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Werner Forman Visits the UAE -- ASPP

Werner Forman Visits the UAE

An Unusual Helicopter Trip

Guest post by ASPP member Julian Jackson
This is the seventh in the series of articles begun in 2012 by ASPP Member Julian Jackson about Czech-born photographer Werner Forman (1921-2010), who spent his life traveling the globe photographing ancient artifacts, art and cultural heritage, as well as breath-taking landscapes. All images copyright Werner Forman Archive/British Museum, London.

Werner Forman Island image

© Werner Forman Archive, London.

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 consists 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.)


Werner Forman Hawk image

© Werner Forman Archive, London.

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 artifacts. These include a bronze axe from the Iron Age, extraordinary jewelry 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.


Werner Forman mage 3

© Werner Forman Archive, London.

Seamanship is still prized in the UAE, where they fished, looked for pearls and traded widely across the Indian Ocean, in sturdy Dhows. This seaworthy craft whose design is basically unchanged since the Middle Ages is still used by some for the voyage between Arabia and India. Dhows use sails–not engine power–and have no modern navigation equipment, 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. Julian Jackson is a writer with extensive experience of picture research, whose main interests include photography and the environment. His website is www.julianjackson.co.uk. He also runs a Picture Research by Distance Learning Course www.picture-research-courses.co.uk.

In case you missed them, here are Julian’s previous articles on Werner Forman:

Treasures of the Celts, October 15, 2015
Werner Forman: Adventures in New Zealand, February 25, 2015
Ice Cream Made of Fish, December 23, 2014
Further Adventures of Werner Forman, September 17, 2014
First Travels by Werner Forman, August 11, 2014
Werner Forman Archive Uncovers New Images, July 9, 2014