The Middle East has consistently suffered under the western gaze, experiencing negative press, misconceptions and misrepresentations. Photographer Josh Adam Jones’ series XO looks beyond political and religious preconceptions and highlights how beneath these, we are all human. The result of his journey to Muscat, Oman, XO attempts to change public opinion, uncovering a country in a positive light, both aesthetically and figuratively.
“XO seeks to unearth and communicate stories about the expatriate communities of Muscat”, Josh tells us. “It focuses on the relationship ‘outsiders’ have with the local people”. Before he travelled to the country, the photographer spent a lot of time educating himself on Omani culture and social etiquette. As a western male photographer, he was aware of his responsibility not to exploit its people simply for a photograph.
Josh connected with potential subjects through Facebook social groups and a website called Internations. “These unofficial fixers provided a network of people from varying jobs, backgrounds and ethnicities”, he explains. “It granted me access to places such as The British Embassy, Oman Tourism College and The British School Muscat”. By saying yes to everything, he created a chain that led from one person to the next.
Josh has always been interested in people and telling stories about unfamiliar places. For him, making an image has always been the last part of the process. “I talk with people first and establish a relationship”, he explains. “I want to engage with people and have meaningful conversations”. As a result, XO features a mix of planned portraiture and spontaneous meetings on the street.
One of the students from the Tourism College offered to drive him around, and on one weekend took him to a village outside the city. Although the student, Ali, spoke no English, they had a guide to translate between them, and it was “one of the most memorable, moving and meaningful conversations I had”, he explains. It reaffirmed his admiration for peaceful Islamic culture and showed him how essential it is to go beyond political and religious stereotyping. The hazy, gentle lighting casts his subjects in an ethereal glow, making them seem personable and kind. The light sand and buildings of off-whites, creams, and soft browns appear almost heavenly. His photographs – beautiful as they are – make you want to discover Oman, its people, and its history.