It's an opportunity that emerging artists anywhere would leap at: a three-month workshop with one of America's foremost photographers, a showcase of their work on an island that will one day contain the nation's major museums and a team of designers and typographers on hand to style their exhibition to its professional best.
This neat package was offered to 10 photographers for Emirati Expressions, an initiative of the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), with the final exhibition currently at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi until January 28.
Fortunately, all the artists embraced this opportunity and ran with it. The previous Emirati Expressions, in 2009, was an open-call exhibition, resulting in a stampede of artists working in varying mediums and at different levels of their careers. This time around, things are a lot more focused, and the final show offers a good survey of a generation of UAE photographic talent.
"The exhibition is based on the idea of an artistic process, not on a final product," said Rita Aoun-Abdo, executive director of TDIC, at the launch of Emirati Expressions on October 18. "It is not about a competition of the best photographers in the UAE, but about a scientific process; a tool where artists interact to create a new aesthetic expression that can shape their vision."
The artists, drawn from around the Emirates, are Afra Al Dhaheri, Afra bin Dhaher, Alia Al Shamsi, Ammar Al Attar, Fatima Al Yousef, Hadeyeh Badri, Lateefa bint Maktoum, Maitha Demithan, Mira Obaid Al Qaseer and Salem Al Qassimi. Visual identity and publications were handled by a number of Emirati designers and calligraphers, including Mohammed Mandi, Faiza Mubarak, Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al Maktoum and Firas Bardan.
The 10 photographers each spent three months engaged in a workshop programme with Stephen Shore - an accomplished American photographer. Shore has taught at Bard College, New York, since 1987 and is recognised as a contemporary master of his medium.
The guiding principle of Emirati Expressions' protracted creative exercise, Shore says, has been to free the artists' minds from the desire for praise.
"When you want people to say your work is good," he says, "then you do what you've seen before - you play it safe. When you forget about praise, that's when you have the chance of actually progressing.
"Artists who are totally engaged have, at the moment of creation, forgotten about recognition."
Lateefa bint Maktoum has emerged from the workshop with a very apparent progression of style. The photographer represented the UAE at the Venice Biennale this year with her digitally manipulated and collaged images that exaggerate reality to express anxieties about the great recent changes to the landscape of the country.
Her images tend to be saturated with colour, heightened so that they almost flood out of the image. But for Emirati Expressions, Bint Maktoum has stripped this right down. She's taking fundamentally better, purer shots that depict two layers of the UAE landscape in clear opposition. In Meydan View 1, for instance, a solitary boy in a kandura walks, shoulders slumped, beside a parched ghaf tree. In the distance is the Meydan racecourse, its futuristic body shimmering like an extraterrestrial presence in the heat haze.
Another standout collection here is that presented by Fatima Al Yousef, who has documented her family's return to a house they'd lived in for 30 years - due for demolition shortly after the images were taken.
While there's a definite nod to the work of Dubai photographer Lamya Gargash's Presence series, whose work explored similar themes of erasure, Al Yousef has included people in hers; and we can imagine them remembering what each room once was. She captures their secret, personal relationship with this place. As Shore says, "Space and light have been used as a medium of emotional communication."
Hadeyeh Badri said of her work at the launch that she had examined "the dialogue that occurs when iconic objects are placed together". Some are clear (posters of the lush Pakistani countryside on the walls of a pokey office kitchen) and others are plain surreal (a man sits before a knight's suit of armour, with red LEDS in the helmet for unnerving eyes).