x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Royal photographer and witness to history passes away

His family wanted him to be a vegetable trader but he lacked a head for business; he did, however, have an eye for a good picture.

Noor Ali Rashid at his home in Sharjah last November. He documented the emirates for more than 50 years, starting even before the UAE became a country.
Noor Ali Rashid at his home in Sharjah last November. He documented the emirates for more than 50 years, starting even before the UAE became a country.

Noor Ali Rashid, appointed royal photographer by the late Sheikh Zayed, has died at his house in Sharjah. He was 80. Mr Rashid, who died on Wednesday, met international dignitaries and celebrities as he travelled the world with the royal entourage during his 50 years as the royal photographer. He met Queen Elizabeth II during a trip to Buckingham Palace, had tea with Margaret Thatcher, sat in on talks with Yasser Arafat and shared a joke with Bill Clinton.

He was named UAE Photographer of the Millennium in 2001, and in 2006 Zayed University launched an annual photojournalism prize in his honour. Recently he wrote a series of books for Sheikh Sultan al Qassimi, Ruler of Sharjah, featuring the UAE and its rulers. Included in the series were pictures of Sheikh Zayed, the late founder of the UAE, his son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The books were published and are available in stores.

Mr Rashid's youngest son, Naushad, said: "He woke up before iftar, got out of bed, and suddenly passed away. Maybe it was a heart problem."  Mr Rashid had heart surgery two years ago but, according to his son, he had fully recovered.  "Two days ago, we went to [the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research] Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak's palace to greet him for Ramadan, and my father got up and started taking pictures," Naushad said. "He kept taking pictures until the last day of his life.

"My father had a special talent for photography," Naushad said. "None of his children or grandchildren reached his standards." Mr Rashid started practising photography at the age of 15, and it became his lifelong passion. He was born in December 1929 in the Gwadar province of what was then India, now Pakistan. His family had wealth from the import-export trade and his father wanted him to carry forward the family legacy, but he had different plans.

"It was a family business," Mr Rashid told The National last year. "My father did not want me to be a photographer. He did not think it was respectable, but I could not help it. It was my passion." He moved to Dubai in 1958, his father having dispatched him to open a branch of the family business.  "I was supposed to trade in fruit and vegetables, so I used some of the money to buy that, but then a lot of the fruit went bad so I just gave it away. I suppose I did not have much of a head for business. It just did not interest me. My father was not happy."

He used his money to mingle with the elite and started offering to take free photographs at events. One day, he was invited to attend a function to mark Queen Elizabeth II's official recognition of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed as the then-ruler of Dubai. The ruler was impressed by the photographs Mr Rashid took and appointed him as his personal and family photographer. Mr Rashid began a meteoric rise, snapping the UAE's most important figures, including Sheikh Zayed. It was through this connection with the "Father of the Nation" that Mr Rashid went on to produce his most memorable images.

He forged a close relationship with Sheikh Zayed, and became the official photographer for the Al Nahyan family and the ruling families of the seven emirates. That connection gave him unparalleled access to the highest echelons of Emirati society, and the intimacy of his portraits provide a fascinating insight into the daily lives and humanity of his royal subjects, not only during their working hours but also as they relax,

In his interview with The National, Mr Rashid said: "Sheikh Zayed was a human being. He believed in humility. He was kind and generous and always believed in peace and tolerance. The people who were close to him knew this. He wanted to teach these values to his people." In recent years Mr Rashid devoted more time to archiving his collection and working on his books. He is survived by his wife Zahra Ghuloum, 75, six children and 11 grandchildren.  

"He was generous, had a nice personality and was loved by many people," Naushad said. "He was highly appreciated by the royal family and the UAE." Mr Rashid's family have yet to decide what they will do with his collection of photographs. He will be buried today after prayers.  @Email:hdajani@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Charlie Hamilton