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Symmetry and Memory, Hussain Al Moosawi

The UAE has famously undergone extraordinary shifts during the past few decades to exist at the forefront of modernity. In an attempt to preserve the ever-changing nature of this landscape, Emirati photographer and graphic designer Hussain Al-Moosawi has dedicated his future to capturing architecture – both appreciated and overlooked – by means of his iconic graphic style.

We talk to Hussain about his connection to photography, rediscovering the UAE’S urban landscapes and the power of storytelling and memory making through pictures.

When did you first own a camera and what is your earliest memory of photography?

My earliest memory was around the age of 14, during a school trip to Hatta in Dubai. I had a family camera which I used to take photos of the trip. When I received the photos back from being developed, they had not come out well. I remembered this always, as although the images didn’t look right, they had a unique beauty to them. Those memories of the trip and school at that time has stuck with me.

I was trained to use a Pentax film camera in college in 2001 and here I appreciated what photography was. My first recollection of a camera I bought with my own money was a digital camera in 2005. Going digital meant more control over what I photograph and I saved up for a digital SLR. At this moment I was able to experiment and document my social environment, until I was able to decide what to do with this medium.

With over 15 years of experience in the realms of design, photography, and visual journalism, what has been the most challenging moment of your journey as a creative?

The most challenging has definitely been limiting myself to a specific area of expertise. For example, as a graphic designer I was taught to become a master of branding and advertising. And that’s what initially I limited myself to and focused on.

After studying graphic design at college, I decided that branding wasn’t the career path for me. So, I moved onto a different journey as a hybrid - a content creator and designer. At the time, this was a really hard decision to make and was really challenging. I have come to peace with my creative practice now. It took some time to make this decision, but I feel I am in the right space. I am now much more flexible and open to ideas and possibilities as a consequence. My practice has grown, and I am able to work as a storyteller for brands, as opposed to focusing on branding in the traditional taught context.

You have been on a quest to rediscover the UAE’s urban landscapes, through systematically documenting its overlooked modern architecture. What inspired you to document building facades in the UAE?

I am a person who is usually not driven by inspiration, but rather issues. This is possibly the journalist in me, always looking for an issue to document and present to the world. The issue I was driven by to create this body of work was the fact I could not make sense of my surroundings anymore. In design school they teach you everything is designed, nothing is random. Decisions are made from street signings to the position of roads, and I consciously look at places and spaces and consider the design and why decisions were made.

In the mid to late 2000s the UAE experienced a real estate boom. I was living in Australia at the time, and when I would return home, I would encounter new clusters of buildings, which didn’t resonate or connect with me. When I moved back to the UAE in 2013, I was trying to make sense of a span of forty years in a nutshell. I was looking back at the basic structures that were built at the time when the nation was created, as I feel that was our heritage and identity until architecture was influenced by international elements. In 2017, whilst in Australia I realized symmetry could help me make sense of spaces and started looking at buildings through a symmetrical lens. Now I am very much interested in not just city planning but also country planning. I take pictures to makes sense of the place. I usually take huge volume of pictures. The number will depend on the specific subject of a space as I feel that gives me the ownership and knowledge to understand the place. This underlines my methodology from start to finish.

What interests you about the relationship between people, places and spaces?

Many of us are interested in how buildings look from the outside and that’s how we connect with them. I am always interested in the duality, buildings with a public perspective. If you live in a building, how do people and families experience it. I am interested in the exterior and interior; and how psychologically our feelings change when we enter and leave buildings. In the future, I might perhaps couple the picture with the people who once lived with them and capture the emotions of the humans who connected with the buildings.