This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia.
Before the 60s, the area now known as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was a collection of independent states, each headed up by a different family. Far from the international business hub it’s known as today, the Emirates’s economy depended largely on fishing and the pearl trade.
In 1962, oil was discovered in the region – albeit in much smaller reserves than its neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It marked a turning point in its history, as the seven independent emirates united as one country, with Abu Dhabi as its capital in 1971.
That same year also saw the creation of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), a state-owned enterprise born to hold on to the profits of oil extraction and refinery in the country, rather than letting Western companies take over. The founding of the ADNOC attracted foreign workers from all over the world – and among them was photographer Saleh al-Tamimi, 66, who came to the UAE from Yemen in the 70s and worked for ADNOC for 45 years.
Al-Tamimi has been photographing Abu Dhabi since he was young and now owns a large collection of archival images documenting the city’s staggering transformation against the backdrop of the oil boom.
"I was one of the few people who owned a film camera at the time,” al-Tamimi says. “I discovered Abu Dhabi through photography.”
Four decades later, while cleaning out a storage room in his home, al-Tamimi came across a few old albums containing pictures of the city. “I couldn't believe the pace at which Abu Dhabi has grown,” he tells VICE. “Yes, I witnessed these changes because I grew old in this city, but it’s different when you look at them in retrospect.”
One of the parts of the capital that saw the biggest transformation is the Abu Dhabi Corniche, the road along the city’s coastline. Utterly transformed by land reclamation projects, the Corniche is now punctuated by public beaches, glitzy hotels and restaurants.
Al-Tamimi’s images show Abu Dhabi in the 70s and 80s as the city bubbled over with change. They also feature a number of buildings that are still famous today, including the former Hilton Abu Dhabi hotel, currently Radisson Blu, which was opened in 1973 by al-Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, the country’s first president and founding father.
The photos are part of the series "The Story of Time", which Al-Tamimi worked on for three years until 2015. Currently, the photographer is working on expanding the project by continuing to document the same sites as they keep evolving in the coming years.
Scroll down to see more of al-Tamimi’s pictures:
Correction: This story originally stated Saleh al-Tamimi came from Yemen to Saudi Arabia in the 70s. He came from Yemen to the UAE. We regret the error.