Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur is our judge for the theme ‘An Instant’. You can interpret those two words in many ways, and in Arthur’s stunning work ‘Stranger’ that instant was the 8th April 1961 when the MV Dara, a ship carrying passengers between India, Pakistan and the Gulf sank off the port of Dubai.
An estimated 38 people lost their lives, but some bodies were never found. One family refuse to believe that their son died and fifty years on, continue their search for him.
This is the starting point for Arthur’s story and she presents a simple, intriguing supposition – What if that man did survive? What would life be like through his eyes? And what would he make of the Dubai of today? It’s a fascinating premise both because it allowed her to peer into the past of the city, along with the flashy modern metropolis we so often see today, and because it encouraged her to see the city not as a British expat, but as a drifting stranger, with a unique perspective.
The images flit between new and old, the shipwreck acting as a fulcrum, and a metaphor for the fragility and skin-deep nature of Dubai. The photobook, if you’re lucky enough to see a copy in the flesh, is printed on transparent paper, layering images, quotes and artefacts. It’s a wonderful trick, reflecting the disorientation and loneliness, our solitary, lost hero might feel.
“This character gave me a way to link the present city to the time in its past when it was just a tiny place, hardly more than a village. To take his journey through the city I was looking for answers not just about what is there now, but how it grew”.