x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jumeirah beach before the daily rush hour

In 1975, René Bussi, one of the most celebrated photographers with the Magnum agency, visited a number of countries in the Middle East, including the UAE.

Rene Burri / Magnum Photos
Rene Burri / Magnum Photos

In 1975, René Bussi, one of the most celebrated photographers with the Magnum agency, visited a number of countries in the Middle East, including the UAE. Bussi, best known for his portraits of Che Guevara and Pablo Picasso, spent time with Sheikh Zayed in his majlis, but also took this photograph, which is captioned: "Road from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, 10 miles from Dubai." If correct, this would place it close to where Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Wild Wadi now stand. In the mid-1970s this stretch of beach was also home to the Chicago Beach Hotel, a resort popular with expatriates escaping the city, although it cannot be seen here.

Instead there is a row of what appear to be newer villas and a compound with a palm frond fence. The length of the shadows means this was taken in the late afternoon. The road itself appears to have been partially blocked by a sandstorm, with work already under way to clear it. Given the closeness of the sea, this cannot be Sheikh Zayed Road, construction of which began in 1971. More likely this is Beach Road passing through what is now Umm Suqeim. Three decades later, the Mall of the Emirates would be built just a little farther inland.

Despite the late hour and the remoteness of the view, the scene is not entirely without life. Near the centre of the photograph, by the shoreline and almost invisible without a magnifying glass, is a group of figures on the beach, possibly by a fishing boat. More easily seen is the row of animals making its way in the direction of Dubai along the side of the road. These seem to be camels, an echo of the time when four legs rather than four wheels was the only way to travel between the two cities.