Modern Family

“My life is like a movie. There’s love, violence, and drugs.”

Sierra Mullaney, 20, Taylor Barton, 19, and Aydin Barton, 1, are an unconventional family.  As a young gay teen, Sierra asked her best friend Taylor to father her child.  Now, within the walls of their one-bedroom government subsidized apartment both parents strive to recreate an isolated reality for their son Aydin – a raw safe space imbued with the love and stability absent from their own childhoods. Sierra emerged from a background tattered with abuse, neglect and drugs, while Taylor’s family have continuously applied pressure abhorring his life style choices with a woman who is “too dark skinned.”

Matters are complicated as Sierra continues to date and love women and Taylor wants his best friend to love him in a committed relationship. Despite the complexities of raising a child in an unorthodox manner, Taylor harnesses an unwavering loyalty to his new family.

Taylor, currently unemployed, yet a dedicated father, cares for Aydin during the day, as he juggles nappies and maintains the home with cartoons blaring the background.  Sierra works the graveyard shift at Casey’s – a nearby gas station, making ends meet.

“I’m surprised through everything that he’s still here.”

Under Construction

Hiya,

Apologies for the chaos! This site is going through a major re-haul as I update my latest video and photo projects. Just take deep yogi breaths, make a little cup of chai and bear with me!

Email me if you have any questions: razan(dot)alzayani(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

 

 

The History Project II

The UAE’s 40th anniversary had been looming over us for about 6 months; we knew we had to provide readers, viewers and listeners something unique that contributed to understanding the UAE’s very short albeit accelerated history.  Soon enough, 40@40 was born. 40@40 was the (almost impossible) brain-child of our Multimedia Editor Karen Davies and students from NYU Abu Dhabi’s Al Hemyan Project.  The aim was to visually depict the history of the United Arab Emirates through 40 unique objects. Our deadline? The nation’s 40th birthday. Let the treasure hunt begin.

Not only did we have to ask around to find these objects, appeal to collectors, citizens or long-term residents who may have barely found value in these items, but we also had to find the sources articulate and knowledgeable enough to speak about them. We began shooting our first object in late July, and ended shooting our last object around the beginning of November. Shoots ranged from in-studio shoots, to “on-the-road” make-shift shoots where we essentially had to set-up and light a believable studio environment in the weirdest, tiniest and hottest of spaces.

October 4, 2011. Sharjah, Children's Museum. We had locked ourselves into the kids portion of the museum to set up a studio. Here's Deepthi giving the tea-boy some of the Arabic Coffee they had given us through the window as there was no other way to enter or leave without disrupting the set.

 

The main initial challenge for Deepthi (Multimedia producer at The National) and I was studio lighting. We always knew how to work with available light, no matter how tricky it was, we would figure out a way to make it work. But with studio lighting we were just kind of…thrown into it.  Thankfully, fashion photographer Tina Chang and Photo Editor Brian Kerrigan gave us a good ol’ guidance push and then we were sent flying.

Aching backs, lots of sweat induced by ridiculous humidity, broken fingernails, pangs of hunger and thirst went into shooting, editing and producing this project. We also had some good laughs, poking fun of ourselves and the fact that we were entrusted to handle invaluable objects with such great care.

Abu Dhabi, The National's Studio - "We need a baby!" Handling one of the first wooden stethoscopes used by the first doctors at the Oasis Hospital in Al Ain (around 1961). This little instrument massively bought down infant mortality rates.

The project was well-received by Emiratis and expats alike. Ultimately, we really hoped it would provide the people of UAE with a visually compelling resource on the nation’s development in under half a century. We were also sooooo happy to hear that the project won 3rd place at NPPA’s January Monthly Multimedia Contest.  Click here or the main image at the top of the page to go to the 40@40 site.

 

 

 

PlanetSolar

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So this was my 3rd year covering the world future energy summit, and i knew the multimedia team had to do something slightly different than the typical “Abu Dhabi needs green energy” talking head interview. Luckily I had read one of the thousands of press releases on the summit and found out that the worlds largest solar powered boat will be docking there.

