My first visit to Dubai was almost 25 years ago and came about as a consequence of an ill-considered trip to the Maldives. It very quickly became apparent that neither myself, nor my then future husband were the type of people who could happily roost on an island which could be circumnavigated in just over half an hour and where one could become acquainted with every grain of sand within a couple of days. In desperation, we started considering our options.
The obvious choice, Malé, was quickly and unceremoniously rejected when we discovered it was a dry island. And so it was we found ourselves in Dubai – then, little more than a desert backwater – albeit one with unimaginably lofty ambitions. It was my first visit to an Arab country and I was intrigued and charmed by its exotic unfamiliarity.
Today, Dubai has changed beyond all recognition and there are undoubtedly many reasons to criticise what it has become. However, curiosity, together with the fact that Dubai seems to be one of the few destinations where accumulating AirMiles can be used, has sent us back several times in recent years and of course, I have been documenting my visits with my camera.
Contrasts continue to fascinate me; possibly never more so than can be evidenced by the almost inconceivable transformation that has taken place here during the last 40-odd years. My initial approach was to try to highlight the disharmony between the wealth, with all its dazzling mirrored ostentation and the traditional, more modest existence and culture that is still apparent if you look for it in the right places. However, although the oversized and glittering architecture is undeniably staggering in its audacity, it holds little appeal from a photographic angle for me and It didn’t take long before the unrelentingly hard edges and shiny surfaces began to lose their appeal. Instead I looked around for a different kind of newness to depict. Developers have recently become a little bit more conscientious about their Arabian heritage and there are many new constructions that are much easier on the eye than the gleaming glass edifices of downtown Dubai.
My interest is not judgemental; merely a continuing fascination with shape, light and colour and so have I resisted the temptation to depict realism, especially when trying to capture the ‘old’ Dubai. Instead I have focussed on suggestion and atmosphere and the sense that a way of life has all but disappeared for ever. The images of the new architecture have been influenced by my admiration of the work of Paul Klee; specifically his time in Tunisia.
ABOUT VALDA BAILEY
Valda Bailey is a freelance photographer living in Sussex who first became passionate about photography when she was 14.
Her approach to photography is greatly informed by her background in painting and her influences come as much from artists as photographers. She is largely motivated by colour and form and the tension and dynamism that these components can bring to an image.
Her objectives are to portray an interpretation of a scene rather than a literal representation. She makes her images using camera movement and multiple exposure – two techniques which help to create abstract shapes and blur extraneous detail.
She has spent time in New York under the expert tutelage of noted street photographer, Jay Maisel and has been greatly influenced by his teaching about light, colour and gesture.
Her work has been featured in broadsheet newspapers, national and international publications and she now teaches for Light and Land Photographic Workshops run by Charlie Waite. She has exhibited most recently in Jersey and in 2015 was the first woman to be invited to join six other photographers in hanging work at the biennial Masters of Vision in Southwell.
She has images in private collections worldwide and her work has been purchased by notable members of the art and photographic community.
You can contact and view more of Valda’s work through her website and other online presence
Unless otherwise stated, all words and images in this article are © Valda Bailey