Emirati photographer traces UAE heritage

Fatma Abdullah blends fashion and tradition in her book.

A book by an Emirati woman photographer that traces the history of the UAE through the lens will hit the stands soon.

Fatma Abdullah, a professional photographer whose work mirrors an extraordinary sense of commercial fashion, documents daily life from a unique perspective.

Talking to Emirates Business about her interest in photography, Abdullah said: "It all started when I was a child. My aunt's husband Issa Bin Yusuf was one of the first few photographers in the country and he took many photos that were framed and hung around the house.

"So I grew up looking at those beautiful and aged black and white photos of the UAE and became fascinated with photography. When I was 10, I used to take my mother's camera and go around the house shooting photographs.

"We were a large family and I was lucky that my aunts and uncles were living close by. So my cousins would model for me. They would dress up in different outfits and put on makeup and do hairstyles, and then I would take photos. It was a lot of fun and soon I became the official shutterbug of the family.

"I also loved art and used to do a lot of drawing and paintings since the age of four. So you could say that I had a creative streak in me right from childhood."

When she grew up, Abdullah combined her love for art and photography by obtaining a diploma in Communication Art from Higher Colleges of Technology in 2001, and in 2003, she established her own photography company, Lady Design.

Abdullah held two solo exhibitions last year as a first local fashion and commercial photographer in ESMOD French fashion University Gallery in Dubai and at Wafi, Khan Marjan Gallery. She has also worked on a documentary film on the UAE, which will be shown at the Expo Shanghai 2010 that kicked off earlier.

Abdullah's first photo book, titled Movement, portrays the story of a girl exploring the UAE and stopping by each emirate. Through the journey, she witnesses the changes that the country goes through; from style of clothes to architecture and landmarks, from transportation and nature.

Talking about the book, Abdullah said: "The idea for the book came when people who had come to see my exhibition at Khan Marjan Gallery in Wafi said they loved my work but would like to see photos, which showcased the heritage of the UAE.

"As fashion photography is my passion it was natural for me to decide on showcasing the heritage through fashion. So I decided to publish this book, which will narrate the story of the journey of the country from the past to the present through my photographs and short poems. I wanted to let people view the UAE from the eyes of the character and I have chosen places that neither tourists nor photographers usually visit to take photos.

"The photos in the book have been shot using Canon's latest EOS1D Mark IV camera, and I am very happy with the results. The model in the book is half Romanian but she looks so much like an Arab, its amazing. I wanted the model to look as much similar to an emirati woman as possible. But I had to choose a model who was not an emirati but looks like one as it was impossible to get a local girl to model for a commercial shoot."

Abdullah says she had a lot of fun shooting for this book and looking for costumes and jewellery that were worn by the women in the past. She borrowed some clothes and jewellery from older relatives and got some stitched using the kind of material and design similar to the bygone era. Interestingly, a gauzy green dress, featured in some photos of the book, is more than 40 years old and belongs to Abdullah's aunt.

She recalls: "We shot photos in the old gold souk, in the middle of Sheikh Zayed Road, on the beaches, the deserts, construction sites and other places to trace the journey from the past to the present. The poems in the book have been specially written by Bedouin poet Abdullah Bin Thiban who has explained the photos through them.

"There are 100 photos in the book. As I want to tell the world about my country through this book, I want it to be sold at a very reasonable price so that it is accessible to all. The book is in English, but later I will get it translated in Chinese and Japanese as I want the world to understand the UAE and the journey it has undertaken in these few years."


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