x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sebastian Farmborough’s look at the women of Saudi Arabia

Sebastian Farmborough is a British photographer who has come back to Dubai to complete a series of photographs he began while living in Saudi Arabia.

Emerging Mystery 1. Courtesy Sebastian Farmborough
Emerging Mystery 1. Courtesy Sebastian Farmborough

Sebastian Farmborough is a British photographer who has returned to the Gulf to complete a series of pictures.

You lived in Dubai for four years before leaving for Chile. Why did you come back?

I actually came back because a picture I took here called An Emerging Mystery [of a woman in a niqab emerging from the water] was published all over the world. It generated so much interest – more than 23,000 hits from 141 different countries – that I wanted to return and complete the series.

Can you tell us about that series?

An Emerging Mystery is based on my experiences in Saudi Arabia where I lived for three years, in Jubail, Al Khobar and Riyadh. Although the restrictions were tough, it was such a wonderful period of my life. 

What made it so wonderful?

When I moved there, I had no intention of learning Arabic, but the people were so friendly and generous, they really made me feel so at home that I just had to find a way to say thank you. Like most, I went there in search of wealth and never expected to stay as long as I did, but I think, while enormously challenging at times, it has been the most rewarding experience of my life to date. 

What fascinates you so much about Middle Eastern or Gulf culture?

The women fascinate me. The whole concept of the veil is so far removed from my culture and my roots that it intrigues me greatly. What I found hard about living in Saudi Arabia was that none of my friends in the West believed the stories I was telling them. They accused me of being brainwashed, which is ironic, really.

The way the media portrays Saudi women upsets me greatly – they are often depicted as obscure, ­oppressed objects, difficult to relate to. With my series I seek to counteract that and convey that they are in fact normal women, with personalities and very much in control of their lives. 

So your work is about changing stereotypical views?

I aim to create images that illustrate how warm and hospitable the people are, how close their family relationships are, the natural beauty of the kingdom and the people’s tremendous sense of humour. It really would be wonderful to be responsible for changing these misconceptions or at least reducing them and that is my goal in life.

My photography is all about cross-cultural communication, because people are essentially the same the world over, we just misunderstand each other, that’s all. 

• For more information, visit sebfarmborough.carbonmade.com

aseaman@thenational.ae