Studio  April 4, 2022  Sarah Bochicchio

Photographer Hussain AlMoosawi on Capturing the Urban Landscape

Image courtesy of Hussain Almoosawi.

Detail of the AlOmaira Building.

Hussain AlMoosawi is an Emirati designer and photographer whose work sits at the intersection of research and creativity. In an ongoing series, AlMoosawi photographs architectural facades around the United Arab Emirates, capturing and cataloging the multifaceted urban landscape. 

His works detail the structures through which we identify cities—and occasionally offer glimpses into daily life, through subtle impressions of human activity. The photographs feel dramatic, textured, and abstract. They offer keen observations of buildings seen from a new perspective.

This week, Art & Object sat down with AlMoosawi to discuss his work and his current collaboration with the Khaleeji Art Museum’s latest endeavor, Museum in the Sky.

Image courtesy of Hussain Almoosawi.

Liwa Tower.

 Sarah Bochicchio: To start, could you tell me about the works that you're sharing with Museum in the Sky?
Hussain AlMoosawi:
I was approached by Khaleeji Art Museum to feature some of my works, and what's being featured there is what I would consider to be my life project, which is to document architectural facades around the UAE. The purpose is to eventually end up with a comprehensive typology and classification system that would help us understand the architectural development since the formation of the country in 1971. It took me a bit of time as a photographer to figure out what would be my contribution to humanity, but that’s what I feel this is. 
SB:  How did you get started on this project?
HA: I went overseas to Brisbane, Australia to undertake my degree in design. And after that, I did my masters in Melbourne. Melbourne is a vibrant place that kind of overwhelmed me, and I thought, ‘Okay, I need to document the space somehow.’ So my understanding of looking as a designer and documenting as a photographer came together in a series of projects.

When I came back to the UAE in 2013, I was looking for the same visual vocabulary that was in Melbourne, but I couldn't find it. So I spent two to three years looking at what is actually unique about our country. For me, the question is: what is the vernacular here in the UAE? So my first projects were establishing my understanding of our urban landscape.
I ended up with this idea that symmetry was the common element that inhabits all forms of architecture. With time, I've started looking at asymmetry, and low-rise, medium-rise buildings. That’s why it's a lifelong project, because I'm sure I will not be able to finish all these sub-classifications, that's the moment my head overheats.

Image courtesy of Hussain Almoosawi.

Dubai World Trade Centre.

 SB: Have you thought about documenting the interiors of buildings as well?
HA: I think it’s not just the space but about the stories of people. Buildings are living organisms, and to dictate whether a building is good for those who use it, you have to go inside and interview people to ask what it’s like to live there. For this project, I’m looking at it as being from the public’s point of view. Because our cities are full of highways and not everyone gets to walk around, many of us experience our cities as drivers, so it’s about getting people to appreciate the details. It happens to have a wider appeal because it's connected with memory.
SB: Because you focus on facades, it makes the buildings more abstract. You really have to think about what you’re looking at.
HA: I intentionally decontextualize these facades. In this specific project, I'm trying to imagine what the architect was drawing. This project is about diminishing my own ego and amplifying the egos of architects. I do photo-manipulate sometimes to remove trees because I want you to see this facade. I want to show you the reality.
Sometimes, it does make the city look a bit more glamorous because the context may not be amazing. Sometimes, the context makes it even better. I think that's the psychology of these pictures when you crop the context. It does create this sense of curiosity; I think the brain creates that context.

Image courtesy of Hussain Almoosawi.

AlOmaira Building.

SB: As a final question, what is the process like of actually scouting these buildings?
HA: The process of taking a picture takes time. Personally, I think there is like a window of ten to fifteen minutes that's the best time to photograph a specific building. It has to be within the golden hour, which is after sunrise or before sunset. To identify that kind of bracket is quite challenging sometimes. Then I have to strictly follow optical standards to create great pictures. Summertime is very bad for photography, especially because what I do is long-range photography. If I do a photo that’s from far away, it would be quite hazy. 
Once I photograph a building, there's something in my heart. Even before editing, once I take that picture and preview it on my camera, if I feel that it is sufficient, there's a level of joy that I can't explain. And then that's why I do it. It's for myself before anyone else, but if it happens to have a value for a wider audience, I mean, why not?

About the Author

Sarah Bochicchio

Sarah Bochicchio is a New York-based writer and researcher. She focuses on history, fashion, art, and gender—and where all of those things intersect.

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