As a staff photographer for the National newspaper, Jaime Puebla has traversed the dunes, skyscrapers, and private parties of the UAE, shooting all the way. We sat down for a Q&A about his latest project, Cabinet of Curiosities:
DL: I can’t stop looking at the portrait of a local woman in Darth Vader gear. I’m dying to know the background story behind how you grabbed this shot. Was it staged or spontaneous? Do tell…
JP: I took this portrait during the Comic Con fan convention in Dubai in 2012. I was almost leaving the place when I saw this girl wearing abaya and a Darth Vader mask and immediately asked her if she would let me take her portrait, luckily she said yes and beside us there was this green background that worked perfect. The shoot took no more than 2 minutes, I was really nervous because I knew this could be a good picture.
DL: Even though you are not from the UAE originally, I feel that your photography shows the soul of the country–the every day energy beyond the iconic buildings and couture labels. How did you develop such an intimate relationship with the UAE from behind the lens?
JP: I’ve been concentrating on this project for almost 6 years. I started in 2008 when I arrived to work for the National Newspaper. I was based in Abu Dhabi for the first two years and then I moved to Dubai, and because of my work I have to drive all around the country covering all the Emirates, so I been very lucky to have access to see places that many of the people living here don’t know.
DL: It’s a bit taboo here to photograph people without their knowledge. Yet, sometimes asking permission results in shots that feel contrived. Did you ask permission or were these photographs candid?
JP: For most of the show’s portraits I did ask permission. I don’t have a problem with that and for me it is part of the portrait process.
DL: For all the camera addicts reading, can you please share some information about what camera you used to shoot the pieces for this show, if you worked in SLR or digital, and how you developed?
JP: Everything is digital. The first two years I worked with the Canon 5D and then more recently with the Canon 5D Mark II. I use three lenses: the 24-70 mm, the 17-35 and the 50mm, all Canon. I like to experiment with flash. I use the regular Canon 580 but sometimes I add a pseudo ring flash called ray flash which is a just a piece of plastic but sometimes works.
DL: Since you have been photographing the UAE, who have been your greatest influences?
JP: At the beginning if this project I was very influenced by the work of Alec Soth, Martin Parr and Larry Sultan. I’m always looking for new photography. I check out Photo Eye every day! These days I’m obsessed with Viviane Sassen.
Good Idea: Cabinet of Curiosities will run at Gulf Photo Plus through 19 December. The gallery also serves as a studio and workshop space and is located on Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz. For more information, click here.
Image Credits: Courtesy of Jaime Puebla and Gulf Photo Plus