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.




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.

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…

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.

Tracking Flamingos

The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi captures and tracks its 15th flamingo in a conservation effort to preserve the birds local habitat. This was shot on the Al Wathba reserve about a 20 minute drive from Abu Dhabi city.

I’ve never been so close to a flamingo before, such gorgeous yet funny cartoon-like creatures.

Behind-The-Scenes of an F1 Fashion Shoot

Abu Dhabi had some serious Formula 1 fever this November. Abu Dhabi was the final destination in the Formula 1 Grand Prix and it was also the deciding race. In the run-up to the event, M Magazine’s fashion photographer Tina Chang and fashion director Katie Trotter brainstormed on how to produce an F1 Fashion shoot without the sexy femme sprawling herself on generic cars. Deepthi Unnikrishnan, our other multimedia producer, and I spent the day in the Yas Hotel and on the Yas Marina Track filming everything that went into this fashion shoot. The whole team, especially Tina Chang were SO much fun to work with. They are such a great team and feed and play off each other’s ideas so well.  The model, Bronx, looked absolutely stunning. The stark contrast of the model’s red outfits were brilliant, we really had to pace ourselves with shooting her, just because she looked so great.  I also got to drive my car on the track, probably the first and last time that will ever happen.