Founding Fathers, Etihad Museum, Dubai

A Motivate-Zakti project*

Our first project in Dubai, the exhibition ‘Founding Fathers’ opened on 7 March 2019 to the cream of Emirati society. The exhibition was held in conjunction with the launch of the book which showcases the unique and special relationship between Sheikh Zayed, the late first President of UAE, and Sheikh Rashid, the late first Vice-President.

The exhibition features significant historic moments of the country as well as daily life, told through the lens of photographer Ramesh Shukla.

Etihad Museum

Etihad Museum

Photographs of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid were printed on large translucent banners hung from the ceiling, creating a monumental perspective that reflected their grand vision that transformed simple desert dwellings into the international cities of UAE today.

Photographs of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid were printed on large translucent banners hung from the ceiling, creating a monumental perspective that reflected their grand vision that transformed simple desert dwellings into the international cities of UAE today.

In 1965, a young Ramesh travelled from Mumbai to Dubai in a Dwarka boat, a gruelling 5-day journey, surviving on the few bunches of bananas he had packed. On him, a Rolleicord camera gifted by his father on his 15th birthday, 25 rolls of film, two shirts, a pair of slippers and Rs50 (today’s value, Dh77 or USD21.00).

The exhibition displayed Ramesh's cameras and photo equipment from the 50s and 60s, as well as a recreation of the darkroom in his one-room house in Al Nasr Square circa 1965.

The exhibition will also interest younger generations curious about traditional photographic and darkroom processes, who probably would not have seen a light meter before.

Two videos were produced for the exhibition. Left // Ramesh’s Journey. Right // The Darkroom Process.

Two videos were produced for the exhibition. Left // Ramesh’s Journey. Right // The Darkroom Process.

Ramesh had half a dozen light meters of all shapes and sizes.

Ramesh had half a dozen light meters of all shapes and sizes.

The mock-up darkroom. What's missing was the pungent smell of the film and print processing chemicals. We recorded the sound of prints sloshing in the chemicals, etc, and some small talk in Hindi in the background to bring life into the darkroom space.

The mock-up darkroom. What's missing was the pungent smell of the film and print processing chemicals. We recorded the sound of prints sloshing in the chemicals, etc, and some small talk in Hindi in the background to bring life into the darkroom space.

Ramesh Shukla’s one-room house. At night it transforms into his darkroom, using his family’s food trays (thalis) for developing prints. Every morning, his wife Taru had to smell the plates for any trace of chemicals before putting food on them. From 11pm to 8am, Ramesh develops 30 or 50 rolls, and sometimes prints 200 to 500 photos. In a 2017 interview, he said he is yet to process more than 2,000 rolls of film taken during the 70s and 80s.

Ramesh Shukla’s one-room house. At night it transforms into his darkroom, using his family’s food trays (thalis) for developing prints. Every morning, his wife Taru had to smell the plates for any trace of chemicals before putting food on them. From 11pm to 8am, Ramesh develops 30 or 50 rolls, and sometimes prints 200 to 500 photos. In a 2017 interview, he said he is yet to process more than 2,000 rolls of film taken during the 70s and 80s.

Portrait of a young Ramesh and his son, Neel, in a corner of the darkroom

Portrait of a young Ramesh and his son, Neel, in a corner of the darkroom

Positive and negative was one of the key visual themes of the exhibition.

Positive and negative was one of the key visual themes of the exhibition.

I had visualised the entire exhibition to be clad in contrasts: Black and white (and the red of the darkroom), light and dark, veiled and revealed, positive and negative—a lot to do with the lighting of space.

There is an interactive wall where you will see your negative image in real-time as you walk by. This is particularly interesting in the Middle East where men traditionally wear white, and women black, and it’s always a surprise for visitors to catch themselves in reverse colours. I observed some guests having some fun with their full-toothed smiles as their teeth will appear black and rather strange looking.

The Interactive Wall was first tested at Zakti Labs, Kuala Lumpur

Testing the Interactive Wall on-site, Etihad Museum

The exhibition also marks the launch of the photographer’s new book published by Motivate Media Group, titled  The United Arab Emirates: Founding Fathers – Zayed and Rashid.   The book pays homage to the UAE’s founding fathers with photographs of exceptional moments in history

The exhibition also marks the launch of the photographer’s new book published by Motivate Media Group, titled The United Arab Emirates: Founding Fathers – Zayed and Rashid.

The book pays homage to the UAE’s founding fathers with photographs of exceptional moments in history

Neel Shukla, Ramesh’s son, presenting the first book to His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed.

Neel Shukla, Ramesh’s son, presenting the first book to His Highness, Sheikh Mohammed.

UPDATE The one-month exhibition which ends on 11 April has been extended to the end of the year due to good response.

PRESS

Founding Fathers Exhibition—http://whatson.ae/…/check-out-this-new-photography-exhibit…/

Ramesh’s story—https://fridaymagazine.ae/…/meet-ramesh-shukla-the-man-who-…

*Motivate is our partner in UAE, one of the largest media communication organisations in the Middle East.