Photos of Artificial Tourist Paradises in Australia and Dubai

In his series Gold, photographer Sean Fennessy examines the similarities between the two surreal cities.

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Jun 10 2015, 3:00pm

Photos by Sean Fennessy.

After holidaying in Australia's Gold Coast as a child, Sean Fennessy found himself drawn back as an adult. The copious amounts of skin and a grimy glamor have provided photographers with a steady stream of subjects for decades, but it wasn't until he was 7,000 miles away that his project around the GC began to take form. While traveling in Dubai for work he realized he was shooting the same symbols of breezy, disjointed excess: bloated tourists, towering high-rises, and a city cut off from its surroundings.

The comparison was the starting point for his series Gold. But rather than criticize the cities for their excess, Sean took an observational approach and applied the clean, graphic aesthetic he is known for. The resulting series allows viewers to assess these artificial oases for themselves.

VICE: How did Gold begin?
Sean Fennessy: It began with the series on the Gold Coast. I was always interested in the idea of this manmade place. I grew up in Tassie, and as a kid the idea of going to Surfers Paradise and the Gold Coast was pretty magical.

I wanted to revisit it as an adult just to see if any of that atmosphere was still there. I did have this strange sense of déjà vu. But the excitement I had as a kid had well and truly disappeared and it was replaced by this sense of, What is this place, and, Why are people still coming here?

When did Dubai become part of the series?
I was traveling for a separate magazine story and I had the opportunity to stop in Dubai. It's not somewhere I necessarily wanted to visit for pleasure—I don't think many people would. But in the same way I find the Gold Coast fascinating, Dubai has a strange fascination. Like the Gold Coast, it does have an imposing skyline. The Burj Khalifa is quite spectacular purely because of its size.

They're both intense cities, why present them with this sense of quietness?
I didn't want to ram my impressions down people's throats, or influence what they see. I wanted to document it straight up and just say, well you might find this interesting or you might not.

Is there a danger of culture being wiped away in these new developments?
I guess, especially in a place like Dubai. That part of the world has such a strong cultural history, but here they are trying to build this completely homogenous international city with no real kind of reference to their past or history, which is sad I suppose.

How is it being homogenized?
The expats have no interest in participating in local culture, even though it is difficult. You're not supposed to drink alcohol and you're not supposed to wear a bikini, but they're all more than happy to do that where they can. There's a shot I took in Dubai of the beach—it's actually a beautiful beach and it makes sense to hang out when the weather is that hot—but here there are all these overweight expats parading around. It's the exact opposite of what the locals would do.

You mentioned your childhood vision of the Gold Coast, did this project make you re-look at the GC identity?
With the Gold Coast you know they're trying to present this idea of "typical Australian lifestyle." But I think that's disappearing more and more and it's just becoming basically like a theme park, like an Australian theme park.

Scroll down for more of Sean's images.

Interview by Hannah Scholte. Follow her on Twitter.