Spiritual sanctuary: the tranquility of Qasr Al Muwaiji

EDGAR visits the birthplace of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE.

Jamie Baker July 26, 2016

Stillness and calm are the words that spring to mind when visiting Qasr Al Muwaiji in Al Ain. His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan was born in 1948 at the fort that is more than 100 years old.

When his father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, the family moved to the capital and the fort fell to ruin. Now, after a lengthy restoration project that began in the late 1970s, the fort is open to visitors and features an exhibition of the building’s history in an impressive modern glass hall, which opened in 2015.

The exhibition also charts the life and achievements of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Photographer Jamie Baker visited the World Heritage Site at dawn and dusk to compile a photo essay. His work is about to be published in a a book, but he gave EDGAR a sneak preview and explained why the place made such an impression on him.

“Being close to the mountains in Al Ain means the weather can be very unsettled so I waited a couple of weeks for the perfect weather conditions before taking these photographs of Qasr Al Muwaiji. I wanted to take advantage of the incredible, ever-changing light conditions that bathes this impressive monument throughout the day.

“The idea behind the photo was to take advantage of the changing sunlight from dusk to dawn. I wanted to chase the shadows and unique angles of the structure as the light moved around it.

“Arriving at 4am you feel a wonderful calm and stillness here. It’s so peaceful. It is truly one of the most satisfying ways to take photographs, knowing you are the only one awake and having the luxury of time on your side.

“Watching the sunrise has been witnessed by the human race and different cultures all over the world for thousands of years. However, when the sun becomes your collaborator and an essential tool for your photographs your eye treats it with more respect as every new angle changes the shadows and contrasts of Qasr Al Muwaiji. This makes every image as individual as the last.

“With the time that was available to me on this shoot I almost became obsessed with trying to capture the perfect image, patiently waiting, slowly adjusting the camera and calmly reacting to each new shade of light that enveloped this very modest but ever so proud structure.

“Part of Qasr Al Muwaiji’s recent restoration which is now complete, was to install some very creative lighting around its inner and outer walls, which in my opinion adds to the drama of an early morning shoot at this location.

The more I walked around this building the more I realised the incredible number of view points and angles from which it could be photographed. It’s only when you think you may have exhausted one particular scene that another unveils itself to you.

Working in an environment like this, you become aware that this is a very special place steeped in history, which is filled with tales of older times. I found that it can be quite intoxicating if you allow yourself to just be in the moment.