Week 4 – Work In Progress

In last week’s post “Visit to the Metropolis Exhibition at the East Wing, Dubai” I mentioned that I would like to explore more about the various nationalities who make Dubai their home. This week I explored this further and presented to our cohort during the Friday webinar.

The main questions I have posed to myself in thinking about this project so far have been:

  • What makes so many people from so many different countries make Dubai their home away from home? What are the push and pull factors?
  • How do people from other countries integrate into Emirati society (or not)?
  • What sub-cultures have developed in the U.A.E. as a result of this diverse melting pot of different nationalities? For example, are there distinct sub-communities of different nationalities such as a little India or little Philippines?
  • How do they cope being away from family and friends?
  • How do expatriates generally go about life in their home away from home?

I don’t have answers to these now and the questions may change over time but at this point in time these are some of the questions that I want to tackle during the project.

Earlier this week I went on a walk to discover some new places and I started off at a fishing marina nearby home to try to meet some of the fishermen and learn a little more about this. The first photograph is of a couple of lads repairing the fishing nets behind the scenes in the marina. There were a lot of Indians working on this whilst I was there, getting the nets ready for the next fishing trip.


There were some interesting parts to the inner workings of the marina but security weren’t keen on me taking photographs of this part of the marina and I was soon ushered back to the water’s edge which wasn’t too interesting. I am more interested in finding out more about the day to day lives of people here in Dubai, not so much the yachts in the marina. The fishing boats may have been interesting but these were moored up in a zone that was restricted and the entrance to this part of the marina had a sign saying “no photography or video” so that ruled that part of my walk out.


My second encounter was with a Pakistani gardener who was having a rest and a cup of tea in the fishing marina after his morning shift. He was a pleasant man and happy to have a chat with a side discussion about any gardening work available near where I lived. I liked the simplicity of this photograph with the cup of tea just hanging on the edge by his side. I imagine I will come across this chap again during my walks in the area. If so, I hope to give him a polaroid of this.


After this first day, I decided that the walk, whilst beneficial in that I was out and about shooting different nationalities, needed more of a structure and so I started to build out a mind map for my main project outlining a number of the different nationalities represented in the U.A.E. and then focusing on researching the Filipino community as a starting point. I thought I would start with Filipinos as I already have some connections with a few Filipinos and also there tends to be less language barriers than some other nationalities. I produced this mind map from a number of online sources which I hope will provide some structure to my work going forward.

Melting Pot.png

I found this quite useful as it made me think about and research a number of different aspects of Filipino culture which will help provide structure to my project and will hopefully also ensure that my project considers all these different elements of their lives here in Dubai to give a relatively complete view. The above is just a starting point and will grow in time once I get a little bit more immersed within the Filipino community. Most of the elements of this mind map were identified through my own online research. Hopefully this will be supplemented soon with some more local insights.

I have been using the MindNode app for this which I found quite useful as I could add to it via by iphone, ipad or laptop and it syncs between the three. This makes it quite handy to update as and when I have a brainwave or insight into something I had not considered previously. My mind tends to wander a lot and if I don’t get something down on paper or the electronic equivalent then it can be easily forgotten!

So after putting together the initial mind map for the Filipino community, I took the streets again but this time with an agenda and the first location was the basketball court in Satwa Park. Basketball is a very popular sport in the Philippines and there is a public outdoor court in the middle of Satwa which is an area where a lot of Filipinos live here in Dubai along with a number of people from South Asia. I thought this would be a good initial point to shoot as it was the coming together of the community at the end of the day after work. It was a hive of activity, and there was a pretty intense game going on.

This photograph was taken from outside the basketball court looking in through the metal bars surrounding the court. I found this nice to portray as it is showing a group doing something they truly love outside of their day to day work. The metal bars here could be somewhat symbolic as whilst they are inside a cage you could perhaps interpret that as being on the other side of the metal bars in a place where they are free from the pressures of work. Whilst the players are blurred out, you still get the sense of an important game taking place given the positions of each of the players.


The next photograph was taken this time inside the court looking from the perspective of those watching the game (there were quite a lot watching on this side of the court). Here I wanted to show some motion with this picture to bring it more to life. Not perhaps the greatest photograph but may be an indication of the particular style that I would like to bring into the project.


I again used motion in this last image which was of a lot of people returning to Satwa crossing the road on the way home from work with the Burj Khalifa looming in the background on the left. Perhaps some influence here from the work by Martin Roemers and the motion he deploys in his photography?


I suspect that over the course of the next year I am going to experiment with a lot of different styles as I become more immersed in photography, connect with other photographers and study other art forms.

Whilst I had a purpose to photograph a particular element of the Filipino community, I found that as I was out and about, I came across other communities during that time. This will no doubt happen over the course of this project and I don’t want to ignore those moments even if the focus that day is on a particular community. As an example, before I even got to the basketball court in Satwa, I came across an impromptu cricket match on a bare patch of land just on the outskirts of Satwa. There were a few different nationalities playing so it was nice to see that mix. There was a bit of agro too as it got a bit heated after an LBW appeal!


