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Today's review. One hundred days left!

B. recently spent a few weeks in Dubai and brought back this photo book. It is really very interesting. It shows Spots Of Note For Tourists in Dubai, in that classic tourist-photograph style in which there aren't any people present except the ones who are wearing Picturesque Local Clothing. There is even an attempt to try to make a camel look photogenic. All of the photos are bright, glossy, and captioned in a way that says what is in the photo without actually describing it-- a caption will say that this is Bab Al Shams, and not say whether that is a building, a district, a restaurant, a place of worship, or a street name. There is no other context given. No map. No discussion of neighborhoods. No discussion of how the places in the picture physically relate to one another. No pictures that include both the city and any of the countryside around and outside it; nothing that gives placement in the landscape.

And the cumulative effect is of a total distancing of the city depicted from reality. It looks like a crazy CGI fantasy, focussed on the impersonalities of glass, chrome, the lights of a freeway at night, the neon rims of skyscrapers. It is a portrait of a city with the human removed from it, even though one knows that the photographer has only gone into the mall before it opened, only shooed the people out of the angle of the lens in the mosque. Landmarks one might have seen before, such as the Burj al Arab (the famous hotel shaped like a boat) and the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world, are even more odd as spots of familiarity in a sea of riotous architecture.

I ventured to B. that the city must look different with people in it, and he said drily that the book does not depict the eighty percent of the population who are Pakistani migrant workers. Or, indeed, any office workers, cab drivers, secretaries, etc., etc., etc. of any ethnicity. Or indeed anyone who does not work in a Heritage Village.

As an advertisement for Dubai, this book is a vaunting of a specific kind of modernity: strength through architecture. As a reading experience, more than half the book would make an absolutely lovely cover for a new edition of Neuromancer.

You can probably get photobooks of this general sort for most of the major cities in the world at this point, I should think. I wonder if they are all this surrealist?


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March 2017

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