Latif Al Ani is known as the founding father of Iraqi photography. From the 1950s to the 1970s, during a period of increased cosmopolitanism and openness in the country, he was prolific in documenting everyday life in Iraq.
His vast archive, of black-and-white realist photographs, provides a unique record of this "golden age" of Iraq but from the 1980s it had fallen into obscurity. It is only now that his work is being rediscovered by an international audience, after being seen at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. And now Hatje Cantz is publishing the artist’s first monograph.
Modern and multicultural, his fascinating photographs reveal a completely different Iraq, featuring Western fashions, oil-driven industry and political life in the metropolis. By the 1960s, when competing groups were struggling for power, Al Ani was exhibiting his work in America and Europe, as well as throughout the Middle East.
However, by the 1980s, the increasingly authoritarian atmosphere of the Saddam Hussein regime made it impossible to photograph in public. Al Ani then lost much of his historical archive during the U.S. invasion in 2003, leading the artist to lose all interest in making more photography.
Today, Al Ani is finally receiving the attention that his impressive oeuvre deserves. The monograph Latif Al Ani crowns the artist’s comeback, assembling around two hundred photographs. Texts by Morad Montazami, curator for the Middle East and North Africa at Tate Modern, accompany the works.
Asked whether he will ever practice photography again, Al Ani dismisses the question: "I miss it, but I feel too old for it and have suffered the loss of my ability to see and move about."
The eighty-five-year-old views the next generation of Iraqi photographers with mixed feelings. The country has lost many talented artists to emigration, and he is worried about his country’s cultural legacy. Most places he knew in the centre of old Baghdad simply do not exist any more. "I lived there, I grew up there, and I loved it very much," he says. "All of it has been devastated, and most of it has vanished."
Main image: US couple at Taq Kasra, Al Mada'in, Salman Pak, Baghdad, 1965 | © Latif Al Ani
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