The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera

The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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Shukla at the Etihad Museum in Dubai and posing with the Rolleicord camera. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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Sheikh Zayed signing his name on a photo for a young Shukla
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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Ramesh Shukla cradling his vintage Rolleicord camera. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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Neel and Ramesh Shukla. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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Ramesh Shukla. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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Ramesh Shukla with his iconic image of the UAE's founding fathers. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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Neel Shukla, Ramesh Shukla and Rawaa Talass. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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Updated 02 December 2021

The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera

The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera
  • The UAE’s National Day, celebrated on Dec. 2 each year, marks the unification of the emirates into a federation
  • Ramesh Shukla documented the UAE’s evolution from disparate sheikhdoms into an ambitious, modern nation

DUBAI: Veteran photographer Ramesh Shukla has lived in the UAE for the best part of five decades. He arrived from his native India just as the former Trucial States were approaching independence from Britain and embarking on a remarkable journey of nation building.

Now 84 years old, he witnessed firsthand the UAE’s evolution from a collection of disparate desert sheikhdoms and fishing villages into a global business hub synonymous with entrepreneurial dynamism, cosmopolitan cities and incredible skylines.

It is a transformation whose story he has diligently documented with his camera through the decades.




Sheikh Zayed signing his name on a photo for a young Shukla. (Photo courtesy of Ramesh Shukla)

His attachment to the country began by accident following a rather uncomfortable boat journey from Mumbai in 1965. At the time, Shukla was working for the Times of India newspaper, but the lure of exploration proved too great to resist.

Packing his most cherished possession, a Rolleicord camera, and as many rolls of film as he could carry, the young man, then in his twenties, set off on what would be a life-changing adventure.

“This is my camera,” Shukla told Arab News at Dubai’s Etihad Museum more than half a century later, carefully cradling his now-vintage Rolleicord.

“When I was 15, my father asked me: ‘What birthday gift do you want?’ And I said: ‘Papa, please give me a camera.’”




The old dhow wharfage in Deira in Dubai. (Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Despite his desire to see the world, Shukla, it transpired, was not well suited to sea travel. Shortly after his ship, the Dwarka, set sail from Mumbai he began to feel horribly seasick.

Desperate to escape the incessant rocking of the waves, he disembarked at Sharjah, one of the Trucial States that at the time collectively were an informal protectorate of the British Empire.

Here he found lodgings with a local, who urged the young visitor to go to the Sharjah camel racetrack where a big event was taking place at the time. Eager to witness the authentic sights and sounds of Arabia, Shukla duly went along, camera in hand.

There, squatting on the ground alongside the racetrack, he spotted a group of men who would go on to found the UAE. Among them was Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, who would soon become the new country’s first president, a position he held until his death on Nov. 2, 2004.




Ramesh Shukla cradling his vintage Rolleicord camera. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

Shukla took 12 photographs of Sheikh Zayed watching the races, and returned the following day to present him with one of his portraits. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, now commonly referred to as the “Father of the Nation,” was so impressed, he signed the print and gave Shukla his pen as a gift.

“That’s when the first connection took place,” Shukla’s son Neel, an art director, told Arab News. “That was the first time he met his highness. From that point on, Sheikh Zayed said: ‘Don’t leave this region. Stay.’”

Determined to remain, Shukla brought his wife and their son to live with him in his adopted country, during its formative years.

“I was with him all the time,” said Neel. “Before taking a picture, he would take my picture to make sure the lighting was accurate and then he would take the shot.”




The clock tower in Deira, Dubai. (Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Entirely self-taught, Shukla developed a signature style of photography, capturing scenes of everyday life on black-and-white film, highlighting the simplicity of nomadic life in the country prior to unification and the oil boom.

Recurring subjects of his early work included hardworking Bedouin, herds of camels, traditional abra boats on Dubai Creek and Deira’s clock tower, photographed from above. He also documented the early days of Dubai’s first commercial airport and the city’s first museum.

“This was life in the UAE; there was nothing. There was no light and no water in my house,” Shukla said, highlighting the contrast between the limited amenities available then and the advanced infrastructure in the country now. Even the water he needed to develop his photos had to be drawn from a nearby well.

Though his lifestyle was modest, Shukla built a strong rapport with the UAE’s leaders, earning the informal title of “royal photographer.” His prized access to the royal courts meant that his photographs were much sought after, especially by the Indian news media.




Ramesh Shukla with his iconic image of the UAE's founding fathers. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

Much of Shukla’s collection has been preserved for posterity thanks to his wife, Tarulatta, who carefully archived her husband’s negatives, protecting them from the humidity and dust, at their modest home in Deira, which consisted of a dark room, a kitchen and a bedroom. The archive offers a compelling account of the UAE’s 50-year journey as a nation.

“He kept documenting history,” said Neel. “We are very careful about the collection. We don’t commercialize it — this is history. This is why he is loved more than anything else, because he’s keeping history sacred and close to him.”




