On my recently updated photography portfolio website, there are only a few images that have endured from the beginning of my professional career as a photographer and one is of this Dubai camel handler. For me there was always something about the sadness in his eyes that kept me coming back to this photograph.
Although I studied photography at university many years earlier and took photographs for some of the books I designed in my early years in publishing in the late Eighties and early Nineties, I didn’t start working full-time as a professional photographer until 12 years ago when we were living in the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi, and later in Dubai.
One of my first assignments was shooting the classic Dubai desert safari experience, where visitors do a tour that enables them to see the desert, do a camel ride, watch the sunset, smoke some shisha, get a henna tattoo, see a belly dancer, and feast on some local food.
As the tour participants waited their turn to take the short camel ride, golden hour began; that period where the light in the final hour before sunset takes on a warm, soft, golden glow.
As a photographer I was drawn more to this camel handler who looked after the tour company’s magnificent ‘ships of the desert’ that Lara and I came to love during our many years in the UAE, than the tourists awkwardly bobbing up and down on the camels as they rode off into the sunset. Naturally, I asked him if I could take a few photos.
I love the way he is looking off into the sun, the expression on the camel’s face, and the gentleness of the trainer’s touch. I also love the way that his headdress is wrapped around his head and his worn-out sandals (visible in the full image).
Strangely enough, I’ve included this photo in galleries we’ve submitted for probably over 50 commissioned stories on Dubai and no one has ever published it.
Although we’ve always tried, as much as possible, to do stories on ‘the real Dubai’, these sorts of images still don’t appeal to editors who take the risk in publishing our pieces on the grittier and, in our mind, more interesting side of the city. And they definitely don’t fit the narrative of sun, sand and shopping so prevalent in print and online travel writing on the city.
When I selected this image to write about for this week’s Monday Memories, I noticed in the image’s metadata that the flash had fired when I took this image. I recall that the sun was setting and I knew that soon I would have to get images of the increasingly dark campsite area, so I must have put the flash on for that. Other images in this set don’t have the flash firing, so I’m guessing it was mistakenly on after I mounted the flash.
While it certainly doesn’t look like the flash was on, it actually helped even out the light, so that the shadow detail was easy to bring up so you can see the details in his face. It was quite a fortuitous accident for a frame that has become one of my favourite photos I have ever taken.
Details: Nikon D2X, 17-55mm f/2.8G Nikkor @ 17mm F5 @ 1/250th second @ ISO200. Flash: SB800 with bounce card and wide flash adaptor.