This post was originally intended to be titled ‘Dubai: A Soulless City‘ and the only reason is because we were yet to find the heart or the soul of the city. That one spot or several spots that define a city such as the markets that ebbs and flows with the traffic of traders or people buying their goods, river banks where people sit, eat lunch and talk, where people gather to talk and exchange ideas, discuss politics but none has been found. You know the spot that’s in your city. Well, our search didn’t find the soul, the heart of the city but rather what has been found is that Dubai is a city of many souls all mixed together.
Many days were spent walking the ridiculously large shopping malls (thank you for the very large food court), main roads, back streets and all the tourists hot spots to find the heart and soul of Dubai. We never found what we were looking for in the main streets, in the malls or in the tourists hot spots but we did find it in the back streets, the spot that tourists rarely go. We found that people were happy and pretty much friendly. We approached many people for photographs and all but a few were more than happy for us to photograph them. Through our attempts at the local language and the locals broken english we found that many of the people we had come across were from countries that we didn’t expect and they were far and wide with countries represented such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, India and even expats from Australia, United Kingdom, United States.
The back streets of Dubai are the best place to capture people going about their daily business but don’t go down there on your own, unless you are have a black belt in something and can defend yourself like Bruce Lee. The back streets are a mean place and I highly recommend traveling in at least pairs or a small group. We were originally advised not to bother asking Emirates if they wouldn’t mind being photographed but we still ended up doing just that and we really had no trouble at all. We were also advised that photographing women in Traditional Dress is a huge No No, it is offensive to the locals and thats one rule that we really stuck to but there were plenty of street photography opportunities.
We approached this guy who was more than happy to have his photograph taken, we both showed him the results on the back of the camera, He smiled, laughed all the while pointing it out to come a couple of other curious locals. He kept adjusting his head scarf to cover as much of his head as possible but still have some sort of air flow to attempt to keep him cool from the heat of Dubai. He was easy to approach but on some occasions we were waived off by the local who didn’t want to be photographed. Even from a distance photographing down an alley, we still received the ‘Evil Eye’ from some, so some quick shots and we were off.
A group of young men head off through a closed alleyway of shops to the local mosque to answer the call of prayer. Most of the group walked except for one who decided to ride his bike through the shadows.
Probably the biggest mistake that we both made was not taking our trusty tripods, this was mainly due to the weight restrictions of the airline and the huge cost associated with checking another item, so we decided to go without the tripods. We also considered purchasing them in Dubai however we would have the same problem coming home however we did attempt on numerous occasions to take long exposures at night.
The lights of Dubai are quiet simply amazing and there are a multitude of opportunities to photograph the night. We did attempt it using our bags as a stable base which took some time to effectively master to be able to get some decent shots off. We tried to photograph the Burj Khalifa tower at night and laid down on the grass. We were pounced on pretty quick by security, his hand gestures made it clear that laying down on the grass was a no no and that we should stop immediately. We didn’t argue with him we just simply packed up our gear and moved on.
Many countries have varied cultures and you should be aware of them before travelling. The UAE has some rules that may seem absurd to westerners but they are the norm.
These are some of the rules that we encountered whilst in Dubai:
1. Women are not allowed to travel in the front seat of taxi’s.
2. Males are not allowed to look/ stare at women in Traditional dress.
3. Women should dress conservatively and don’t show to much skin, below the knees and covered shoulders etc.
4. Men, if wearing shorts must cover the knee.
5. Do not photograph Government Buildings/ Military Installations, (you will be arrested and jailed – no questions asked)
6. Do not openly display a large amount of affection publicly.
7. Visiting mosques, Check the rules before going in or book through a travel guide as this will prevent aggression from the guards, yes guards !
These are just a few of the rules or what’s considered offensive and there are many more. I recommend checking what the cultural differences are before heading to the UAE. Better to be informed than be begging for forgiveness.
Dubai is an interesting place and it is extremely hard to define. Dubai mall is the largest mall in the world and the Mall of Emirates has an indoor ski slope but whilst we were there it was announced that they will be building a Mall of the World with a Universal Studios Theme park attached. The Mall of the World will be even larger than the Dubai Mall and is expected to handle over 85000 visitors a day. For me those numbers are hard to comprehend. The majority of the building are extremely new, well designed and would make for some great architectural photography opportunities. We did go in search of the old Dubai, where the old buildings with old shops and the real people who live there all their lives as I believed that this would be the place to find the soul of Dubai, but never found it. We also learned that Dubai is only 50 years young and that maybe why finding the cities soul was so hard.
We would go back to the UAE but probably to visit Abu Dhabi instead to see if we could find the culture, the soul that makes up the United Arab Emirates.
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