I got to meet the crew members that had been traveling the world purely on solar energy. They never ran out of energy once, amazing stuff. They also had great VNR footage, which made it an easy edit. Here’s the link to the video

www.thenational.ae/business/energy/video-planetsolar

The History Project

Over a year ago, The National created a team whose task was to investigate the events leading up to the formation of the United Arab Emirates.  It was a massive undertaking that involved passionate reporters, multimedia producers, photo and magazine editors and last but not least Emirati photo researchers.  We were forced to dig deep for archival footage and photographs mostly taken by foreigners in the 60s and 70s in the UAE.

Assigned the task of editing our main video element, I spent hours scrolling and scrubbing through fascinating, grainy archival film footage from the years leading up to 1971 and the years shortly after the Union.  We were all incredibly proud of the outcome; however its place has been lost on our new website.

Link to last year’s History Project can be found here.

December 2nd 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the Union of the United Arab Emirates. For this year we’ve decided to explore the history of the country through 40 unique objects. With the help of Tina Chang, Deepthi Unnirkrishnan and I spent most of October learning and experimenting with studio lighting. Sometimes we would shoot up in the studio in our building, but sometimes we were forced to transport our equipment to wherever an object was and shoot it there. It’s been a great learning experience, and we’ve handled some incredible historical objects such as a pearl diver’s nose plug, a fetal heart monitor from the Oasis Hospital in Al Ain, Trucial States passport and many more. Our series is released this coming Sunday in the paper and online. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a behind-the-scenes timelapse accompanied by extremely strange music of one of our studio shoots, featuring myself, Deepthi Unnirkishnan, Karen Davies, Brian Kerrigan and Pawel Dwulit.

Fashion Photography with Tina Chang & Mitch Baker

I had the absolutely pleasure of shooting on location with fashion photographer Tina Chang and model Mitch Baker at The Pavilion Downtown Dubai a few weeks ago. I enjoy working with Tina and really admire her lighting techniques and shooting style. I never thought I’d be interested in fashion photography, I don’t know too much about designers and brands, you’d never see me flipping through Vogue either.  However,  this production has been vastly different from what I normally do and the stories I usually cover so it’s been quite the breath of fresh air.

It was difficult to figure out this edit, I went through various sequences and cuts until I figured out what felt right. I initially tried to capture Tina and Mitch’s friendship whilst working on location – however that didn’t translate to video too much so I had to play and experiment with different angles of telling the story.  Hope you like it!

Cycling4Gaza

It’s come to the point where no calendar year is complete unless I’ve decided to take part is some gruelling physical challenge that raises money for a sustainable cause.

One of my best friends in London, a Palestinian-Libyan film-maker Tamara Ben Halim co-founded an initiative known as Cycling4Gaza. Cycling4Gaza is an independent, youth-led initiative that was founded by 4 humanitarians in the wake of the war on Gaza in 2009. What started off as a one-off cycle from London to Paris turned into a yearly international group event that aims to cycle ultimately into Gaza.

This year’s challenge, held in October, begins in Olympia and finishes in Athens (a painful 350km later) bringing together 45 cyclists from all over the world. There are 9 cyclists from the UAE; we’re all amateurs but our spirits are high and we’ve been pooling our efforts to fund-raise in the most creative ways possible.

The goals of this challenge are to raise more awareness about the ongoing situation in Gaza while raising funds for The Welfare Association, a non-political, non-religious, non-governmental British charity that provides education, physical and mental rehabilitation programs to the most vulnerable of Palestinians.  The Welfare Association works with partner NGO’s in Gaza – we are raising funds for 3 NGO’s – The National Society for Rehabilitation in Khan Younis and Rafah, Society for the Care of the Handicapped in the Gaza Strip (SCHGS): “Club for Disabled Children for Educational and Social Support” in Gaza City and Nour El-Marrifa Association, Friendly Learning Spaces in the Middle Area.

I was doing some statisical research on education in Gaza over the past few days, and the results were striking. The drop-out rates for males and females were essentially nil, and the literacy rate is over 90%. Even though unemployment is quite high, Gazans continue to educate themselves, which can only mean one thing – that they still maintain hope.  These statistics prove that education should be continuously and heavily invested in in those areas.

Other than attending spinning classes like maniacs and investing in padded spandex shorts. We will be hosting fund-raising events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the lead up to the cycle. We will be selling items at the Dubai Flea Market this Saturday. Feel free to come down and say hello, alternatively if you have junk items you’d like to donate before Saturday, I’d be happy to pick it up. We’re aiming to raise AED 10,000 this weekend.

