Matthias Heiderich’s series "UAE" reveals a post-modern kingdom in the desert, hauntingly empty and utterly lifeless.

The emptiness, the lack of pedestrians, and the constant construction that seems almost in vain are shown to question the modern obsession with progress and development

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2013-06-17

Co.Exist

Eerie Photos Show The Strange Emptiness Of Dubai

You can build a shiny modern metropolis out of nothing, but how do you create the bustle of a city?

Recently released timelapses of images from NASA’s Landsat satellite highlight the dramatically rapid urbanization of the desert in places like Dubai over the past couple decades. Cities sprout so quickly from nowhere, you can see the landscape morphing from space.

But another photography project is a reminder that these cities are just as shocking to behold up close. Photographer Matthias Heiderich’s series "UAE" reveals a post-modern kingdom in the desert, hauntingly empty and utterly lifeless. Glistening buildings appear unused. Construction projects seem endless. Parking lots are barren.

Of course, the shots are just one way of looking at Dubai and Abu Dhabi, home to 2 million and 600,000 people, respectively (so someone’s living there!). But the emptiness, the lack of pedestrians, and the constant construction that seems almost in vain are shown to question the modern obsession with progress and development, and the power of oil money to transform landscapes wholesale, to put people somewhere where maybe they don’t belong. These images seem to ask the question: What’s the point of all of this?

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30 Comments

  • CCCrazyPanda

    Hard to be lively when holding your girlfriend's hand in public will get you both thrown in jail. 

  • Craig Cherlet

    Call off the lynch mob.

    If you read the interview with the artist he was trying to capture these buildings without people. It's a photography art project not a piece on over development and unused buildings. "Heiderich admits that the emirate is a far more diverse place than his work suggests. Commercial avenues and indoor entertainment centers buzz with life."

  • Narthur

    While I'm sure your observation is accurate, be careful with divorcing art from message. Art is meant to communicate the creator's perspective. It wouldn't be art if it didn't.

  • CanadaGood

    Reminds me of time I walked around downtown Los Angeles about 6 PM DURING THE WEEK.

    The streets were deserted, the high-rises had emptied and most residents had scuttled off to the burbs.

  • cinemologist

    You're completely right. Lived in Dubai 1 year, LA 2 years, nobody can beat the eerie emptiness of Downtown LA. Dubai is actually very lively, especially indoors or at night (the heat is relentless almost year-round). 

  • VyperX

    Somebody was expecting Dubai to be full of pedantic mammals who think 110F is the cool side of the pillow or MI:4 agents crawling around the outside of skyscrapers?! Who's your dealer and where can I find him for this mindless aversion to surrounding reality?

  • guest

    As a person who grew up in Africa, let me suggest another point of view. The buildings and infrastructure in Dubai mimic structures pioneered in and developed for less harsh Western climates and are typically not the best design for deserts or the best use of the land given its harsh realities. For example, air conditioning, an energy guzzler in the best of circumstances, becomes incredibly expensive in a desert environment. In addition to the simple cost of running air conditioning units, dust and heat quickly degrade the sensitive electronic systems required to make these buildings livable. The buildings in Dubai are in many ways icons of copy-cat conspicuous consumption of both energy and economics, short-term thinking at its most obvious. Perhaps underground housing, or buildings of mud with lots of small windows to encourage air circulation would be more fitting. Think adobe in the American Southwest, or newly buildings designed and engineered to use natural air currents to cool without air conditioning units (such as the one in Kinshasa, I believe, featured in Co-Exist about a year ago?). The best way to live in the desert is to live with it, not fight it.

  • atheta101

    So heartened to see all the comments that shared my reaction.... this is not the Dubai I know.  Spent a fabulous few hours people watching from a cafe inside Dubai Mall last week and saw the most vibrant multi-cultural array of people from around the planet all bustling about just like downtown Manhattan.  It really is about the heat and the AC.  And I agree... this kind of uninformed observation is journalism at its worst.  It would have taken speaking to just 1 Emirati to get a more informed view.

  • Dr.Markow

    You could probably take the same type of pictures in my city in the Inland Empire, CA on a hot summer afternoon. But when the sun goes down (or summer passes), there are people everywhere.

  • Douglasde

    These photos look like they were taken in the heat of the day.  When no one wants to be outside.  Don't know if you knew this but it's HOT in the desert.

  • Rollthe_dice

    sorry but, what a load of crap.. its like taking a picture of a western city on a sunday morning and then claiming that theyre like that all the time :S

  • KS

    The pictures were probably taken on a Friday morning (which is a weekend in Dubai). I have lived in Dubai and although not being a big fan of massive toweres, I can safely say, there is plenty of life around the same buildings which are shown here.

  • ks.sandefur

    This is Activist Photojournalism at its worst.  I personally took a pic of NYC taken from Cove Park on a Sunday afternoon that makes Manhattan look like a eerie ghost town. It's right around the corner from Battery Park where there were about a bazillion people enjoying the Battery area. If you want to impress me with such a display of "Everyday Surrealism", give us a montage taken from a lot sites with details of when and where that demonstrates an actual "emptiness". Or, give me one great picture meant to portray the actual reality of the moment. Much like a picture of the Starting Line just before an Olympic Race, It's the held-breath at that very surreal moment just before a massive flurry of action.  Is this picture cool and contrasting to realities of life? Yes, very much so. Does it convey a haunting tale of Urban Overrun and Decline?  I think not. And, it lessens the importance of the actual reality in it's attempt to portray such.

  • Thehuron1

    "This is Hipster reporting at its worst." Ditto.Hang out in Phoenix or Tucson someday when it's, oh, say, 115 degrees out and see how many pedestrians are out enjoying the open spaces. Any photographer worth his salt can take pictures of skyscrapers that don't reveal the thousands of people inside of them, or empty streets or parks. This is really pointless and highlights not the emptiness of modern life, just the emptiness of the writer. 

  • Capt_Stargazer

    I should add that there are also pedestrians everywhere, in almost all major developments and especially in the downtown, Creek and Satwa areas.  

    The streets are heaving here, especially at night.