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The pillars of society: Ramesh Shukla

As gulf news celebrates its 30th anniversary, we find out what the prominent people in the UAE think about the progress the nation and the newspaper has made

Image Credit:Gulf News Archive
Ramesh Shukla, photographer, painter and owner of Ramesh Gallery Four Seasons.
Gulf News

As gulf news celebrates its 30th anniversary, we find out what the prominent people in the UAE think about the progress the nation and the newspaper has made

It was with Rs50 in his pocket, seven rolls of film, a Rolleicord camera that he received on his 14th birthday and a passion for photography that Ramesh Shukla came
to Dubai.

Today a celebrated photographer and owner of Ramesh Gallery Four Seasons, Shukla's company is the leading supplier of fine art, pictures and lighting and accessories to the hospitality industry.

Founded in 1970, the gallery is situated in a 15,000 square foot showroom in Dubai.

The gallery also operates the largest picture-framing factory in the Gulf and handles projects all over the Gulf, Africa and Eastern Europe.

"At the Ramesh Gallery there are over 8,000 pieces, which include many of my own creations and some rare paintings that I collected from the world over of Italian artists, local artists and rare miniatures of artefacts from museums around the world, including the Louvre," said Shukla.

Shukla is also an accomplished painter and his works grace the walls of royal homes, embassies and other government premises.

A former photographer with The Times of India, Shukla first landed in Dubai more than 40 years ago when he arrived by ship with his wife Taru.

Setting up home in Nasser Square in Deira, the Shuklas led a simple life among Emiratis. Instead of the dizzyingly high skyscrapers that dot Dubai's landscape, the area had a camel market, wind towers and fishing communities.

Capturing history

Shukla photographed anything and everything that took his fancy - Emirati women waiting outside make-shift areesh huts that housed the earliest medical facilities, people drawing water out of wells in Fujairah, men pulling donkey carts and performances of traditional dances.

He also photographed dignitaries and members of UAE royal families at both historic and everyday occasions.

Over the years, as reams of film were developed, it soon dawned on him that he was, in fact, unravelling the history of a tiny nation - from its nascent pre-oil days to the massive development and modernisation that followed.

The historical saga is the subject of Shukla's two books: The UAE - Formative Years, 1965-75 and The UAE - The First 30 Years. His photographs are also used in Graeme Wilson's Father of Dubai.

He is famous for capturing on film the historic signing of the accord that created the UAE in 1971, a picture that adorns many walls in government buildings and has been reproduced in different sizes.

"This month I took about 8,000 pictures. I still have about 7,000 rolls of film that I haven't developed. Until now my galleries in Heritage Village and Zabeel Road have managed to accommodate most, however I had to open a third one. I am seriously running short of space," he said.

Shukla's wife Taru has also taken photographs, especially of local women. "In the last two decades so much has changed in Dubai that I feel this country has come of age too quickly," she said.

"So much so that things that are only 20 to 30 years old have acquired a profound historical context. The changes that have taken place were inevitable, but somehow the past, which is quite recent, looks very antiquated and that is why my husband's photographs are so precious."

Gulf News has used Shukla's images over the years in picture spreads that have run for many pages. "I've come to know the editors and also the photographers, who are very talented," he said.

He has also been interviewed and featured in its news pages over the years.

"I read Gulf News every day. It has completely changed from what it used to be and is so much thicker!"

Precious art

Shukla said people in Dubai nowadays understand the value of art. "Previously pictures from my collection would sell for $4,000 (about Dh14,693) or $5,000 (about Dh18,366) but now they sell for more than $30,000 (about Dh110,196)."