Abu Dhabi: Hussain Al Moosawi’s portfolio of pictures is one that is bound to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia in many of the UAE’s residents. Facades of many of the country’s buildings hold pride of place, with their unique beauty and characteristics being instantly recognisable.
It is this passion project — of creating a pictorial database of the UAE’s unseen buildings — that Al Moosawi expects to continue for at least a decade.
“The UAE and its cities developed ever so rapidly and there has not yet been enough documentation of its architectural structures. What I see myself is using typology, the repeated portrayal of these structures, to document and understand urban spaces,” Al Moosawi told Gulf News.
So, the unique hexagonal windows of the Buty Al Otaiba Tower on Zayed the First Street are eye-catchingly clear when photographed by Al Moosawi. Looking at these on Al Moosawi’s Instagram page, most Abu Dhabi residents should have an anecdote or two to share about shopping at Sadaf Superstore downstairs, or be able to tell you about how the building once housed a Chrysler showroom. The cylindrical building in the next block also features prominently in the portfolio, and there will hardly be a resident in Abu Dhabi who has not dined at least once at Al Ibrahimi Restaurant on its ground floor. The row upon row of windows at the Hyatt Regency in Dubai Creek Heights are also instantly familiar, so are the unique frames of the Deira Tower constructed in 1979.
“On a personal level, I believe this will help me understand the UAE in which I live. On the other hand, those looking at my pictures may be able to connect with my captures. Perhaps they had once lived in these buildings, or have a memory to share. I am not yet looking at incorporating these stories into my work, but who knows, the project could one day expand to include these elements,” the 37-year-old said.
Looking for types
Al Moosawi said he first began looking for patterns and types while training as a film photographer in Australia. The structures and facades of Melbourne had a draw for home and it was there that Al Moosawi began to feel that everything was in its place for a reason.
“Melbourne has a unique, vibrant, urban identity and I began photographing its urban details, including its water hydrants, its manhole covers and its parking signs. Like a stamp collector, I was collecting these images to be able to see them better: The repetition of a similar vantage point made the differences clearer,” the designer said.
Back in UAE
He spent eight years in Australia, and when he returned to the UAE in 2015, he first took up photographing construction fences. Like the images from Down Under, the pictures of these fences are also on Al Moosawi’s webpage, where he describes them as breaking ‘the visual uniformity’ of urban architecture.
“To be honest, I was still observing during this time, and that is necessary before one zeroes in on a subject matter. These hoarding fences were semi-permanent structures, and I went from Abu Dhabi to Dubai to Sharjah to photograph them,” he said.
Over time, he branched out into taking pictures of industrial facades, and it wasn’t long before the UAE’s modern architecture — the structures built in the 1970s and ‘80s — caught his attention.
“The buildings clearly reflected a cultural heritage rooted in the Arab and Islamic World, marked by arches and geometric shapes, and with the brick giving the facades an organic feel. They were rarely documented, but they had a character and soul to them,” Al Moosawi said.
Although he loved the character of these structures, the photographer in him decided not to limit himself to a certain era of architecture. As long as a facade looks well-designed, he is happy to capture it.
A bigger meaning
“It now feels like a calling and being an Emirati photographing the UAE has a bigger meaning. I want people to be able to absorb these rapidly-changing cities and appreciate their surroundings,” he said.
Al Moosawi has not yet drawn any conclusions about the architecture he is recording pictorially, saying that this might be something he reaches when the project reaches some maturity.
Because he has a full-time job, the project often takes up Al Moosawi’s weekends and free time, especially as getting a clear picture of a facade in the right lighting takes quite a bit of scouting and waiting for the ‘sweet spot’. In some cases, Al Moosawi has even driven down in the wee hours of the morning to picture a building he has chosen.
“I have been known to sacrifice my social life for this, especially a I am doing what I call my ‘grand project’, all on my own. My inner journalist hopes that over time, I will be able to enrol a researcher who can curate stories about these facades and learn stories about the people they house,” Al Moosawi said.
For now, the Emirati visual artist has displayed 27 of his pieces at Dubai’s Al Serkal Avenue as part of an exhibition.
“I hope what I do helps these structures to be seen for their beauty and character in posterity, as the UAE itself moves on from being a young country to one with a rich heritage,” he said.