A team at Gulf Photo Plus, the Dubai photography gallery, decided to give a group of construction workers a precious gift for Eid: portraits of themselves to send to their families.
On the second and third days of the Eid Al Fitr holidays, the team of volunteers set up two temporary photography studios within a labour camp in Al Quoz, Dubai, and took professional portraits of approximately 250 workers.
The idea was to move “beyond the boundaries of nationality, language and job description to instead celebrate the universal language of photography and the joy of sitting for a dignified portrait”.
Treating the project – titled Constructing Portraits – like any other professional shoot, the GPP team were equipped with lighting, a variety of backdrops and even a translator to overcome language barriers. They also brought high-quality professional printers to print the images and give them directly to their subjects.
Timing the project to coincide with the Eid break was a deliberate decision as this is one of the few times during the year that all the workers put on their best clothes.
“The idea came about as a Ramadan initiative, because we wanted to do something for the community,” says Mohamed Somji, co-owner and founder of GPP. “Other people give money or food and other supplies, so we looked at what we have to give and that is our photography expertise, equipment and our time. This way, we are putting all of this to good use.”
As well as posing for photographs, the labourers also answered simple questions such as: “What do you like to do on your day off?” or “If you could choose another job, what would it be?”.
After the portraits were taken and prints distributed, the team returned to the gallery this week to work on compiling the most compelling shots and quotes for a public exhibition on Friday, July 31, at the GPP gallery space in Alserkal Avenue. The idea was to round off the project with an event that would give the labourers the chance to visit the gallery and see their photographs celebrated as part of a real exhibition.
“We have teamed up with the construction company for the whole project and they have been kind enough to offer a special fleet of buses for the opening night,” says Somji. “All the workers will come to the space and we will put on catering for them. Of course, the public are more than welcome to join, too.”
Constructing Portraits is part of several community-based initiatives that GPP has launched and organised over the years.
During Ramadan this year, for instance, they hosted Iftar Trails, which involved taking photographers on a walk around Deira and other areas of Old Dubai, where they attended and photographed open-air iftars outside mosques or in temporary tents set up around the district.
“Myself and many of the other GPP members, we have lived all of our lives in Dubai, and we are always trying to organise activities or showcase artworks that bring to life the older, colourful and more soulful parts of Dubai,” says Somji. “The Iftar Trails were an attempt to show people the other side of Ramadan to the decadent, all-you-can-eat buffets that you find in hotels. We didn’t know how much uptake there would be because it is summer, it is hot and the trails were on foot, but they were so popular that we had waiting lists. There is a real hunger and curiosity from people to get to know this side of Dubai life.”
• Constructing Portraits is at Gulf Photo Plus Gallery, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. The exhibition opens at 5pm on July 31, and is open to the public from 10am to 7pm until August 31. For more information, visit www.gulfphotoplus.com