My photography tells the stories of landscapes and of the people who inhabit them—how they came to be there and where they are going. The Hands That Built This City, shot in March 2018 and March 2019, is a photographic story looking at the people who make up the large and ever-growing workforce of the UAE—the people who have built and are building the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I am most interested in areas inhabited by workers, far away from the city they are building, in the dusty streets of the labour camps, now called their ‘home’. Here, there are strictly only male communities who live together in basic accommodation supplied by the companies they work for. I was drawn to explore this place because it is a world away from the shiny skyscrapers that Dubai is known for.

These people are building the ‘city’ for the great wealth and privilege of others. Despite a difficult existence of hard work and little money, I found communities of people brought together and connected by common experience. They share the same plight of living a daily life without their families, with only the bond of friendships for comfort.

—Polly Tootal

Editor’s Note: We discovered Polly Tootal’s series The Hands That Built This City through this year’s LensCulture Street Photography Awards, where she was selected as a finalist. Check out the work of the other finalists, winners and juror’s picks here.