x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

How to play the society pages

If you've been in the UAE some time, you may have noticed that the "society" pages that litter various magazines aren't what one usually finds elsewhere.

If you've been in the UAE some time, you may have noticed that the "society" pages that litter various magazines aren't what one usually finds elsewhere, ie photos of horse-faced individuals sporting tweed jackets at Lady Fruity Poshington's annual jam fair.

No, here in the UAE, pretty much any collection of people - ideally with a female majority - is deemed worthy of an entire page, sometimes two, of photographic reportage. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps it's an effort to break down the class barriers that divide society. Or perhaps it's just a lack of editorial ideas. Whatever the reason, any event, big or small, now seems incomplete without a photographer pestering those in attendance to smile for the camera. And again, but without blinking this time.

The launch of a new pillowcase. Snap. The opening of a toilet cubicle. Snappity snap. The Food Odour Prevention Committee's quarterly review. Say cheese.

Generally speaking, the resultant photos on the society pages are somewhat unimaginative. Faces shoved awkwardly together and grinning inanely, sometimes with arms around each other, sometimes with hands carefully gripping a glass, sometimes in zombie pirate outfits. With little space in the frame left beyond these oversized headshots, the actual event going on in the background becomes irrelevant.

The captions too, are void of any spark and often simply name the photographed like a register of the dim-witted. "Steve, Susie and Samantha," it says beneath three mugs smiling like asylum escapees, instantly indicating that these three must be avoided at all costs.

Now, of course, despite all my criticisms, I'm not discounting myself from such nonsense. I've been there, snaffling canapés at the launch of something instantly forgettable, smiling like a buffoon for the cameras. And yes, I've looked like an utter idiot each time. Which is why, for the past couple of years, I've been trying to counteract this with a spot of urban terrorism. When scribbling a name on the photographer's all-important pad, for example, I don't give my own, oh no. I give a somewhat ludicrous name (I'm not saying what) and encourage those around me to do the same.

The result is that, among the Steves, Susies and Samanthas, there's also been the occasional "Tony D'Wonderful", "Gertrude Schmokerscoff" or "Baron Von Winklestein of the Elderberry Fort" to liven up the proceedings.

And when others are lining up for a pose as the photographer peers into their viewfinder, I try to sneak into the back of the shot, but with a psychopathic glare at the camera that looks like I've just been caught murdering baby seals. It invariably makes it through to the printers.

I know it's not much, but every little helps. So in the coming party season, I urge each of you to arm yourselves with a stupid name, deranged expression and get involved. In the meantime, will someone pass the cheese straws?