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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Westport Photographer Shows Photos of Oman

Westport Photographer Shows Photos of Oman:
Exhibit runs through March 31 
at Fairfield Borders
(Posted to 3/15)
By Mike Lauterborn
C 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fishermen along rugged coastlines. Herders selling goats in open-air markets. Women in peaked burqa masks.

These are some of the striking scenes shown in a new exhibit of color photographs titled “Oman: The People” by Westport resident Barbara Paul, on display at Borders Bookstore of Fairfield, 1499 Post Road, through March 31.

Oman is an Arab country in southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by the United Arab Emirates on the northwest, Saudi Arabia on the west and Yemen on the southwest. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and Gulf of Oman on the northeast. 

Paul and her husband Rolan traveled to Oman in Fall 2008 and spent two weeks there. “Rolan used to be my chief film changer,” she joked, “but now I use digital, so he just travels with me. Digital is more convenient as the long trips often require sometimes seven or more plane changes and you really have to fight to prevent film from being put through x-rays, especially now with tight security.”

As to why Oman became a destination, she said, “There was one key reason: the mysterious burqa masks worn by the Bedouin women in the desert. Of course, there were many other aspects of the country that were compelling, especially the people and their traditional way of life.”

As one example, she cited the fishermen along the coastline. “They were very welcoming and pleased I featured them in my photos. How often do you see a fisherman fixing his net by stringing it through his toes?”

The open-air markets were also of interest. “These were very unique and often seemed like total chaos with goat sellers yelling and calling. The goats didn’t want to be led peacefully and squealed and rushed at people. Interestingly enough, Bedouin women fully participated in the process. However, in other situations, they are restricted. They don’t eat with guests, must have escorts when they go out and must always wear their burqas in public.”

Paul said her travels were concentrated in the Wahiba Sands Desert, an area where the dress is most traditional. “I am very attracted to traditional garments and seek them out all over the world,” she said.

As compelling as the people and their style of dress were the various landscapes, Paul added. “The mountains were really stunning and the ancient villages perched among them were fascinating. The know-how it took for villagers to irrigate their terraced land through long canals is remarkable.”

The coastline was just as unique for the traveling duo. “There were fortresses built on the mainland and among islands that were easily centuries old.”

Muscat, Oman’s capital and a port city, provided another look at this multi-faceted region. “It was beautiful, with a walkway along the water where people would gather in the evenings. The women always wore long black coverings called abayas. Of course, the market there is also fascinating and takes on a life of its own. It’s got winding alleys and hundreds of vendors selling everything from spices and food to exquisite beaded dresses. The latter were ironic to see given the fact that women there could never wear them in public.”

Paul said that it was about 25 years ago, when she made trips to Guatemala, Peru and Morocco, that she first began taking photographs. “In the last 15 years, I’ve traveled mostly in Asia and Africa, honing my photography skills over time. I was never formally trained. If I had been, I’m not sure my photos would have been as varied as they are. I can get very spontaneous shots, and I have to because things move very quickly.”

Paul considers herself very fortunate. “We travel four to five times a year. The most recent trek was to Tunisia and we returned home just two weeks before all the turmoil began there.”

Summing up her travels, Paul said, “Every trip is unique and the best trip. And I just love to capture our adventures with photos so we can show people what the rest of the world is like.”

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