Although it started as documentary work, “The Edge” (2014-2017) has evolved into a series on topologies that are united by the disparities of their geological features and use. The project represents the dynamic between landscapes and activity along the coastline of the United Arab Emirates; it also attempts to offer a nuanced perspective on numerous contemporary issues in that region. This project is part of a longer trajectory involving interiors and exteriors in the Middle East, where I first began to make photographs.

The cultural and social identity of the UAE is particularly tied to its coastline, which played a deciding role in the development of the nation. The coastline provides an income resource and a connection between the Emirates and the rest of the world—first through shipping trade and fishing, and currently through the exploration of the oil industry and coast-based tourism. The changing relationship between the traditional and contemporary use of these waterways creates the space that I explore.

Since the discovery of oil off the coast of Abu Dhabi over 50 years ago, the UAE’s 1,300km coastline, along with its cities and towns, has undergone considerable changes. Nestled in a pocket of financial security, it is growing diverse in form and function, with industry, tourism, and recreation shifting the scale and rhythm of the natural and built environment. The landscape of the Emirates is aesthetically influenced by decades of substantial development, migratory movement, and lifestyles of the people who build, support and engineer the country.

“The Edge” seeks to survey the way the coastal landscape reflects the contemporary socioeconomic realities of the Emirates through an exploration of the unique constructed space, cities, and homes that pepper its shoreline.

—Philip Cheung

If you liked this article, we’d recommend these previous features: Smoke, a striking black-and-white series that follows a group of young people as they traverse the unique landscape of Iceland; Namikake: At the Coastline of Niigata, dream-like images of an ever-changing Japanese landscape; and Infinite Perimeter, a series that grapples with the overwhelming (and ubiquitous) feelings of loneliness and isolation that affect immigrants and natives alike on the island of Crete.