Some of you might be sad for summer to have finished, some of you live in the other hemisphere and you have the winter to finally come to an end… and some of you probably live in places where there are no real seasons, so all of this doesn’t make much sense to you.
I had a friend visiting Dubai on her way from Italy, and she is one of those people who have been everywhere and seen everything. She lives in Singapore and travels the world with her Sony camera, capturing fleeting moments of the rising sun in different locations. Actually, she was my roommate on my trip to Iceland, so I know her fairly well… as you know people with whom you have to share accommodations and occasional beds.
Those of you who were lucky to visit the Middle Eastern countries in summer might know it is not the best time to hang around. Apart from the fact that it is 40+ degrees celsius outside, certain places also greet you with 100% humidity in the evening air, or if you are particularly lucky, even during the day. Dubai being the coastal city has this particularity too. My husband tends to describe this state of humidity as “when your fat sweaty friend gives you a hug”. That’s pretty much how it feels – sticky and uncomfortable. But fine, as photographers, especially those enjoying landscape photography, we often find ourselves struggling through rain, wind and nasty mosquitos for one interesting shot… Humidity, however, creates a layer of haze that is not easy to dehaze with any photoshop tools. That’s why it is great to be out of Dubai at these times – you won’t get any great photos anyway. But I was not going to tell my friend, listen, the weather is crap, we’re not going to shoot anything… so I thought of somewhere where I could take her where humidity and heat wouldn’t reach us.
The Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a fairly new building and it is practically any photographer’s paradise. I haven’t visited it before, but I have always wanted to. So there was my chance, plus I thought it was a great opportunity to show Emily something cultural about the United Arab Emirates… sadly, people believe that we don’t have so many “cultural” places to take our visitors, and all they know is that we have hundreds of malls that all feel the same.
Driving In Dubai
A vital part of this story is the fact that although I passed my driving test in 2009 in South Africa (oh those fun days), I haven’t been driving since leaving Cape Town. I just didn’t really need to because my office was 15 minutes by walking and if I needed to get anywhere, the company paid for my transportation. But engaging in my photography career meant that I had to start driving, and my office is not as close anymore. So I have been driving around Dubai since the beginning of the month (already got myself stuck in the sand once and got lost on several occasions, but never got in any serious trouble). And my glorious husband has a car with 2 seats only, so I couldn’t ask him to drive us to Abu Dhabi – I had to do it myself.
Driving to Abu DHabi
I went to pick up Emily from her hotel and discovered a new route on the way since I never came downtown before. Emily was quite impressed with our ride (as most people usually are since the car is a bit loud and the colours are a bit flashy). And off we go, on the five-lane highway for the first time, everything was going smoothly and we didn’t get lost on the way to Abu Dhabi (it’s honestly impossible as the road is a straight line for about 120 kms). We went to the wrong parking initially, but finally, we found our way to the mosque. In the blazing heat, we entered the premises and were told to clothe ourselves in the modest abayas that we could get for free in exchange for a valid ID. And here we are, roaming the arches of the beautiful marble corridors of the mosque.
Photographing In The Mosque
Apart from fantastic symmetrical walkways, there is a unique opportunity to photograph women in the abayas without any shame. You are not allowed to photograph people on the streets of Dubai without permission, but in the mosque there are tourists everywhere, so you can’t possibly get in trouble if they get caught in your frame.
I loved the place – so beautiful with all the decorations, flowers, tiles, gold and white embroidery… and soft azans being played while you walk around. It was still very hot, and our hair was wet with sweat. But wearing abaya, nobody can’t see your hair or your sweaty back… it is somehow an advantage of this kind of clothing here. Whenever I have to shoot outside, I get all sweaty no matter what I wear… this is how human body works.
Even the bathroom of the mosque looks like a palace with green marble on the walls, and endless sinks along the walls. It was sterile clean and the smell of the cleaning products is still lingering in my nose.
After spending enough time outside in the gorgeous corridors, we went inside the mosque itself. As you get closer, you feel the cold breeze of air conditioning caressing your sweaty body. You have to remove your shoes before entering, and it feels really good to be walking on a cold marble before entering the main hall of the mosque. What impressed me there were the gigantic chandeliers made with precision and placed to be noticed…
They must look so beautiful if you come here for the first prayer of the day turning the whole place into a magical fairy tale with all the shades of colours projecting on the walls. The carpet inside the mosque is known to be the biggest carpet in the world, and is absolutely stunning as well. It feels so soft and comforting under the bare feet peaking out from the abaya.
Emily was constantly getting lost behind me shooting everything like a paparazzi, but I am glad she had fun. I wouldn’t be able to impress her with the skyscrapers or the malls.
So if you are in the region and you want to experience something special, go visit the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – it is free and it is absolutely unbelievable.
I want to come back when it is a bit cooler outside and when it is the blue hour. I am sure this place looks majestic at sunset.
P.S. All the photos are taken with Fujifilm XT-2 and 10-24mm lens.
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