Since late last week, a photographic exhibition inside the Alhambra covering the last 70 years of Oman's social and religious history offers a rare and intriguing insight into one of the Middle East's least-known countries.
Two of the photographers featured – Wilfried Thesiger and Charles Butt – had lives that were almost as exotic as their pictures. During his four years in Oman from 1945-9, Thesiger lived and travelled by camel with Bedouin companions as part of the Middle Eastern anti-locust unit, twice crossing (and mapping) the notoriously inhospitable Empty Quarter desert. Surrey-born Butt, on the other hand, did field work for the British Armed Forces' Intelligence Corps before joining the Sultan of Oman's army in 1966.
Thesiger's pictures are nearly all warmly personal portraits of tribespeople against painfully harsh desert sunlight. And Butt's images of Omanis selling rows of mangos on the back of a beached fishing boat or a group of beturbaned, white-robed farmers holding a meeting in a vast tent are initially equally focused on traditional life. But as Butt's image of a petrol pump and gantry towering over a centuries-old gateway and city wall also suggests, with time modern Western life begin to intrude in Oman.
Some of the work by New York's Edward Grazda also emphasises the blending of different cultures – most strikingly in an overhead shot of a traditionally dressed Omani couple wandering through a deserted supermarket. The exhibition has already visited Oxford and London.