Decoding AlUla with Robert Polidori

The historical sites in AlUla, one of Saudi Arabia’s most important archaeological destinations — think the whispering canyons of Jabal Ikmah and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Hegra, with its well-preserved sandstone tombs — are reopening on October 31 (after being closed to visitors for over two years). But since not all of us are making travel plans yet, a great alternative to visiting this desert region is picking up New York publishers Assouline’s new coffee table book.

With stunning images taken by acclaimed Canadian-American photographer Robert Polidori, and interpretive illustrations by multidisciplinary Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal, it gives you a peek into the city’s rich history and unique culture. We speak with Polidori on the pandemic, his experiences working in AlUla and future projects. Edited excerpts:

Decoding AlUla with Robert Polidori

As someone who’s recorded the restoration of Versailles, Chernobyl, and the aftermath of the flooding in New Orleans (after Hurricane Katrina), what has the pandemic meant to you as a photographer?

Like most other people I haven’t been able to travel. However, I’ve used this time to review my past by going over and putting some order in my archives. There have been times when I was close to depression. But I find that the most positive way to use the present period is to open one’s self to accept the conditions as they are while preparing for another day. The pandemic on the whole has not touched me as a photographer [except to prevent me from being one], but it has touched me deeply as a psychological human being.

What drew you to AlUla?

I was invited by Assouline. They had seen images I had taken of another Nabatean site, Petra Jordan, in 1998. At that time, I had heard of AlUla, and tried to gain access, but tourists were not allowed back then. When this request came, I felt it was a rare opportunity.

Decoding AlUla with Robert Polidori

I discovered fantastic erosion patterns in the limestone rock formations; the entire region seems to have been sculpted by one of nature’s master artists. I wanted to capture a certain truth about the nature of the place. AlUla is a combination of masterfully-sculpted facades and interior spaces, cut into colorful limestone rock formations. It is indeed rare to walk inside interiors that are actually sculpted and not built, as is the case in the rest of the world. Also, I must add, the local date palm cultivation adds a great deal of amazing color contrast and impressive beauty.

Could you share a few anecdotes of your time there?

At the time of my visit, the outside ambient temperature was so hot that it melted the rubber gaskets of my camera’s lens coupling hardware. It’s amazing to see how the human body can stand a higher operating temperature than some machines.

Beauty is, of course, a subjective perception. AlUla is one of the most visually-striking desert regions I have ever seen. When you visit, I would recommend you to be openhearted and open minded to experience something you haven’t ever experienced before.

In the book, your photographs share space with illustrations by Ignasi Monreal.

The contrast shows the differences in the natures of reality and fantasy, shown side by side.

Decoding AlUla with Robert Polidori

What projects are you planning to take up in the near future?

When normalcy returns, I would like to go back to Mumbai and continue photographing the evolving developments of the auto-constructed city areas such as Dharavi and Santa Cruz. I have been photographing there since 2007. The climate change phenomena, I guess, will put enormous stress on the collectivity of human habitat.

From approximately ₹66,000 onwards, AlUla is also available in the Ultimate — hand-bound, with colour plates hand-tipped on art-quality paper, and linen clamshell cases and XXL formats. Details:

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 4:05:44 AM |

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