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This photographer returns to the Emirates in the 70s

Oil has clearly been the spearhead of development in the United Arab Emirates. Saleh al-Tamimi, a photographer and former employee of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, reveals an important collection of archival images documenting the state’s economic rise.

Prior to the 1960s, the United Arab Emirates as we know it today consisted of a collection of independent states each ruled by a royal family. Far removed from oil revenue, the Emirates’ economy relied heavily on fishing and the pearl trade.


In the 80’s, the fish market was held every morning at 7 am. The fruit of the catch was sold by auction.

An oil-driven economic boom

The oil windfall, discovered in 1962, was the point of union of the seven Emirates, which became a single country in 1971. The creation of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has also impacted the spectacular development of the United Arab Emirates by guaranteeing them the benefits of oil extraction and refining. In its quest for black gold, ADNOC attracted many foreign workers, including the photographer Saleh al-Tamimi, who came from Yemen in the 1970s.


The Chamber of Commerce and the famous Clock Tower, demolished in 2004 for a modernization project of the Corniche.

The unbridled development of Abu Dhabi

“Abu Dhabi has developed at a rapid pace,” Saleh al-Tamimi said after looking back at his memories. The capital’s Corniche has been radically transformed, disfigured by land reclamation and modernization projects. It is now littered with beaches, hotels and restaurants. As for the city’s buildings, which used to be no more than five stories high, they now climb to the sky.


The Abu Dhabi Corniche, in 1978.

“The Story of Time”, a never-ending evolution

Saleh Al-Tamimi’s collection of photographs called “The Story of Time” helps to trace the history of the Emirates and its sites through indelible snapshots. The photographer plans to expand his series by following the endless evolution of Abu Dhabi.


In 1978, most buildings were up to 5 stories, with the exception of those on Airport Road, which were up to 10 to 11 stories.

Published on 23 March 2022

#United Arab Emirates