Al Sharif initially started collecting pictures of family but soon his interest grew in old and rare Emirati and Arab photos, which date back to the 1890s in some cases Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: When Ali Abdullah Al Sharif’s mother Sheikha Alabar fell ill and went into a coma, the Emirati collector realised the importance of recording memories by keeping them in photographs.

The 47-year-old’s interest in photographs grew, eventually focusing on rare pictures from the UAE and the region. He claims to have spent around Dh500,000 so far in amassing a vast collection of photographs, as well as paintings and photo negatives.

“I wanted to leave a lineage for my children so they know who their grandparents and extended family are. So it started with collecting pictures of friends and family. Then gradually as more people heard about my photo collections, I heard about antique sellers who then sold me their rare and old pictures of UAE,” said Al Sharif.

He added that his passion expanded from the UAE to the rest of the Arab region. “I have rare pictures of Egypt, Syria, Jordan.”

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Al Fahidi neighbourhood of Dubai in 1980 Image Credit: Supplied

Beyond words

He has held exhibitions of his collectibles and published books of the pictures as well.

“I don’t want to sell them... For now, I’m happy storing these pictures with me. Pictures can speak a lot more than words,” he said.

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It was not unsual to see camels in Dubai city in 1978 Image Credit: Supplied

Al Sharif added that he spends time with his children going through old family pictures and that of the UAE.

“It becomes like an educational tour. I have pictures from 1890s onwards. Obviously there’s a lot of history stored in my collectibles and that’s why I love showcasing them at exhibitions.”

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Fujairah fort in 1981 Image Credit: Supplied

Rooted in culture

Al Sharif’s father, Abdullah Al Sharif, was a businessman and one of the first people to open a book store in Dubai. His mother was famous for dressing up brides on their wedding day back in the 60s and 70s.

“She was the lead bridal designer who would dress up brides, put jewellery on them, do their make-up. She was such a forward-thinker, for she would take Polaroid shots of the brides to keep the pictures as a remembrance. I guess I have got my passion from her.”

A quick scan of his collection reveals UAE leaders in casual gatherings, rare pictures of royalty from other Arab nations old, and ordinary moments from daily life in the old streets of Dubai.

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Shops in Deira in the 1960s Image Credit: Supplied

Legacy builder

Al Sharif said he is building a legacy of the UAE and the Arab world through his collectibles. “I will be part of more and more exhibitions to show the world our history and tradition. There’s nothing like showing the world our culture that we are so proud of. Words describe our history but pictures and paintings also speak volumes of our heritage which we are so proud of.”