Bjorn van Sinttruije wrote:
These pictures are the main reason I missed having you around here lately Phil. Absolutely stunning work! The B&W conversion are great, the compositions are great, well, most of it is great really. Some of the evening/night shots seem a little dark, but perhaps that's because the sun is shining into my room at the moment.
I really love how you seem to form a much more personal connection to your subjects than I do, without your pictures looking too much like portraits. I have never had the courage to step up to perfect strangers and ask whether I can take their picture (and I am sure that in Holland many people would just say no). Looking at your work however, and seeing how your subjects open up to you, is really inspiring. Plus, they show a completely different culture than what I am used to, and I love that insider-perspective. Again, very impressive images!
I wish I could pick a favorite, but the narrowest selection I can make right now is no. 10, 13, 17, 22, 27, and 32.
Thanks Bjorn. I try with B&W conversions at night to keep them looking as if they're taken at night. In some of the darker areas of these districts of Dubai there is a massive contrast when compared to the glitzy modern architecture that people see in the travel brochures, so I try to convert in light of this and show another side of Dubai that isn't so often seen in the way I see it.
Whenever I see environmental portraiture and travel portraiture from the Indian subcontinent I see the same interaction that I get from these guys (they are generally from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh or Yemen, Oman and other areas of the GCC). They are not scared of the camera in any way, which really helps to bring out there character in the final image with little effort to break down any intimidation they may have with being photographed. They look through the lens without any prompting and the final images become quite personal, surprisingly so considering the tiny amount of time they 'sit' for the image.
Occasionally I'll come across people I've shot before and have a chat with them - these guys are on a very low minimum wage and yet they are willing to spend their time with me and offer me a coffee while we chat (I always buy them the coffee though!) They're very proud, which I think comes across in the images, and when I give them prints they are gratefully accepted as they send them back to their families who they don't see for up to 2 years at a time. Again, a completely different culture but despite their low wage they opt to live in Dubai and can afford to support large families back home while living and working here.
Initially I started taking street candids but was always wary about getting people in the frame who may not like to be photographed. Culturally you should not take images of local women without the permission of the male family member that they are with, as they will not speak with you directly. This almost forced me down the line of shooting the workers in souks and markets, when I eventually plucked up the courage to ask for permission to shoot. Eventually you get used to rejection (even though that happens very rarely - around 20% of the time), and this is the biggest obstacle to overcome. No doubt if I were to try the same in the UK the rejection rate would be far higher, combined with the potential subject questioning the photographers motives far more. The language barrier in my case is as much a help as a hindrance. I can't pose the subject, but with body language and a smile I can move on from a rejection in a positive and non threatening way which occasionally persuades the subject, through their friends who are standing close by, to agree to a shot after all!
For #5, I asked the permission of this lady's husband (even though they're Hindu rather than local Muslim)
For #20, this guy initially didn't want his photo taken, but he was persuaded by his friends. Again, only after he was happy did I take the shot.
For #22, I asked the group for permission. This is an Indian card game similar to Hearts (for anyone familiar with Microsoft games). It's just something you don't see very often in Dubai, so I had to get the shot despite the darkness and after chatting with the guys for a while they were comfortable with my motives and let me shoot.