“It’s all about composition in a minimalistic way,” says portrait photographer Preet Uday about his compilation of images of one of the most cosmopolitan metropolises of the world, Dubai. Most photographers who visit it or live here tend to capture the glitzy, towering skyscrapers. Some opt for the dunes and patchy flora that inhabit the vast deserts outside it. But a few like Preet dig deep inside the heart of the city itself to frame scenes that are like glimpses into its past.
A lot of Preet’s work reminds me of my childhood growing up here. Dubai wasn’t anywhere near as populated or bustling as it is today, and life was simpler. Even at the onset of industrialization in the late 80s, the city felt noticeably smaller. It was hard to go about town without bumping into at least a couple of people that you knew from your social circles. Today Dubai’s industrialization and infrastructural pace have sped past every other city it competed with. By far the fastest-growing city in the world, it has set its sights on being the top city in the world to live in. But for long-term residents like me, the old Dubai still holds a place in our hearts. And thankfully, many areas of the city still remain untouched by modernization. I frequent many of these areas very often, but it’s not easy to see a skyscraper against the horizon when taking pictures here. Preet however has taken his time to locate parts of Dubai that seem like portals to the past. It’s the minimalism in these photos that take me back to the days of my youth. And I hope to walk about town someday looking for similar spots to frame.
The Essential Photography Gear Used by Preet Uday
Preet told us:
- 2 Fujifilm XT3’s (one as a backup)
- Fuji X-Pro 3
- Fuji 56mm f1.2
- Fuji 50mm f2
- Fuji 35mm f1.4
- Fuji 35mm f2
- Fuji 27mm f2.8
- Fuji 23mm f2
- Fuji 23mm f1.4
- Fuji 18mm f2
- Two Godox A200s
“For photography on the streets, I exclusively use the Fuji X-Pro3. Initially, I only used the Fuji 27mm f2.8 and loved it. Then I wanted something wider, so I bought the Fuji 23mm f2 and loved that too. Then again, I wanted something wider than that, so I tried the Fuji 18mm f2 and loved that focal length a lot.”
The Phoblographer: Hi Preet. Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.
Preet Uday: My roots are from a city called Secunderabad in India, where I was an avid sportsman growing up. I played baseball, hockey and cricket, and even went on to captain the Indian National Baseball team in Japan during my teens.
Having moved to the UAE during the early 2000s, I had a strong managerial career in the foreign exchange industry for over a decade.
My desire to be independent influenced my decision to leave the corporate world behind and begin my own photography business in 2015, focusing primarily on portrait photography. During Covid restrictions, while everything was closed, having had plenty of time on hand I hit the streets to shoot quite often. That is how I discovered the art side of my photography, which eventually garnered a lot of attention and positive feedback.
The Phoblographer: Dubai is a city known for glitzy facades and opulence. What prompted you to photograph it in a minimalistic way?
Preet Uday: For some reason, I was never attracted to that kind of aesthetic or Dubai’s usual cityscape imagery, along with its color palette. I made a conscious decision to photograph only what caught my eye, spoke to me in some way and color played a significant role in it.
The Phoblographer: There are a lot of geometric elements in these photos, often characteristic of the lesser recognized areas of the city. Do you seek out these areas, or do you photograph them as you go about your daily life?
Preet Uday: Initially, for around 6 months Into this genre, I drove to certain locations, parked my car, and walked around for 30 to 60 mins, shooting things and scenes that interested me.
Later on I changed my approach and photographed as I went about my daily life, capturing pictures whenever I saw something that caught my eye. In my opinion, both these approaches have their advantages, but If I had a choice and enough time at hand, I would prefer the first approach because it gives one a clearer understanding of the surroundings and how people live in certain areas. One tends to pick up minor details and unusual subject matter with this approach.
The Phoblographer: Most people pass by everyday things on the street like trashcans, phone booths, and bicycles without a second thought. I’m curious to know what tingles inside your mind when you come across these.
Preet Uday: I am drawn to complementary color palettes, anything vintage, antique, old-timey and retro; maybe not always but you get the idea. It starts there, and then I take a closer look at all the elements in that scene and decide on what my main subject is. After that, it’s all about composition in a minimalistic way while eliminating distracting elements.
The Phoblographer: You’ve got a real knack for locating and snapping all these classic cars. Are you a classic car enthusiast yourself?
Preet Uday: I am not really a car enthusiast; however, I love the design and aesthetic of classic cars and how they can easily be created into beautiful pieces of art. Whenever I am out shooting, I usually find at least one classic car while I am driving around the city, and also I spot a few around the car workshops. Dubai has a decent number of classic cars but mostly one would find them parked near villas or workshops.
The Phoblographer: In a lot of these photos, I don’t even feel like it’s the same city I reside in. Many frames remind me of American TV shows of the 70s and 80s. How long did you take to develop this signature look?
Preet Uday: Since I started shooting this genre, it pretty much took me a month to come up with a color grade that I was happy with, While I didn’t chase the 70s and 80s look but for sure subconsciously I might have been influenced by the aesthetic of that era and also film photography in general. Once I started getting good feedback about my work I made a conscious decision not to experiment too much for a while and instead stick to this style and have a visual signature. Over a period of time, it definitely paid off because people started recognizing my work on social media and I started getting feedback that without even seeing who posted the picture they know it’s mine.
The Phoblographer: Is that the main idea though – to make these frames of Dubai seem like they are from someplace else? Or is it to show that Dubai has many different sides worth a closer look?
Preet Uday: I had no such intention or motive when I started out. All I wanted to do was to photograph elements and scenes in my surroundings that I am attracted to both consciously and subconsciously. Then I wanted to present that to the world in a beautiful way. Photographing lesser-known places and Finding beauty in simple scenes is what I was naturally drawn to, added to that the post-production and color palette took it to another level. I never intended to make my pictures look like it’s from someplace else but I feel having a clear subject, free of distracting elements and signature color grade makes it feel a bit surreal at times.
The Phoblographer: I’ve lived in Dubai for close to four decades and it’s one of the most bustling cities of the world. You prefer to photograph its nooks and corners often without any human elements in them. Do the inhabitants of the city not make for an interesting image in your vision?
Preet Uday: When I started out, I made a decision to leave out the human element to respect their privacy. This offered total freedom to shoot as there is no dependency on having people as subjects. Thus, there is a picture to be made literally everywhere and in every moment.
The Phoblographer: Do you often stop, observe, and wait for a long time to ensure there are no people before you click? Has this become second nature, or does the waiting occasionally get on your nerves?
Preet Uday: I don’t usually spend more than a minute or two at any spot. I generally tend to photograph only when I see no one around my subject. If the scene is amazing and there are people around, then I don’t mind waiting for a few minutes. That said, people are willing to move out of a frame quite easily when they notice me photographing or if I request them to do so.
The Phoblographer: What does the X-Pro 3 do for you to help achieve your creative ideas with ease?
Preet Uday: Firstly, it looks and feels great. It is important to have that connection with your camera, which will eventually translate into picking it up more and going out to shoot more often. I also love the hidden back screen concept due to which I rarely chimp and I only use the viewfinder to compose images.