50 Years of UAE Through the Lens of Ramesh Shukla

Ramesh Shukla, an ace photographer working with the Times Group in Mumbai left for UAE in 1959 with only Rs.50/- in his pocket, seven rolls of film and a Rolleicord camera given to him by his father. He was in his 20’s at that time.

Royal Photographer, Artist, Founder – Four Seasons Ramesh Gallery, Dubai

Ramesh Shukla, an ace photographer working with the Times Group in Mumbai left for UAE in 1959 with only Rs.50/- in his pocket, seven rolls of film and a Rolleicord camera given to him by his father. He was in his 20’s at that time. What started in a tiny home in Al Nasr Square where life revolved around raw, earthy images of Dubai street life led to more refined, commissioned portraits of well-known UAE families and being a favourite Royal photographer.

A three-day camel race in Sharjah in 1968 was a turning point for him. Hoping on to his bicycle, he went to the race track and was amazed to see Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who later became President of the UAE, and Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who later became Vice President of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, watching the races. Ramesh quickly began photographing them from different angles. He then developed the film and presented the photographs to the Shaikh, the following day. “Shaikh Zayed’s words of encouragement and his gesture gave me the impetus to continue recording the history of a country that was in the making,” he says.

His images depict themes of everyday life in the emirates from official life of the sheikh’s family, landscapes and portraits to the development of modern infrastructure in the fast expanding cities. His photographs of the Rulers of the UAE adorn palaces and private collections, and his work appears on UAE postage stamps, currency notes, in the Municipality and Union house in Dubai and is reproduced in Dubai metro stations.

Ramesh has won many awards for his exceptional photographic work, including his most prestigious award, a gold plate trophy, presented to him by the late H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (late King of Abu Dhabi).

Because of his affiliation to the Royal Family, Ramesh also had the good fortune to photograph other notable dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Queen Rania, Indra Gandhi, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum to name but a few. Many of these encounters are featured in historical books which he has published such as The United

Design is part of the city’s DNA now, which makes Dubai stand apart.

Design is part of the city’s DNA now, which makes Dubai stand apart. Dubai is in the cutting edge platform at the moment, 130+ nationalities currently living over here and give their creative inputsm from their own countries which is exercised & merged into what local tradition & architecture has to offer. The influx of creativity coming up with this region is just mind boggling.

Arab Emirates the First 30 Years in Photographs and Forty Years of Historical Photographs, 50 year of UAE. He is also famous for capturing the historic signing of the accord that created the UAE in 1971. The iconic image is now the Spirit of the Union logo that is used for the UAE’s National Day celebrations.

Ramesh founded Four Seasons Ramesh Gallery in 1971. SURFACES REPORTER was delighted to meet Ramesh Shukla & Neel Shukla recently during Dubai Design Week. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

1. Over the years, through your lens, how have you.  seen the Architectural Skyline & Design evolve in Dubai. (Please share some insights and images from your book ‘THE UAE – 50 years in Pictures).

In the last 50 years, Dubai has undergone a rapid transformation, from a little-known port in the desert, to one of the most developed cities in the world, with a total of 911 high rise buildings, including the world’s tallest, the Burj Khalifa. It sprang up seemingly from nothing into the lively and technologically advanced world-class city that it is today. It’s been a remarkable transformation of this humble fishing
town became the modern day “City of Gold.”

2. Please tell us a little bit about the most Iconic Photograph – THE UAE National day Logo. How did it come to become the emblem and is there any story behind it, which you would like to share with us.

It was not in my wildest dreams, that one of my photos would become an iconic logo, “Spirit of the Union” to the UAE national day celebrations. It occurred when I was in the right place and time during the declaration of the Union. I captured rare memento photo for UAE Rulers before the state’s flagpole immediately after the signing of the Union Agreement and inception of the UAE federation at the Union House in Dubai in 1971.

3. Do you have a photograph that is close to your heart?

His photographs of the Rulers of the UAE adorn palaces and private collections, and his work appears on UAE postage stamps, currency notes, in the Municipality and Union house in Dubai and is reproduced in Dubai metro stations. 

4. What is your one advice to young artists, designers and photographers starting out today?

Follow your heart, go step-by-step & practice more. Don’t’ make compromises on your imagination, don’t commercialize yourself, don’t worry about making a lot of money or being successful; be concerned with doing good work.

5. What inspired you towards the design and décor business?

I am inspired every day. It can be something as simple as being outside and moving my body gets my creative juices flowing. I’m also inspired by the idea of creating & capturing stuff that lifts other people up and reassures them in their own lives. I find that people are always looking for more positivity and happiness in their lives, and my work is my way of offering that to people.

Follow your heart, go step-by-step & practice more. Don’t’ make compromises on your imagination, don’t commercialize yourself, don’t worry about making a lot of money or being successful; be concerned with doing good work

6. During our meeting, you stressed on the importance of great health for a sound mind. Please share a little bit more on this aspect.

Yes, a healthy body ensures a healthy mind that enable individuals to thrive and reach their full potential. I believe, a balanced diet, rich in essential nutrients, when paired with regular exercise, will ensure that you maintain a healthy, happy sense of physical and mental wellbeing all the time.

7. From a senior photographer in Bombay to starting all over in Dubai. What led to this decision and how was your journey.

I wanted to explore new horizons, because I covered various part in India and I wanted to capture the undiscovered territory. And this region offered my camera the opportunity to explore something completely new.

8. How do you see Dubai (UAE) evolve in terms of design in the next few years.

Design is part of the city’s DNA now, which makes Dubai stand apart. Dubai is in the cutting edge platform at the moment, 130+ nationalities currently living over here and give their creative inputs from their own countries which is exercised & merged into what local tradition & architecture has to offer. The influx of creativity coming up with this region is just mind boggling.

9. Tell us a bit about your paintings.

I am primarily a classic artist, enjoy creating art pieces with oil & water colours. However, I do not paint now as I had a very bad accident few years ago and my hand is unable to sketch the way I used to before.

10. Apart from your galleries, where all are your art and photography showcased currently. What are you currently working on.

My work can be seen in government offices, museums, 5-star hotels, metro stations and other place. Moreover, The Etihad Museum (the first national museum of the UAE) has permanently exhibit my best historical photographic collection to date.

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