November 14, 2012
“On these magic shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.”
* J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
The National staff photographer Silvia Razgova talks to us about her Growing Up in the UAE project.
“One gets a lot of genuine emotion when photographing children because they lose interest in the camera in about 10 minutes. A photographer quickly becomes part of their normal surroundings. Adults, on the other hand, tend to stay camera aware, and thus self aware, far longer. Getting sincere emotion is priceless when it comes to photography.”
Describe the growing up in the UAE project that you have been working on and what you hope it will achieve?
The UAE is a place unlike any other, with so many different nationalities and cultures living side by side. So growing up here will have elements that you don’t find anywhere else. At the same time, I feel childhood has a baseline of universal experience for all. I would want the project to present both of these aspects, using the universality as holding environment for the idiosyncratic elements of growing up in the UAE.
Kids here are growing up multilingual and arguably with a greater understanding of the world than children growing up back in their “home” countries. There is something to be said for growing up as part of a community of expats and citizens. Consider children born here to British or Indian parents. Their culture and outlook is developed from the version of that world that exists here. They grow up seeing their homeland’s culture in a slightly more objective view.
How do you feel this difference shows in daily life?
I spoke to a young lady in her early 20s who’s British (both parents are British) but born and raised in the UAE. Talking about identity I call her British, but she has never lived there. I asked her what it was like growing up here and she said she did not experience the pressures that she has read about for youth in the western world. She said in her school the pressure came from having to excel.
As an ongoing project, which direction would you like it to take?
I would like to focus more on the poetic in the images rather than on the literal. But hoping that those poetic moments will have enough information for the viewer to feel what it would be like to grow up here, while remembering their own similar experiences from childhood.
Besides the images of the actual children and teenagers, I will be looking for photos of landscapes that are related to children. Either through a still life that has been perhaps left behind by children interacting with that space, or spaces that are specifically created for children. One very obvious example is an amusement park. What does an amusement park here look like compared with maybe an amusement park anywhere else?
Is there a photo from the series that embodies what the project is about?
The little girl at the Al Ain Zoo on a zebra ride. She’s riding a train painted with zebra stripes and its hot out there. There are misting machines that the train runs through, so she welcomes in the cool air and opens her arms.
I like the images where you can see the kids getting lost in the moment, because childhood is strung together with these moments that are so temporarily enthralling. Children can appreciate moments that adults don’t notice or enjoy anymore.
* Silvia was talking to RJ Mickelson, Assistant Photo Editor