Photography of a Temporary Architectural Installation

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“Architectural photography of “Earth to Earth” by Sumaya Dabbagh, photo by Gerry O’Leary”

Though designed to be thought-provoking yet short-lived, temporary architectural installations require no less care than iconic buildings when photographing them. In fact, as the photograph will remain the only record of a work of art, it takes on extra emphasis.

I was delighted to get the call to work with Sumaya Dabbagh of Dabbagh Architects again. I’m a great admirer of her design and we have previously worked on some impressive projects. In fact, the first time I won “Photo of the Year 2021” from ALPALMANAC, it was with an image of the Mosque of Light, Sumaya’s architectural masterpiece. You can read more about it in my case study here.

Award-winning Architect Sumaya Dabbagh

A native of Saudi Arabia, Sumaya studied at Bath University under the renowned Peter Smithson (known for the architectural style New Brutalism) and structural engineer, Sir Ted Happold, before moving to London and then Paris to continue her architectural career. In 1993, she returned to the Gulf to explore her identity and the unique mix of cultural influences she had experienced through her work.

Before she started her own practice, she led the award-winning Childrens’ City Project at Schuster Pechtold and Partners in 2002. While Dabbagh’s portfolio spans all variety of projects from commercial to educational, she recently won an award for the Mosque of the Late Mohamed Abdulkhaliq Gargash (also known as the Mosque of Light), which was notably the first mosque in the United Arab Emirates to be designed by a woman.

Sharjah Architecture Triennial

Sharjah Architecture Triennial is a platform that engages in global architectural discussions while also focusing on local and regional contexts. It explores the Gulf region’s connections with neighbouring areas in West and South Asia, as well as Africa, considering cultural, economic, and social aspects.

From 11 November 2023 – 10 March 2024, it is running an exhibition entitled “The Beauty of Impermanence”. For this, Sumaya created a temporary installation piece, which she invited me to photograph earlier this month.

Building photography of “Earth to Earth” by Sumaya Dabbagh, photo by Gerry O’Leary

“Earth to Earth” – View Until 10 March 2024

This structure, created by Sumaya Dabbagh, taps into the essence of materials, particularly mud, reflecting on its dual nature of solidity and fluidity. The installation comprises two curved mudbrick walls, symbolising contrasts like earth and water, permanence and impermanence. Visitors can circle the walls or enter the semi-enclosed space to reflect on the shared memories embedded in the material and contemplate the space between memory and imagination, aided by recited poetry and seating arrangements.

When I arrived to photograph it in Sharjah, just before our huge February rainstorm, Sumaya explained her thoughts when creating the installation:

“The region is quite young, but in recent memory there was connection with the land and in a short time this was lost,” she explained, “The pavilion emphasises the relationship we have with the land – and we need to reconnect to that.”

Architectural Photography Captures a Moment

Because this installation is only available until 10 March 2024 (catch it if you can), photographing it feels urgent. However, though other buildings may stand for longer, when I capture them, I am snapping a moment in time, allowing the viewer to connect with the structure through my lens.

It’s both an honour and a pleasure to work with Sumaya and these images will serve as a reminder of the beauty of the work she has created for Sharjah Architecture Triennial.

I offer architectural photography in the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East.  If you’d like to learn more about my professional photography or book an architecture photography shoot, please get in touch.