Away from the mass-produced, commercial images of Dubai’s glittering skyline with Burj Khalifa towering over the SZR, we caught up with a photographer who preferred to dig deeper into the heart of this rich and diverse urban space to show us a unique picture.
Photographer Jalal Abuthina has artfully captured the essence of old Dubai with intimate portraits of Karama, Bur Dubai and Deira – the original downtown.
His book ‘Dubai: Behind the Scenes’, a part of his 3-book series ‘Inside Dubai’, is now available at Book World, Kinokuniya and at Gulf Photo Plus in Al Serkal Avenue.
Here’s what he had to say about Dubai, photography and diversity:
1. What attracts your lens most about Dubai’s landscape?
I have always been more drawn to the older parts of the city and the residents living there. They are the more historic and authentic districts of the city. Ironically, these are also the least exposed or photographed areas of the city and so little is really communicated about them on a commercial level.
Also, the mix of cultures and identities occupying and co-existing in some of these areas , especially Deira, is a visual treat in itself.
If you spend some time walking around some parts of Deira, chances are you are likely to witness a spectrum of different people from parts of the world all dressed as though they are still in their own home countries. And it’s completely normal and is a natural part of the area’s ecosystem.
I’ve been to many places and cities around the world and haven’t seen anything quite like it.
2. Can you give us an insight into your creative process?
Process for these books (Dubai Behind the Scenes and Memories of Satwa) basically involved selecting, arranging and organizing a selection of pictures from a pool of thousands of images I had taken over the past decade. I then arranged them into a sequence intended to be a visual portrait of the areas that they were photographed in.
In order to get them as close as possible to the visual depiction I wanted to communicate, I would then ‘fill in the blanks’ so to speak of areas, people, or subject matter that I felt was missing or needed a different take. I’m not too picky about light but afternoon sunshine definitely works best for many reasons.
3. What do you wish to express about Dubai through your work?
In terms of visual representation, especially on a commercial level, Dubai (or more accurately – images that depict Dubai) is usually buildings or the city’s well-known tourist destinations. Although these are certainly worth celebrating, a lot of people who visit the city do not have access to the many other layers of the city.
It was that missing element of representation I think that inspired the 3 books in the “Inside Dubai” series.
For the main book, as the name suggests, “Dubai Behind the Scenes” is a contemporary photographic account of everyday city life in Dubai that has been produced as a counter-narrative to the city’s ever popular image of opulence, modern architectural marvels and headlining superlatives. The book is an in-depth photographic journey through the streets of Dubai’s original downtown areas of Deira, Bur Dubai, and Karama which, to many people from Dubai or who call the city home, is a side of the city that represents the more humane and old school aspect of the city.
The book also features an introductory foreword and historical account of the city by renowned urban historian and author Yasser Elsheshtawy, who is the Associate Professor of Architecture at United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain. All the writings in the book have been translated into Arabic and Russian.
4. How did you start with street photography?
I started in my last year of university around 2002-2003. I was studying in Montreal, Canada at the time and started taking pictures to capture memories of the city because I was planning on coming back to Dubai after completing my degree.
Since then, I was hooked.
5. What was your biggest challenge with photography in Dubai?
Being a photographer who shoots a lot outdoors, I would probably have to say the weather conditions during summer can make things very challenging. The humidity usually causes condensation problems with lenses, and there have been times where I have had my camera just shut down from the heat.
It all comes with the territory though, and you just have to deal with it when it happens.
For more info on Inside Dubai, visit www.insidedubai.ae
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