The Man Behind the World’s Most Remote Destination Gallery in the Maldives
BY Low Lai Chow | February 10, 2016
Eye Wonder, Paul Reiffer. (Location: Canyonlands, Utah)
(PER AQUUM Huvafen Fushi, Maldives 2016)
“One thing I’d been looking to do for a while was a pop-up gallery to see how images would be received, but we hadn’t found the ideal space or come to any concrete decision on where to do it,” he disclosed to Culture+Travel in an interview about the gallery he opened last month at PER AQUUM Huvafen Fushi.
While none of the sites they saw resonated, one Maldivian resort stuck with him: “I’d managed to collect a few iconic shots from one particular island — and my favorite! — PER AQUUM Huvafen Fushi, and had been talking to their VP, Nick Downing, over the past year about how we could feature them for guests.”
“To be honest, I hadn’t made that mental leap in my own mind to consider opening a full gallery there. But when the two of us got into exploring the idea a bit further, it was one of those things where (it was), ‘We can’t do it right now, but let’s not rule it out’!”
Currently exhibiting at the pop-up gallery is pr @ hf, a selection of Reiffer’s stunning shots of landscapes in the Maldives, as well as of cityscapes from all over the world — including two images he had not even gone ahead to shoot yet when he received the green light for the gallery last December.
Thanks to a combination of factors that includes guest timings (“The Maldives has one of its big peaks between January and March”) and fitting in with the resort’s schedule for its enhancement and remodeling works, Reiffer also had just a month to get a full-fledged gallery up in time — which involved building it over the Christmas period.
“It was a real struggle getting everything there. You have to remember that everything on that island has to be shipped in, and we had elements coming from the USA, UK, China, and all over. Strangely, I never once felt that things were out of control,” he said, adding that support from Downing, as well as from the resort’s general manager Shebo and resort manager Jay helped turn around the gallery one day ahead of its opening.
While he declined to share specific sales figures — “Let’s put it this way: running and housing a gallery on a remote luxury island isn’t exactly a low-cost option, and we’re operating well enough to keep it viable for a long time yet!” — Reiffer confirmed that the gallery will stay afloat for at least this year.
“We’ll be injecting some new images and scenes throughout the year to keep things fresh, especially as there are some guests who visit several times each year. I shot some new material from the island itself during this trip, so we’ll be releasing them into the gallery in the future along with a few more from around the world.”
Reiffer tells us more about the project.
CULTURE+TRAVEL: With a deliberate lack of sales personnel for the gallery, you’ve taken a departure from the usual workings of a traditional gallery — though guests are welcome to enquire about buying your works, of course. Why the aversion to sales?
REIFFER: It comes from the fact that I’ve visited so many! It’s the usual routine: walk into a fantastic gallery with full of art on the walls. The purpose of the gallery is to show the art but also to sell, so why can’t I see any prices? Oh, that’s right; the prices are hidden on the black-suited salesperson’s smartphone, and are invariably different for each customer. ‘For that reason, we have to go into a special private room to talk numbers for this stunning piece of art you’re about to enhance your life with…’ and so it goes on!
From the outset, I always wanted to be upfront and transparent with my photography and continue that approach, regardless of location, to any gallery we build. The prices are transparent. They’re printed on info-panels on the walls. (Writer's note: Prices for the prints range from $400 to nearly $8,000 before tax.) Availability is transparent. There’s an indicator of how many are left to buy in each edition for all to see. Each shot has the backstory and also the behind-the-scenes iPhone and GoPro shots that we always take of what I see right now alongside them, to show the customer how and why we captured this scene.
You literally bring the world to the Maldives with pictures of stunning destinations from all over the world on display, as with pictures of the island itself. Which images have won the most praise?
To a lot of the islanders, the cityscapes are intriguing. When you don’t get to see a traffic jam for years at a time, or even streetlights, the excitement that the motion in those images bring up-close can be pretty cool. For a lot of guests, it’s the more tranquil scenes or abstract works that have grabbed their attention.
“The Faraway Tree” (one of the shots I didn’t have when we agreed to go ahead) seems especially popular. Despite being surrounded by some of the USA’s most iconic National Park scenery, that tree really does hold its own in the image. “Eye Wonder” (see above) taken at Mesa Arch, Utah, seems to also be a reliable favorite in part as it’s the centerpiece of one of the walls. People get closer to the info-panel to see the iPhone shots that depict the exact same scene. The sun really does rise like that.
Has working on this project unleashed a new appetite for destination galleries?
We are talking with another “world’s most” location at the moment about doing something similar. It isn’t actually about galleries in their own right; it’s the fact that I can bring parts of the world and some of these awesome scenes to people in a location where they weren’t expecting to find them. Our reach in the Maldives is relatively limited, but as an approach, it’s what we’ll be continuing for the next few ventures, potentially in some more populated locations too. The big thing for me, however, is about bringing my images to people in a way that’s in harmony with the location.
What's next on the horizon?
We have a lot of commercial work already underway. I also have trips to Iceland, back to the US, South Africa, Asia and New Zealand booked in. I’m really looking forward to Iceland in March. It’s a very different look for me as we capture icebergs, frozen lakes and long sunsets around the island. Outside of that, we’re expanding the workshop series this year. I’m running my own sessions all around the world and have for the first time teamed up with my camera manufacturer Phase One to offer a photo workshop with their new 100-megapixel cameras in New Zealand’s south island in June. These aren’t your regular workshops. It’s helicopter shoots, luxury hotels and transport, crazy locations and amazing gear. If that one’s successful, we’ll be doing a lot more in future.
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