The UAE has a growing community of photography enthusiasts who enjoy using analogue cameras and film. The online group, Analog Photography in UAE, launched in 2015 has more than 1100 members of various nationalities and ages who use the forum to showcase their work, get critical feedback, share their photography skills and knowledge and find information about photography materials and processing facilities. The not-for-profit group also organises photo walks, workshops on dark room developing and printing techniques and exhibitions of members’ work.
The group’s latest exhibition, MyUAE, explores personal stories of the participants, offering a glimpse into the lives of UAE residents of different backgrounds. It is curated by Christopher Osborne and Michael Glenister, long time members and administrators of the group.
“We made an open call for members to create a series of images that tell the story of some aspect of their life in the UAE. We also arranged several get togethers where participants could discuss their projects and fine tune them. They have chosen varied subjects, and some have used film exclusively, while others have used a mix of film and digital images. We are thankful to Tashkeel for offering us the use of their photography facilities at Nad Al Sheba and hosting our exhibition,” Osborne says.
The participating artists are from different countries and professions. Their stories offer insights into the culture, lifestyle, dreams and struggles of the UAE’s diverse community. Although they are personal stories, most expatriates will relate with them.
Madhu Kakkanattu’s project, A Boy’s Story, examines his ten-year-old son’s life after the family moved from India to Sharjah. “Instead of playing in green open spaces, my son now spends most of his free time looking out of our apartment window at a concrete jungle. When we discussed this body of work as a family, my son told us that he had not realised the loneliness he was projecting.Talking about it made him see that he was inwardly dreaming of home,” Kakkanattu says.
In a project titled Emirates Identity, American Rains Jesh reflects on his experiences during different stages of employment in the UAE to explore the connection between the profession and the identity of an expatriate.
“While introducing ourselves we usually reference what we do for work, even though that is only a part of who we are as individuals. As an expat in the UAE, the connection between our profession and our identity can be complex; our job may not always define us, but it does determine how long we can stay in the country and how others may view and treat us. As temporary and contingent residents, it is important to consider how we allow our self-identity to be shaped by our means of livelihood and how that is perceived by others,” Jesh says.
His lonely life
Abdallah Kroosh’s project, Bachelor Life, is also related to his job situation in the UAE. The Egyptian, who works in the Oil and Gas sector, sent his wife and daughters back home when he was between projects, but since he expected to find another job here, he delayed shipping many of the family’s belongings. He currently commutes between the UAE and Egypt for work, living in a studio apartment in Abu Dhabi when he is here. His pictures show his lonely life in a small apartment filled with packed cartons.
What fascinated me and pulled me again and again back to the Northern Emirates is the uncanny resemblance of these little villages to the place in the Philippines where I grew up, making the unmistakably foreign terrain strangely familiar.
“I try to make the best of my spare time by cycling and learning to play the piano but being surrounded by these boxes of my family’s belongings makes me miss them even more,” he says.
Hannah Magsayo’s series, Cooking for One, also portrays her feelings about living alone in Dubai far away from her family in the Philippines. “Four years in this buzzing city have been like a rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs. I have met new people, found new opportunities and always try to be optimistic, but the reality is that I am still alone, and I am my own comfort zone,” she says.
Jed Brecason’s project, Yellowfields, developed from his family’s winter weekend drives across the Northern Emirates. “Over the last few years my wife, daughter and I went on several road trips, exploring the hinterlands of Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. Along dirt roads snaking through the dry riverbeds of the Hajjar Mountains, we saw glimpses of the UAE’s former self delicately interwoven with the modern, and realised that behind the country’s rapid development and market-driven urbanisation lies a life of quiet days and empty expanses, where living harkens back to ways long gone. What started as a leisurely family drive to take advantage of the good winter weather slowly developed into a thoughtful photo project to capture the unseen and usually unnoticed life in the lesser-known and less-touristy areas of the UAE,” he says.
“What fascinated me and pulled me again and again back to the Northern Emirates is the uncanny resemblance of these little villages to the place in the Philippines where I grew up, making the unmistakably foreign terrain strangely familiar. The road trips were a pleasant travel back in time to my childhood years as well as the not so distant past of this country,” he adds.
Alistair Crighton from UK looks at another aspect of expatriate life with his visual story, Dubai Wold Cup. His quirky images examine how Western expatriates use events like the Dubai World Cup to replicate aspects of their lives in their own countries, often creating an exaggerated view of their life here.
Presenting a different aspect of life in the UAE is Tareek Al Hayah (Way of Life) by Australian Kevin Quan-Tuan Trinh along with Emirati research assistant Haya Al Qubaisi. Their images offer a preview of a PhD research study with the University of Newcastle, Australia in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF).
“This research and creative project stems from my experience of teaching subjects related to creativity and self-expression to Emirati students. It revolves around Emirati women and aims to better understand and capture their lifestyle which is mostly unknown to expatriates. It explores the role of faith, culture, traditions and new technologies in the formation and expression of identity in the context of Arabian culture, as well as the challenges faced by young Emirati women artists and designers. When completed in January 2020, this project will comprise 18 staged photography events,” Trinh says.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.
MyUAE will run at Tashkeel’s space in House 10, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, until May 9.