Rob Wilson examines the work of contemporary photographer and visual artist Beno Saradzic.
In the previous two columns, I discussed a photographer from the earliest days of the craft and a pioneer of colour film photography. For this, my third column, I thought it would be appropriate to look at a contemporary photographer who has created a unique vision of the place he calls home. It is a vision that centres around a precise approach to the taking of the images combined with exceptional processing and presentation technique. That photographer is Slovenian Beno Saradzic and the place he calls home is the United Arab Emirates.
Saradzic’s photography runs the gamut from architectural to landscape to conceptual, but it is the work which focuses on the infrastructure of the UAE where, for me, it really sings. If our future can be envisaged as Blade Runner free from dystopia, it would be written in his visual language. His images bring to life the dreams of the creators of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He creates a vision that is even more impressive than the reality. At their best, the images walk a line between photography and digital art. This is not to say that there is anything fake or artificial about his work. He often can be found dangling out of a helicopter or perched on precarious scaffolding hundreds of metres about the ground. However, the infusion of precise and imaginative digital processing is what gives his work its own personality.
Whilst our focus here is upon still photography, Saradzic has been remarkably successful in other imaging related areas. He received an Emmy nomination for his work on the BBC’s Wild Arabia series as well as winning multiple awards for his time-lapse photography. On top of this, he is a Fuji “X-Photographer” as well as a brand ambassador.
I first encountered Saradzic’s work when browsing the website 500px. I found a picture of an abaya-clad woman walking down a corridor in Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and thought it was a beautifully taken image. Being a resident of Abu Dhabi at that time, I had visited the mosque for photography purposes on several occasions and wondered how he had put the image together. Later that same week, I described the image to the students in the photography society at the university where I taught. One of the more enthusiastic members of the club claimed to have seen the image being made. He described a level of effort and precision that I would learn to be a hallmark of Saradzic’s work.
The second encounter was at Abu Dhabi’s 2013 Spaces of Light photography competition. I entered six images and was delighted to have one selected and shown in the final printed exhibition. I noted that there was a picture, among the winners, that seemed to have been created with a similar idea and thought process as the one I had taken. That was where the similarities ended: Saradzic’s picture was better in every single respect.
Of the three images we share here, my personal favourite, and my favourite of all Saradzic’s work, is While you were sleeping which was taken high above a fog-covered Abu Dhabi. The everyday brown and grey towers which make up much of the city’s buildings become something magical here. It is the kind of photograph that makes Abu Dhabi residents play a happy game of spot your apartment. It is an optimistic image that invokes a day filled with mystery and possibility.
The second image, Dubai Metro, takes the quotidian and mundane dimensions of a public mass transit system and weaves it into a fantasy land. The skyscrapers and cranes in the background signal what Dubai dreams of becoming, a future hinted at in all of Saradzic’s images of the city. However, it is in the raised metro station and train lines that a vision of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is made concrete. This image illustrates Saradzic’s attention to detail and imagination perfectly. I have spent a lot of time in Dubai and when I look at this image, I realise that the distinction between truth and fantasy has been blurred. This imagining of reality is, for me, more impressive than the reality itself.
In the third photograph, Amber, the high-tech fantasy of Dubai is cinematically rendered. The sun rises (or does it set?) on the city’s megaliths. The city looks at peace and free of the gridlocked reality of Dubai’s roads. Modernity is made beautiful in the city’s cathedrals to construction.
As I was writing this article, I thought it would be amusing and appropriate to accompany my viewing and consideration of these images with the opening bars of Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, which most will recognise from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps I am given to hyperbole here and am over-egging the futuristic pudding, but it turned out to be most suitable. These are grand imaginative images that I, for one, enjoy immensely and I am certain you will too.