1996 was the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates and Werner Forman was invited to illustrate the book “Phoenix Rising. The United Arab Emirates. Past, Present & Future” with a text by Michael Asher. The UAE is a country consisting of seven emirates on the Arabian Peninsula, next to the Persian Gulf, which were formerly administered by Britain, but became independent in 1971. Then as now, its economy was heavily-based on its oil reserves.
Werner was warmly welcomed to the Emirates and much was done to help him with the project. It was arranged for a helicopter to come to the car park of the hotel where Werner was staying to fly him over the territory he wished to photograph. An armchair had been placed in the helicopter for Werner’s comfort but Werner asked for it to be removed as he wished to have the possibility of photographing whilst leaning out of the door of the helicopter.
The numerous aerial photographs taken in this dangerous way are available exclusively from Werner Forman Archive.
The trip included sights of the impressive landscape, and the lifestyle of its people, which includes hawking – still a favourite pastime of the Bedu. To keep their birds cool on hot days, the falconer spits water over their heads.
Werner photographed historic buildings and landscapes, like the Jebel Hafit mountain, as well as ancient artefacts. These include a bronze axe from the Iron Age, extraordinary jewellery like silver necklaces, as well as fortified dwellings at the al-‘Ain Oasis, which were to stave off attack from desert-dwelling Bedouin raiders. More homely lifestyle pictures include the henna painting of brides before their weddings and women in traditional costume.
Seamanship is still prized in the UAE, where they fished, looked for pearls and traded widely across the Indian Ocean, in sturdy Dhows, whose design is basically unchanged since the Middle Ages, and some people still voyage between Arabia and India using sails, and not engine power or modern navigation equipment, which is a tribute to the traditional sailing skills practiced in these waters.
These images, and many others, of the lifestyles, antiquities, landscapes and architecture of the Middle East are available from Werner Forman Archive.