Satwa is a really interesting place and there is a lot going on there at night with many different nationalities living in the area. Whilst I was watching the basketball, a Kenyan couple (Collins and Vyona) playfully asked if I would take their photography which I obliged and sent them a copy via whatsapp. We got talking about Kenya and struck up a good conversation. Kenya wasn’t actually on my list but it probably will be now too. 🙂


One aspect that I was struggling with and asked the cohort during the week’s webinar was to do with black and white vs colour photography and whether there is a place for both in a single project. Dayana provided some great thoughts around how both could be incorporated in the same project but perhaps by splitting the images in black and white, and colour by certain themes. She wondered whether one theme could be in exploring how different cultures behave in similar situations e.g. work, sport, nightlife etc. All good thoughts. Jedd also thought that it would be good to explore the extent to which there is interaction between communities which is an extension to my initial question about what extent they integrate (or not) with Emirati culture. Certainly the first experience in Satwa has provided ample opportunity to explore this aspect further.

After the initial challenge in finding a suitable subject, I am pretty excited about this project now that I have some clarity on where I am going with it. If anyone has any good contacts in any communities in Dubai then do please put me in touch. I need to build my network 🙂


Visit to the Metropolis Exhibition at the East Wing, Dubai

I spent the day with Nick Hannes (the Belgian documentary photographer) taking him around a few places in Dubai for his project a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting experience in getting to know a little bit more about the industry and how he goes about his work. Nick had mentioned an interesting exhibition at the East Wing Gallery in Dubai called Metropolis by Martin Roemers which I thought I would pop along to see last week.

Martin’s project provides an insight into the world’s megacities (defined as urban areas with more than 10 million inhabitants) and the huge infrastructures needed to keep these cities running. The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050, nearly six billion people (75% of the world’s population) are expected to be living in cities which is crazy given that a century ago this percentage was only 13%. The images below are taken from an article called “Bright Lights, Big Cities” published in The Economist on 4th February 2015 (available at http://www.economist.com/node/21642053) and show the extent of the growth in global city populations since 1950.

Global City Populations in 1950


Global City Populations in 1990


United Nations Predicted Global City Populations in 2050


Martin’s exhibition had some fantastic images of some of the megacities of the world showing the movement and energy in the cities as the population goes about its daily business such as the one below in Jakarta.


Roemers. 2012. Jakarta. PDN Photo of the Day available at http://potd.pdnonline.com/2012/02/12919/ [accessed 10/10/16].

The exhibition made me think about the growth of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Whilst there are no megacities within the U.A.E., the country has seen exponential growth in its population as shown by the charts below from the “Worldometers” website which uses data from the United Nations.


It is remarkable to think that there were less than 80,00o people inhabiting the U.A.E. as recently as 1955 and that there are now more than, according to the latest United Nations estimates, over 9.2 million people living within the U.A.E.

Of course, a growth rate of that nature has to be fuelled mainly by migration and this is shown by the make up of the population of the U.A.E. which is comprised of approximately 88% expatriates according to 2013 data from the United Nations. At that time, this was the highest percentage globally other than in the Vatican. The nationality of expatriates is heavily skewed towards South Asian countries but there is a huge amount of diversity with representation from many different nations as shown from the analysis below from “BQ Magazine“.


As part of my project I would like to explore this further to understand more about the motivations of expatriates who make this their home. Why do people leave their country? Why do they move to the U.A.E.? How do they integrate or not within society or other cultures here? What sub-cultures are there within the U.A.E. – for example, are there distinct sub-communities of different nationalities such as a little India or little Philippines? How do they cope being away from family and friends? How do expatriates generally generally go about life in their home away from home?

Talk by Nick Hannes at Gulf Photo Plus


Nick Hannes, The Continuity of Man, 2014 (Photo: New York Times Lens, 2016)

I had the opportunity to attend a talk yesterday by the Belgian photographer, Nick Hannes, who gave an overview of his career to date as a photojournalist and more recently as a documentary photographer. Given my interest in the documentary photography genre I thought that this was a good opportunity to get some insights on this and further ideas for my project. Nick shared some of his recent work on the Mediterranean and also a few examples of his images from his new project that he is doing in Dubai.

The majority of his talk focused on his interesting project “The Continuity of Man” which took him four years to document over a course of 20 trips to several countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. His work across the locations was bound together using the themes of tourism, migration and coastal urbanisation which made me think of the recent presentation by our course co-ordinator who provided the example of a series of photographs linked back together by the London bus. I need to think about how my project will have a theme to provide cohesion to the overall work.

Nick spoke about his preference to shoot from slightly further away so that his photographs showed people within their environment and almost as if they were like puppets in a show. I’m not sure whether this is the style of documentary photography that I prefer or whether that would be closer to the human subject but it is perhaps something to explore further in the next few months and share my own perspective on later on in the course.

Nick discussed some of the practical aspects of shooting the project as well as the new project in Dubai the will be focusing on tourism and consumerism. He spoke about his preference to ask people for permission to photograph them, and also how he went about getting access to certain venues or locations which was interesting to hear. He also mentioned the importance of researching the topic in advance and the type of readings that he does to get to know more about the subject matter. This helps to provide some structure around the types of photographs that he will seek on his trips and to ensure that there is the correct context in his photographs.

He did mention that he is focusing on shooting indoors at the moment in Dubai as it is too hot and it made me slightly panic about what I am going to do for half the year here! Maybe some night photography on the less humid nights ? Perhaps there is room for a separate project there too – “Dubai nights”. Maybe a trip or two outside of the region with family over the summers?

At the end of the talk, a local asked Nick on whether he intended to publish his work on Dubai in the UAE and if so would he be censoring some of his images such as some of the nightclub scenes. I definitely need to get to the bottom of what is and what isn’t permitted in the UAE in terms of what type of photographs are acceptable and what type of work can be published.

I had to rush off after the talk but I have reached out to Nick by email today to try to connect with him whilst he is in Dubai. Lets see.