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Photographing Gulf futures in Doha

In October last year, photographer and regular AP contributor Tom Ross found himself taking shelter from Doha’s blistering 42-degree heat in an “overpriced ashtray” of a hotel. After adjusting to the new climate, Tom gathered himself and stepped out into the desert city, where he captured this portrait of Qatar’s ever-changing and rapidly growing capital.

I’ve been drawn to the Gulf area for a while now, but actually being there in person felt like bearing witness to the future. The effect of natural gas on the region’s economy cannot be overstated. For me, what’s happening in Dubai and Doha begs the question: if you were to build a new city and civilisation today, what would it look like?




It’s easy for Australians to fall victim to a twisted, media-driven view of the Middle East. Keen to challenge my own admittedly limited view of an often misrepresented area, it was exciting to have a firsthand experience there. I think I had preconceptions of what I would find, and I know truth and photography have a long and torrid relationship, but the tension between old values and the seductive new is undeniable.





Few people travel to Doha compared to other more fashionable tourist spots in the region. Many find themselves in Doha for work and a piece of the pie, but tourism in Doha has a long way to go. It will be interesting to see what happens when the whole planet is watching the FIFA World Cup set to be held there in 2022.




I always try to maintain an open, present mind: a critical but non-judgemental awareness of what’s happening around me. A large part of making these pictures is me grappling with my own values and assumptions about these ideas too.



There were a lot of symbols of wealth in Doha; it was like trying to understand a language of conspicuous consumption that, though fun, at times held a mirror up to some of our deeper values. Doha wears the pursuit of utopia on its sleeve more than most places I’ve visited, but as confusing as this can be, the city always maintains a certain nobility.




Ultimately, the pace at which the area is racing out of its relatively conservative past into the future is impossible to ignore. As is the case everywhere, but particularly in Doha, we move forward without knowing where we’re headed.

A huge thanks to Tom Ross for sharing with us his photographic portrait of Doha. Check out more of Tom’s work here: An exhibition of this photo series, entitled Idols, opens Thursday 14 April at Activity Club, 203 Johnston Street, Collingwood, from 6–9pm. The exhibition will also be open on Friday 15 April (11am–4pm), Saturday 16 April (11am–4pm) and Sunday 17 April (11am–2pm).