The Quiet Emirate
Farah Al-Qasimi captures the subtle charm of Ras al Khaimah’s sleepy mountains and mangroves – a one hour drive from Dubai
Why is Ras al Khaimah particularly meaningful to you?
This place is really special to me because it’s where my dad grew up. We have a house there and we used to go to visit my grandmother at the weekends. It was great as it was a place that allowed us to spend time outdoors, swimming in the ocean and fishing.
What attracts you to the landscapes there?
One of the really special things about RAK is that it’s one of the only places in the Emirates where the mountains and the sea are so close together. On the coastline, it’s a calm, sleepy beachside town – but in the mountains it’s completely different. There are houses that you have to drive 20 minutes on a dirt road to get to.
Your own nostalgia for RAK comes through in the photographs too.
The essay was a combination of places I’m familiar with and places I’ve never been, with the guidance of my dad. To a certain extent I still feel like a tourist in RAK. It was important for the pictures to have both familiarity and strangeness, as a lot of people who grew up there constantly have to relearn their urban surroundings. You have to reconcile your idea of home with a place that’s in continuous flux.
You found a snake and a few foxholes during the shoot. What’s the wildlife in Ras al Khaimah like?
There are a lot of goats in RAK. I’m really upset I didn’t get a picture of one climbing a tree – I’ve seen them do that before. Your eyes are cruising the landscape and all of a sudden you see a figure of a goat just hanging in the air! It fascinates me that they live in this dry and barren landscape, but they seem so happy. There are a lot of snakes, scorpions and foxes as well – our father used to tell us to be extra careful when playing outside. There are also flocks of flamingoes that hang out by the mangroves.
Tell us about one of your fondest memories in RAK.
I spent National Day in RAK last year. There are some untouched natural islands down by our house, accessible by boat or by foot during low tide. We had an old dinghy lying around with no motor, so we made a set of makeshift oars out of some scrap wood and rowed to the islands during high tide. My father’s childhood friend was with us and all of a sudden, the two of them started to sing old sea shanties and work songs they recalled from way back. On the way, we saw stingrays, flying fish and giant sea turtles – there was a beautiful sense of stillness. We brought souvenirs back with us: giant pieces of coral, feathers, seashells – it was the first time I felt a real connection to the outdoors here.
Why did you choose to use film for the shoot?
I used a Mamiya 7 with 120 colour film. I really like the quality of the images. Shooting on film allows you to have a more immersive experience in what is actually happening – you’re not constantly looking at a tiny screen to check what you’ve just shot. It’s worth the potential heartache of destroyed negatives, and I can easily miss things if I stall a little too much. I was really lucky to get the picture of the snake, as I only had one negative left. But I caught it a second before it slithered away.
This article appears in the issue43Buy Now