Like our Facebook Page for more information on the cause and our initiatives, or follow us on twitter @cycling4gaza. Alternatively if you’re feeling super generous donate on our Justigiving page.

 

A Week in Shahama


For the whole summer, a series titled “A Week in Pictures” has been running in The National. Staff photographers spend a week getting to know a neighbourhood or a city photographing daily life there.  Although I’ve occasionally filled in and shot for the paper before when we have been understaffed, this was my first “real” photo assignment. And boy was I nervous.

Shahama is a lazy town in between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We all make the commute between cities quite often but I don’t know anyone who has explored Shahama except to visit the Kids Park.  The area is mostly residential and local. This could have proven problematic for two reasons : 1) Locals are quite private and don’t usually like being photographed for the paper. 2) It’s Ramadan AND mid-August, was I really going to find people milling about?

Driving through Shahama’s residential areas, I was fondly reminded of the Abu Dhabi portion of my childhood in the 80’s and 90’s.  Locals and expats alike were quite approachable, extremely friendly and keen enough to show off their “forgotten” suburb between the two major cities. Some even welcomed me into their homes to photograph them eating Iftar – for which I was very thankful.

After shooting stills for a week I’m extremely keen to keep honing my photo skills as I focus mainly on video. Let’s hope I get put onto more photo assignments as the months progress…

Botswana

Botswana’s beauty is truly unparalleled.  It is home to the largest inland delta in the world, the Okavango, which is absolutely teeming with all sorts of wildlife year-round. It is also home to the one of the largest salt pans in the world, the Makadikadi, where one can hear the sound of silence whilst being surrounded by nothingness (some tourists are said to have “freaked out” because they had never been in such an open space before). The people of Botswana have worked ever so hard to preserve their beautiful country whilst co-existing with its animal kingdom, so much that the country is often used as a poster child as an example of how an African nation can prosper sustainably, especially through tourism. All photos were taken with a Canon 5D MKII with a 35mm 2.0 and a 100-400mm 4.5-5.6.

 

The UAE’s exotic animal trade

For as long as I can remember, the UAE has forever had a massive problem with importing and selling exotic animals into this country. I was about 4 years old when my family and I first moved here. A few days after moving into our home we were terrorized by an aggressive baboon hissing and screeching outside our kitchen window. This was in 1990. There were no animal control services (are there any now?  I’m not too sure) and so 3 policemen showed up with pool-cleaning nets to catch him.

21 years later, we’re still facing the same problems of wild animals running out of villas on the loose in the streets of the UAE’s major cities.  Last December, a poor cheetah was found strolling along the sides of some buildings in Sharjah.  Just earlier this month, a UAE national was caught in Bangkok airport with a suitcase full of 4 baby leopards, a monkey, a bear, a monkey and a gibbon. And then of course, there was the most ridiculous footage we received of a young teen nuzzling up to two almost fully-grown lions in her home.

I just recently returned from a safari trip to Botswana, and got to experience the ways of ‘the bush’ firsthand. It was truly breathtaking and to be able to witness lions, elephants, birds, impala, bugs, mongoose, warthogs, zebra (and so on) co-existing so beautifully in open land. Nat-geo and Animal Planet are great, but nothing beats heading out on a walking safari with a knowledgeable guide. I believe many safari-goers agree that once they’ve done one safari the concept of visiting a zoo again is just impossible and the notion of keeping a wild animal locked up is just cruel. Obviously, the exceptions are that some are kept there for research and education purposes.

Deepthi Unnikrishnan, one of the other multimedia producers at The National just uploaded her piece today on two lions that were found at a private villa in Abu Dhabi with their canines rasped and paws declawed.  They’re undergoing surgery and rehabilitation at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort at the moment and unfortunately will have to spend the rest of their lives in captivity there (although it is apparently quite a lovely place).

Point is, yes, the UAE has some major human rights issues that it still needs to deal with and that takes priority, but there also needs to be some serious campaigning on the exotic animal trade in the UAE. No one no matter how wealthy someone is they should be able to get away with smuggling and buying wild animals in this country.  I can’t even begin to imagine how many exotic pets are hanging out in palaces and backyards; these examples are just a small number of cases that have been brought up the media here.

We can only hope that with the rise of these stories that UAE residents will be more aware that it’s just not acceptable.