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Monday 18 January ,2021

A Photographic Journey ... Visual Documents that Capture the Features of Life

This article is a courtesy of the National Archives

 “Memories of the Arabian Peninsula  ... a Journey in Pictures,” authored by Pascal Gale and published by the National Archives

A Photographic Journey

Among the most famous photographs that shed light on the region in old times is the collection of photographs taken by the famous traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (1784-1817), during his trip to the Abu Dhabi region in 1904. The most prominent picture features Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa in his open court next to the wall of “Qasr al-Hosn”, together with other sheikhs and citizens. There is also a picture of the Ruler’s Palace or the Al-Hosn Fortress in Abu Dhabi, and a picture of traditional ships at the Abu Dhabi port. The collection also includes a picture of a horse decorated with a luxurious embroidered saddle, presented by the Sharif of Mecca to the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and a picture of a man carrying a simple musical instrument resembling a rabab. These pictures, alongside others dating back to different periods, are found in the book entitled “Memories of the Arabian Peninsula  ... a Journey in Pictures,” authored by Pascal Gale and published by the National Archives. The importance of this book stems from the fact that it is a visual document containing old photographs, which are shot during the mid-19th century up until the first half of the 20th century and selected from private and public collections. They reflect memories of the Arabian Peninsula in a bygone world, including street scenes, images of individuals, landscapes, architectural wonders of the past, and portraits of rulers, sheikhs and the public. Pascal Gale mentioned that he tracked travelers who had sought exotic things and chased the dream of the East, pointing out that he spent almost two years travelling across Arabia. It was a journey through time in pursuit of a unique pictorial legacy, in order to gain a better understanding of the photos he found, to uncover this archive in full and to share the same experience of those skilled photographers who managed to capture and immortalize these fleeting moments. Since there is not any work of photography that brings together the seven countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Gale dedicated a separate chapter to each of them. He started with the UAE and included old images featuring some of its historical leaders, its wild and marine life, its social and economic aspects and its customs and traditions. The book also focused on the characteristics for which each country in Arabia was known throughout its history as depicted and inferred from the photographs.

Photographs from the Emirates

The photographs about the UAE, which the book contains, convey features of the daily life of the region’s residents, and the economic and social activities in which they engaged. In fact, they enable researchers and readers to imagine what the society was like at that time. They include a photo of fishermen casting their nets from the shore of Abu Dhabi in 1959, photos of the Abu Dhabi market dating back to 1962 depicting wooden shops on both sides of the market with various goods displayed, and photos showing the building of Eastern Bank Limited in Al Ain in 1963. There are also photographs, which shed light on the means of transport during different periods, such as those picturing camel caravans carrying goods as well as people across the desert and transporting them from one region to another. A photo captured in 1958 shows abras crossing the Dubai Creek while porters on the shore load and unload goods. Other photos of ships transporting cars are found in the collection of  year 1936, which also includes a picture of a car that got stuck while crossing the sand-flat at the entrance to Abu Dhabi, which illustrates how moving  in cars was hard at the time as there were no paved roads.  Fortunately, there are photos which peeped into the customs and traditions of the people of the Emirates at the time, such as that of a man serving coffee to a number of men in the Liwa Oasis,  a photo of the Eid prayers in Abu Dhabi in 1962, portraying men performing the prayers, as well as women who were some distance behind them and  a photo of some girls performing folk dances in Al Hili village in Al Ain. There is also a photo portraying the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan - may God rest his soul- taking part in the traditional dance of Al-Razfa, together with the people of Al-Ain during an occasion.