just going to do this famous desert called the Empty Quarter. I was going to just have pictures of sand dunes and have it be very abstract, but there was so much else that I didn’t want to limit it to just sand dunes,” said Dudley.
The process of choosing which photos that were to be included in the exhibit was an arduous and very particular one, for both the photos chosen to display as well as the order and placement of said photos shaped the manner in which Oman was portrayed.
“Working with Ms. Dudley prior to hanging, we arranged the photographs in a manner that tells a story as the viewer moves around the space. Her photography transports us to Oman with a sensibility to a life and an environment, unfamiliar to most of us,” said Leesa Zarinelli Gawlik, one of six curators of Friends of the Art Library (FOAL) within the Durango Arts Center.
While each picture tells its own individual story and reveals a different aspect of life in Oman, the one photo that best encapsulates Dudley’s experiences depicts her Omani guide surrounded by sand dunes of the Empty Quarter bathed in the soft, tranquil light of dawn.
“I would have to say [my favorite photograph] is the title photograph, just because it is the one I picked to represent it all,” said Dudley.
Ultimately, the Sands of Oman photographic exhibit showcases an entirely unique perspective of a geographic region that many of us have never had the opportunity to see. It exposes a depiction of the middle east that challenges the popular threatening perception of the region that we are used to and forces the viewer to test their own inadvertently biased perspective. This showcase is available for viewing at the Durango Arts Center through March 9th, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.