A royal falcon keeper. (Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Shukla’s business card features a miniature print of a photograph of which he is especially proud. On Dec. 2, 1971, he attended the historic ceremony during which the rulers of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm Al-Quwain came together to mark their independence from Britain and the establishment of their own unified country. Ras Al-Khaimah would join the union the following month.

It was here that Shukla captured on film what would become an iconic image of the sheikhs standing under the national flag of their new country. The flagpole stands to this day in Dubai’s Jumeirah district.

“There was great happiness,” said Shukla, recalling the day, half a century ago, he took the photograph under the same flagpole. “With one family, the UAE started.”

Union House, where the agreement that created the UAE was signed, is nearby. Shukla was there, of course, to capture on camera the historic moment when Sheikh Zayed added his signature to the document. His photo of the assembled sheikhs became the “Spirit of the Union” logo, which was widely used on the 45th UAE National Day five years ago.

Many of Shukla’s photos are displayed at stations along the Dubai Metro line. More recently, his image of Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement has featured in the Expo 2020 Dubai passports.




Ramesh Shukla with his son art director Neel Shukla. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

In recognition of his remarkable contribution to the UAE’s national story, the photographer was among the first of Dubai’s creative community to receive a coveted Golden Visa, which grants holders long-term residency rights without the need for a national sponsor, and 100 percent ownership of their own businesses.

Shukla has certainly led an eventful life, documenting the history of a nation from its very inception, including its natural and cultural heritage, its most pivotal and proudest moments, and even the lives of its heads of state.

Yet, he does not believe in retirement despite working so hard for so many years.

“After the age of 100, life starts,” he said.


Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp

Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp
Updated 28 January 2022

Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp

Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp
  • Coalition spokesman slams Houthis for peddling misleading information
  • Joint Forces Command ready to present facts to UN Humanitarian and Red Cross teams

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen on Friday denied targeting a prison in Saada and accused the Houthi militia of trying to mislead the public.

Houthi officials on Thursday claimed that coalition air strikes last week killed around 90 people and wounded more than 200 at Saada prison.

In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency, Coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Malki said the targeted location was a Houthi special security camp, which is a "legitimate military target". 

Al-Maliki cited a report of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) dated January 27, 2022, after investigating the Houthis' claim.

The statement said there are four locations identified as prisons in the Joint Forces Command’s No Strike List (NSL) in Saada, all of which are being used by the "terrorist Houthi militia" in launching "cross-border attacks to target civilians and civilian objects."

The closest prison is located 1.8 kilometers away from the site targeted in a coalition air strike.

"What was announced and disseminated by the terrorist Houthi militia in its media outlets is a blatant attempt to mislead the public opinion regarding the true nature of the location in an attempt to garner sympathy from UN organizations and INGOs," Al-Maliki said in the statement.

He assured that the Joint Forces Command "applies the highest targeting standards."

The Coalition said it is prepared to shed light on the issue with representatives of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Red Cross.

"The terrorist Houthi militia bears the full responsibility in case it uses civilians as human shields in its military locations," Al-Maliki said.

Fighting has escalated in recent weeks, with more air strikes on what the coalition says are Houthi military targets.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement has stepped up missile and drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates and cross-border launches on neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The coalition had previously accused the Houthis of using civilian centers as a shield against legitimate strikes.


Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
Updated 28 January 2022

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
  • Sheikh Tamim to meet US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31

DUBAI: Qatar’s top diplomat visited Iran on Thursday, days before Qatar’s emir holds talks in Washington at a crucial time for efforts by Tehran and major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
The visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani comes after his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Monday said Tehran is ready to consider direct talks with Washington if it feels it can get a “good nuclear deal.”
However, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said the visit was not intended to help set up direct talks with Washington.
“Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit ... has fueled some misconceptions. Some are fabricating it to facilitate direct talks with the United States,” IRNA said.
The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
After then-US President Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, Iran gradually started violating the pact’s nuclear curbs.

BACKGROUND

The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Significant gaps remain about the speed and scope of returning to the deal, including Iran’s demand for a US guarantee of no further punitive steps, and how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, will hold talks with US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31. They will include efforts to salvage the pact. The minister, Sheikh Mohammed, is expected in Washington on Friday in advance of the emir’s visit.
Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized the importance of “deepening ties between regional countries” in a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, who invited the president to attend the Gas Exporting Countries Forum summit in February in Doha.
The lead US nuclear negotiator told Reuters on Sunday that securing the nuclear deal is unlikely unless Tehran releases four US citizens Washington says it is holding hostage.
While ruling out any US preconditions, Iran said on Monday that Tehran and Washington can reach “a lasting agreement on both separate paths (the Vienna talks and the prisoner exchange) if the other party has the will.”
Iranian officials have refused to comment on the matter, but Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready for a full prisoner exchange with Washington.
Tehran denies holding people for political reasons. It has accused many of the dual-nationals and foreigners in its jails of espionage.
Tehran says Iranians detained in the US, mostly for breaking sanctions, are being unjustly held.


UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state
Updated 28 January 2022

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state
  • Cardinal Pietro Parolin was speaking during a phone call with UAE foreign minister
  • He expressed his solidarity with the UAE following a terrorist attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia

LONDON: The Vatican said the UAE is a leading model of global human solidarity, and its humanitarian initiatives help promote peaceful coexistence, tolerance and peace around the world, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
Speaking during a phone call with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, expressed his solidarity with the UAE following a terrorist attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia on civilian facilities in the UAE capital.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched a number of drones and missiles toward Abu Dhabi on Jan. 17, which were intercepted and destroyed by the UAE defense ministry, however, remnants landed in separate areas around the capital, killing three people and injuring seven.
Parolin offered his sincere condolences to the victims of the attack, and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
Sheikh Abdullah thanked Parolin for his sentiments, and praised the Vatican’s outstanding role in serving humanitarian issues and promoting the values of tolerance and coexistence among all peoples.
Sheikh Abdullah also affirmed the UAE’s keenness to strengthen its relations with the Vatican across various levels.
Relations between the UAE and the Vatican have witnessed continuous growth, especially at the humanitarian level, after the Emirates hosted the Human Fraternity Meeting between Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyib in 2019.
During the meeting, the “Document on Human Fraternity” was signed to promote human relations, build bridges of communication, harmony and love between peoples, and tackle extremism.


UAE medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines arrives in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2022

UAE medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines arrives in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
  • The Sputnik vaccines will be immediately distributed to vaccination centers to encourage Gazans to get vaccinated
  • It is the largest medical support convoy from the UAE for the Gaza Strip since the pandemic began

LONDON: A UAE medical convoy of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing on Wednesday to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
The convoy, containing one million Sputnik shots, “is the largest medical support convoy from the UAE for the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
The vaccines will be immediately distributed to vaccination centers to encourage Gazans to get vaccinated after the impoverished territory entered a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Ghazi Hamad, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Development, thanked the UAE for its assistance, which comes at a critical time, and said it would enhance the health sector’s ability to effectively confront the spread of the virus.
He was speaking during a press conference at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after the arrival of the convoy.
Former Palestinian health minister Dr. Jawad Al-Tibi said the health sector is one of the most time-consuming sectors and great efforts are required to combat this global epidemic.
“The UAE sends aid after aid to support our steadfastness and to face difficulties and diseases in the Gaza Strip,” he said, adding: “This batch of Emirati aid comes at the right time to support the health sector and vaccinate students.”


US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts
Updated 28 January 2022

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts
  • Talks focused on the urgent need for de-escalation and to address economic stability and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen
  • US says has to fully consider humanitarian implications to designating Houthis as terrorist entity

LONDON: The US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking held talks with senior UK and Gulf officials in London, as part of his first tour of 2022 to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN.
During talks with the British Minister for Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly, the two sides stressed they are “committed to working together to advance a durable resolution to the Yemen conflict, help stabilize the economy, and support urgent steps to ease the humanitarian crisis.”
The US envoy also took part in a UK-hosted Quint meeting to discuss the situation in Yemen with senior representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Britain, along with UN special envoy Hans Grundberg.

Lenderking was in Riyadh, the UAE and Oman last week, where he focused on the urgent need for de-escalation and the protection of all civilians, bringing the parties together to support a UN-led inclusive peace process, and doing more to address economic stability, humanitarian assistance access and fuel shortages, a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.
His visit comes as the Iran-backed Houthi militia have stepped up cross-border attacks against populated areas in Saudi Arabia and have attempted to strike the UAE capital twice in the last two weeks. The Houthis have also continued their brutal offensive on the Yemeni province of Marib, which has served as a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons who have been fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.
The US has repeatedly pledged to continue to work with their partners in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to help them defend against these deplorable Houthi attacks, the State Department said.

However, increased calls from regional allies are putting pressure on US President Joe Biden’s administration to relist the Houthis as a terrorist organization one year after it reversed a last-minute decision by former President Donald Trump to designate the militia.
“We will continue to work with our allies and partners in the region especially to promote accountability for the Houthis, for those Houthi leaders that have been behind these terrorist attacks,” the State Department said.
It added that the the Houthis’ redesignation as an “international terrorist organization” is “under review” and the US is expected to implement additional steps, including sanctions, to hold Houthi leaders accountable.
But when asked by Arab News about the possibility that the Biden administration will relist the militia, it said: “The United States remains committed to improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen and would have to fully consider the humanitarian implications.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price had also said that they not going to relent in designating Houthi leaders and entities involved in military offensives that threaten civilians and regional stability and perpetuate the conflict, who are responsible for some of the human rights abuses or the violations of international humanitarian law.
“When you talk about the humanitarian crisis, there is one actor that is primarily responsible for the suffering of the Yemeni people, the widespread suffering of the Yemeni people. And that is the Houthis,” Price told reporters at a press briefing.
He added they are using every appropriate tool to hold the Houthis to account.
The State Department reiterated the American condemnation of the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and said it remained committed to solving the Yemeni conflict.
“Helping advance a durable resolution that ends the conflict in Yemen, improves Yemeni lives, and creates the space for Yemenis to collectively determine their own future remains a top US foreign policy priority,” it said.