DHAHRAN: If a photo can tell a story of a thousand words, Peter Sanders’ latest exhibition at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Ithra, can show us a million.
Aptly titled “Searching for Light,” a major retrospective opened on Saturday in Dhahran, consisting of about 100 photographs taken by Sanders.
He went from shooting portraits of music icons of the 1960s such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones to mindfully capturing images of Islam and his own journey of enlightenment when he converted in the 1970s.
“The exhibition offers a deeply empathetic vision of the traditional world of Islam and an intimate view into one man’s restless search for light through diverse places, races and traditions,” the center said in a statement.
On opening night, while camera shutters were fluttering around him, Sanders stood calmly without a camera of his own in hand.
Sanders said: “The exhibition is really about the journey all of us are taking, not just my journey. From childhood to youth, adulthood maturity and old age, this is a journey everybody is on. And it’s an amazing journey. As you get older, you take a bird’s eye view. When you’re younger, you’re just busy living your life. But then as you get older, you start to see how all of us are linked together.”
He went from taking photos of some of the most famous faces, to those in remote villages, and when the world grew a bit dim, in his view, he went to travel in search of the light.
After careful study, Sanders embraced Islam and set out to document the faces, places and spaces he came across. Over 55 years and over 40 countries, visitors to Ithra have the chance to see the body of work he is most proud of on the walls of Gallery 3.
In 1972, his life transformed when he was able to capture an image in Makkah of the Haram. To him, pilgrims, mostly draped in white cloths, looked like a pearl necklace cradled around the house of God.
His style is distinct, clean and intimate.
Although not fond of heights, many of Sanders’ images were taken from above. His images were also included in Ithra’s first ever traveling exhibition in 2022 and in the accompanying 2023 book, both called “Hijrah,” which documented the 400 km between the two holy cities which the Prophet Muhammad embarked on.
Sanders traveled along with Dr. Abdullah Hussein Alkadi, professor of urban and regional planning at Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University, who is considered an expert for his groundbreaking research on the travel routes that the Prophet Muhammad and his companions took, and both men, along with some others, attempted to piece together that sacred journey though imagery and text.
The curator of the Hijrah offerings at Ithra, Dr. Idries Trevathan, said: “Through the power of Sanders’ work, we live in a better, more tolerant world. I think now, in these times of tribulation, his work is more important than ever.”
Speaking about the visual oversaturation in today’s world, he added: “Every day we see thousands of primitive images; online in social media, on billboards, on TV and we take thousands of pictures every day and we carry them around in our pockets … we maybe glance at them once or twice and eventually they get lost and then they disappear into the ether, otherwise known as the cloud; never to be seen again.”
But Sanders’ images were “real,” Trevathan continued, and not digitally generated by artificial intelligence. “We’re going to see real people, real places. The photographs shown in this exhibition, they will never grow old, and they will outlive all of us.”
Visitors came from near and far to support the exhibition.
“I came from Jeddah just for this, because Peter Sanders is known to have amazing photos and every photo speaks for itself. Every photo has a story and the technique,” visitor Naila Althagafi told Arab News on opening night.
Althagafi has been a photographer for quite some time, first as a hobby within the Kingdom then in the US when she enrolled as a film school student and earned a communications doctorate.
“I like stories. And that’s why every photo, it can tell a lot from one story. And so I know Sidi Peter — I met him a couple of years ago and I’ve known of his work. He’s a teacher, whether it was from the technical part of photography or even the stories that reflects the Muslim community or even the Muslim identity as well. He is a walking treasure,” she said.
Spread across five zones, the exhibition forms a journey across the Muslim world, from the sacred cities of Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem to the remote deserts — showcasing photographs of the people and places shaped by Islam, captured through the lens of Peter Sanders.
The show runs until June 16 and tickets start at SR35 ($9) and can be purchased through ithra.com.