Dubai: Unique and previously unseen photographs of the UAE’s founding fathers can now be viewed at the Etihad Museum until the end of the year.
Through the lens of Indian self-taught photographer Ramesh Shukla, rare portraits of late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, can now be seen for the first time at the ‘Founding Fathers’ exhibition.
Images of the two Rulers now displayed on two large five-metre panels were retrieved from negatives that had been safely stored for over 50 years by the Shukla family. The exhibition now takes residents on a historic journey detailing the evolution of the country and the art of photography.
“I joined my father in many of his journeys to take pictures of the founding fathers, and I experienced first-hand his passion and saw how he was drawn to them,” said Shukla’s son Neel.
“In every single one of his pictures, you get a feeling of nostalgia and an experience you can’t replicate. He was focused on getting the perfect shot and captured it with such integrity, calculating everything in his mind.”
Recalling his father’s love of photography, Shukla junior added: “My father came to the UAE in 1965 with his camera, a handful of rolls, and 50 rupees (Dh2.62) in his pocket on a ship called the ‘Dwarka,’ which left from Mumbai and arrived in Sharjah.”
Shukla said his father never attended school but mastered the art of taking photos and developing them himself after his father bought him a camera at the age of 15. He also didn’t speak English, but was slowly taught to read books and manuals on the subject by his wife.
“He took his first picture of Shaikh Zayed in 1968, developed them by hand and returned the next day to give them to him,” said Shukla. “Shaikh Zayed asked him — ‘What do you want for the pictures?’ — and my father replied ‘nothing just your blessings.”
Ramesh would go on to take thousands of pictures of the founding fathers, developing them in his one-room house in Al Nasr Square. His aim was not to sell his pictures, but to capture the beauty of the country and its Rulers while practicing his passion.
“We lived in one room, it was our dark room when we closed the curtains, our living room when we opened them and our bedroom at night,” said Shukla.
A recreation of Shukla’s darkroom with the same size and layout has been prepared for the exhibition, displaying the exact items used by the photographer in the 1970s.
“Ramesh is one of the few lucky people who was here in the time before the union [in 1971]. The Etihad museum is about the history of the UAE and his beautiful shots of that era and time reflect the same concept,” said Abdullah Bin Massam Al Falasi, Etihad Museum Director.
Along with Shukla’s lifelong treasures, the exhibition is also showcasing his original cameras, films and equipment.