Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009

The Burj Al Arab Hotel

Dubai is one of the most difficult cities in the world to photograph — the bright sun, local customs and zealous security guards can stymie even the simplest shots. But American photographer Lauren Lancaster shows it's possible to make good pictures in the desert capital. For example, even though you can't take a close-up of the city's most recognizable icon, the Burj Al Arab Hotel, without being a guest of the hotel, you can get close enough by walking onto the beach of the neighboring hotel complex, the Madinat Jumeirah. Lancaster says this, too, is technically forbidden, but it's unlikely that anyone will stop you.

The Gold Souk

Central to Dubai's reputation as an international marketplace, the gold souk is home to 300 jewelry merchants. When Lancaster visited the souk in the middle of the day, there wasn't much to see — people-watching is best in the early evening, when the temperature is cooler and the crowds come out — so she wandered off the street, to an upper floor, where she came across this wholesaler displaying his wares to bidders. Shooting through the glass front of the store, she framed the salesman in the cube of the jeweler's scale.

Jumeirah Beach

Lancaster used the bright sun to her advantage, silhouetting the seafood restaurant Pierchic, on the pier, and, in the distance, the recently opened Atlantis resort. In this exposure she set the shutter speed to 1/8,000 second.

Madinat Jumeirah Resort

Styled to represent an ancient Arabian citadel, the Madinat Jumeirah is laced with beautiful, fairy-tale canals like this one. They don't serve much practical purpose (guests of the hotel use them to get from one part of the complex to another), but they do make for gorgeous photos. Lancaster arrived here at dusk, when the sunlight had faded just enough let her pick up the artificial lights along the embankment.

Ski Dubai

One of the world's most remarkable destinations, Ski Dubai, at the Mall of the Emirates, features five indoor ski runs, of varying altitude and difficulty, all year round. Naturally, all the necessities, including parkas, boots and snowboards are available for rental. Is there a more ideal photogenic destination than a snowy mountain attached to a mall in the middle of the desert?

Snow Cavern, Ski Dubai

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of photographing Dubai, Lancaster says, is that many locals discourage taking pictures of women, feeling that capturing a woman's face on film is disrespectful. In the festive environment of Ski Dubai, Lancaster felt comfortable training her lens on this young girl playing on a toy "ice bridge," but was still careful not to reveal the child's features. When in doubt, says Lancaster, it is always best to ask permission.

Mall of the Emirates

To escape the sweltering weather, most visitors to Dubai retreat to the city's many indoor shopping centers, of which the Mall of the Emirates is undoubtedly the most famous. Ski Dubai is here, of course, alongside hundreds of shops and restaurants and Magic Planet, a two-story arcade featuring countless rides and games. The bright colors of the arcade play a lively counterpoint to the pure white of the dishdashas of these two young men, who are testing their mastery of "Dragon Punch."

Giorgio Armani Store

Probably every major luxury retailer in the world has a presence in Dubai. Here, the black-and-white scheme of the Armani store, makes a nice subject for a monochromatic study. Lancaster has framed a shot in which almost all the color — except for the sunglasses in the window and lone red object in the display case — has been eliminated.

Armani Cafe

Lancaster says she likes to shoot at this coffee bar because the interior lights shift continually, casting everything in alternating shades of blue, pink and other hues. Dubai, like many Muslim countries, restricts the service of alcohol; it is not available in public bars like this one. To quaff a beer or any other alcoholic drink, you have to go to hotel bars — and be ready to pay high prices geared toward foreign visitors.