Week 1: I made an attempt at extending my psychogeographical survey of Dubai this week by traveling to the Jebel Ali neighbourhood which has a number of places of worship for non-Muslims. I managed to get a few shots of the Catholic church and the Sikh temple before the 45 degree heat and 95 % humidity laid me and my cameras low. I have decided to adopt a uniform desaturised look as a) it will defamiliarise many with the Dubai they know through the media or tourist visits and b) this is how Dubai actually feels outside of the centres of steel and glass skyscrapers. Though I am happy with the pictures, I have some concern that they look similar. Although this is an integral part of my initial thesis – that much of Dubai is architecturally homogenous though culturally diverse, the concern now is that I will end up with a number of pictures that look extremely similar whilst relying on knowledge of the subject matter to create meaning. IS this feasible within a fine art context?
Week 2: Again, still too hot and humid for any extended photography
Week 3: Still hot and sticky butI managed a brief, successful foray into the Al Sufouh neighbourhood which has pockets of traditional Emirati life within the bustling, modern metropolis. I have photographed the date farm there on a few occasions and will no doubt go back more than a few more times to get similar shots in different conditions. I also got a shot of the marina in Ghantoot which is noticeably different from Dubai Marina or JBR marina – a couple of questions raised here – Ghantoot is actually in Abu Dhabi emirate, though closer to Dubai city – does this count? Also, would side by side pictures of the received view of the UAE and my view be necessary?
Week 4: Thinking more about where other cultures spend time outside of work and worship, I started thinking about what defines cultures. The main ideas that cropped up were language and cuisine, and the latter is more clearly suited to a psychogeographical survey of how cultures imprint themselves on their environment. With the weather still a problem for extended shooting, I managed to drive around the Al Barsha area and up and down the Sheikh Zayed Road – the main artery through the city. Although I was pleased with the results in terms of my project brief – all three clearly show a different culture imprinting itself on the otherwise homogeneous architecture of the city – they are not the most interesting pf photographs. So will consider adding photographs that include a human presence.
Week 5: Some pictures used for the networking assignment may find their way into my portfolio. However, these show (provided subtitles are there) an individual response to the changing fabric of the city rather than a cultural one.
However, the fact that this neighbourhood is a rapidly changing one with a combination of new developments and traditional Emirati housing, and that it doesn’t have a clear cultural footprint as of yet mark it out as somewhere worth keeping a photographic eye on and somewhere I will continue to visit over the coming months.
Week 7: Following feedback from Paul, I am now looking at a less psychogeographical approach. As I suspected, many photos of homogeneous architecture, though possibly meaningful, are not very interesting. At all. Consequently I have been trawling through other recent photographs with the view of changing my genre from fine art to travel/documentary and broadening my scope beyond Dubai. I have many good photographs from a weekend trip to Chittagong in Bangladesh and more from another weekend trip to Sudan – both of which I feel are far enough off the beaten track to be of more than general interest. This may change my target market from galleries and photobook publishers to magazine editors, and thus change my project to a portfolio. I have collected together photographs from the last few years to create a printed portfolio/book covering 20 countries and another covering portraits from across the globe. I shall collect these when I am back in the UK over Christmas.
Week 7 work in progress portfolio
Week 8: Though I am content that I am on the right track with the move towards travel and documentary photography, a conversation with Krishna confirmed that I required more balance in the work I was presenting. She suggested equal numbers of either three or four photographs from each country featured. A quick reorganisation and I have two alternatives.
Week 8 work in progress portfolio 1
Week 8 work in progress portfolio 2
Of these, I prefer the first – I think four photographs is a minimum to get the feel of a place. Ideally, I would have chosen four sets of five photographs each, but would have exceeded the 18 photograph limit.
Week 9: Disaster! Looking at the assessment criteria for the portfolio, I noticed what now seems really obvious – that the photographs making up the portfolio should have been taken since the start of the module. A quick reassessment of what work I have done in this time shows that, apart from a few days in Ukraine, I have been in the UAE for the whole time, thus scuppering plans for an international portfolio. Luckily, I have managed to see and more importantly photograph a lot in the UAE in that time. Thus I have chosen to depart from my initial UAE-based project, of looking at how different cultures present themselves here, to concentrate entirely on how Emirati life is a blend of the modern and the traditional. Had I been smart enough to have read the criteria right at the beginning of the unit, there are many more shots I could have gotten – I have some good shots of the bull fights on the north coast (a weekly event almost entirely unknown to anyone other than locals) and of Bedouin encampments close in to city centres, but alas all were taken before the start of the unit. Naturally, should I decide to continue with this project then I will include such photographs. But for now I have managed to put together a collection of photographs that I think adequately extemporise on my theme. Though rather a lot of them seem to feature camels as I visited the camel races last weekend (another almost entirely local enterprise). I decided to intersperse the camel shots through the portfolio, but will seek guidance in the tutorial on sequencing as I am fairly sure that this won’t work particularly well.
Week 9 work in progress portfolio
I am relatively happy overall with the direction though I still feel there is a little bit of a throwback to the earlier, uh, less interesting shots of buildings. I really like the shot of the Emirati social club (an ancient building in these parts, dating as far back as the 1980s).
Week 10: Feedback from Krishna confirmed that there were just too many damn camels. Her advice was to limit the camel racing shots to three or so. For the rest of the shots, I have tried to show three aspects – the traditional Emirati life, modern Dubai and the places where it intersects. The shot I am happiest with is the one of the date farm in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab – I have taken this same photograph so many times, at different times of day and year and in different lighting conditions. The most recent shots, from three weeks ago, are the best yet, but I will keep returning as I am still not 100% happy with the lighting. I am also very fond of the shot of the Emiratis in the cafe taken from above. Much as I hate visiting malls at the weekend, sometimes it pays off. The one thing I am not happy about, and the reason that I will keep looking for a similar shot, is that it was taken with an APS-C camera with a fixed 28mm equivalent lens. It’s a wonderful camera and it fits in my pocket (which is why I had it when waiting for a friend at the mall) but the picture is a very, very tight crop so the resolution is not what it could be. Something that Krishna mentioned was that I should aim to choose the ‘grittiest’ shots from the camel races. This set off a whole new string of revelations. Well, one revelation, but a big one. I have been relying on the novelty of places and events such as this rather than looking for the drama or tension. Consequently, I picked the three shots that I feel show some sort of tension or, in the case of the shot taken at the starting line, a degree of visual dissonance, in this case between the lower legs of the men and the upper shadows of the camels. I feel that many of the other shots are also reliant on a degree of novelty, or would require explanation. Which I now think makes something of a failure as a photograph. Perhaps it is because I come from a background of writing that I am unconsciously looking to portray a moment in a story rather than an image that tells a story in its own right. This is definitely something I will carry forward into future practice.
The other question (and it’s another biggie – specifically given the subject matter of this unit) is what is the aim of these pictures? Where will they go? First of all, I think that when the series is completed to my satisfaction, I will contact the GPP gallery here in Dubai. I have also identified the Phocal Media agency as a possibility worth contacting. I have a meeting with the manager of a coffee shop that doubles as a gallery – part of a very successful and popular group, about displaying photographs there – in this case a series of 6-10 images. I am also interested in linking my photography with my writing. My father is a travel journalist (and sometime photographer) and I will be asking him about contacts when I next see him at Christmas.
Daniel Simon Unit 2 work in progress portfolio