x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

24. An issue of National Geographic Magazine, July 1956

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.

An issue of National Geographic Magazine from 1956.
An issue of National Geographic Magazine from 1956.
The first issue of National Geographic Magazine appeared in October 1888, but it was nearly 70 years until the issue of July 1956 featured Abu Dhabi and what were then known as the Trucial States for the first time.

"Desert Sheikhdoms of the Pirate Coast" was a photo essay by Ronald Codrai, an Englishman whose day job was maintaining the oil concessions in the area granted by the various rulers to western oil companies.

Codrai arrived in the Gulf in 1948, basing himself in Dubai but travelling wherever there was a prospect of oil. These excursions were also a perfect opportunity to use his skills as a photographer, using the brackish water of Dubai Creek to wash his negatives and prints.

Codrai's son Justin, whose copy of National Geographic this is, says his father was the first man to attempt to reach Liwa in a motor vehicle.

"There were no roads whatsoever," he explains. "It was very, very hot and there was very little water. They were reliant on natural wells of which there were very few."

Codrai approached National Geographic in the early 1950s and was finally commissioned in 1955. The one snag was that the magazine wanted him to shoot in Kodachrome film, unobtainable outside the US.

The solution was to ship the films to Dubai, return them to the US for processing and ship the prints back to the Gulf for editing. It took nine months.

The final article featured 30 photographs and included pearl fishing, Dubai Creek and an iconic image of a camel train crossing the waters to Abu Dhabi island.

Codrai later published several books of his photographs including Faces of the Emirates and The Seven Shaikhdoms. He died in May 2000.

Justin Codrai says of the magazine: "It was the first time any of my father's photographs were published. For the UAE, it was first time any view of the sheikhdoms were seen by the outside word. It was hugely significant, particularly as things have changed so much in modern times."