In recent decades, the landscapes of the Persian Gulf region have undergone a dramatic mutation driven by increased income from oil, globalization, and mass tourism. These countries have witnessed a huge transformation, moving from the traditional, nomadic, austere lifestyle of the desert bedouins to a postmodern, urban, and consumerist society. For the first time in history, the locals may outlive the landscapes that surround them.

The areas I have chosen to focus on in this project are not the most popular sites of photographic pilgrimage, but rather the newest centers of unbridled urban development, especially the outskirts, the periphery, the back alleys. “Min Turab” steps back a few miles and takes in a secondary, less privileged view. Anecdotal details, at least in this case, end up being the most meaningful of all.

Meccah region, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. © Roger Grasas, Finalist, LensCulture Exposure Awards 2018

“Min Turab” also has important geopolitical implications. What would scarcely be remarkable in a Western city is scandalous and fascinating in equal measure to foreigners visiting places like Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai. It is hard to resist criticizing the overwhelming deployment of technology only to escape to the equally atrocious spectacle of globalization in countries other than our own.

Taken together, the images in “Min Turab” (developed from 2009 until 2016) calmly scrutinize the exact places where alteration of the landscape—driven by oil as a main agent of change—has produced a fatal discord. This friction has destroyed earlier visions and ideas of place; notions that we (as uninformed foreign spectators) might have, or that locals might have as they deal with landscapes transforming rapidly before their eyes.

Durma, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. © Roger Grasas, Finalist, LensCulture Exposure Awards 2018

The classic conception of “landscape” disguised the reality of the historic conflicts within, and this traditional form of landscape representation was adopted by many photographers. Contemporary photographers, then, must confront these challenges from an increasingly complex point of view.

Perhaps by identifying the blind spots where waves of images are being swept away and replaced by others of a very different sort, “Min Turab” allows us to confront this new visual regime that imposes the conditions of hyper-visibility of some landscapes and the dramatic dismissal of others.

“Min Turab” takes its title from an Arabic expression meaning “from the land.” The series holds up a mirror to the dyad of nature and technology in a place where the old and the new come together while the lines between them blur completely.

—Roger Grasas

Grasas’ project was singled out for distinction in the Exposure Awards 2018. See all of the inspiring work by the 39 winners, finalists and jurors’ picks!