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Modern Slaves of Dubai

Florian Buettner | United Arab Emirates

Higher, greater, more luxurious. If it was after Sheik Muhammad bin Rashid al Maktoum - and it is - Dubai will become the world metropolis of architectural wonders and records. This is only possible to achieve with the sweat of a gigantic labour army from abroad. Hundredthousands of these foreign workers labour on the constructionsites for very low vages, live pent-up in tiny barracks
and seperate from their families for many years.
This is a photographic documentary about the everyday-life of the men with the unity-coloured overalls. The men outside the lap of luxury, who exist in the shadows of the skyscrapers.

They have been the cheapest on the market and the ones most driven to abandon their rights to make a living. Circumstances made them to what they are in my eyes. Modern slaves. Not taken by force like in the old days, but forced by their lives in the arms of the highest bidder for human resources.

From roughly 1 million people living in Dubai, around 800.000 are or were foreign workers. This is a new dimension in the history of foreign labours and shows one aspect of globalisation.


This work was the main part of my photography diploma at the university of applied science in Bielefeld in 2007. I spent about 2 months in Dubai, walking the city and its construction sites and also spent some time in a labour camp. Most of it I shot on a 6 x 4,5 Mamyia and parts digitaly when I returned a year later for some days. For me, it was quite an intense time, seeing the suffering labours and their mind and bodynumbing days out on site and back in their camps. It is a dusty, hot and soulless city with the most glamorous right next to the poor that has built it and is no longer wished to be seen after completion. I have met a guy in one of my pictures ( the man, watering the imported palm trees) one year after I took the picture, still at the exact same place still watering the same palmtrees.

In Dubai you can find a "visual landscape" that formed the beginning of a new wave of exaturated architecture and ambition. Dubai is Part of the "rich" half of the arab world that turned closer towards the west after 9/11 and went a step closer to their new allies and investors. Other Cities and States followed this "self-fullfilling-prophecy" that for a long time seemed to work out and are also building new "Disney Worlds".


Now the financial crisis seems to have stopped most of the projects and most of the workers have probably been sent back to India or Pakistan or Bangladesh.Back home to their families, which they havent seen for years, but that they cant support no longer. They are probably waiting for their next Chance in Abu Dhabi or Kuwait or Bahrain.....


Florian Büttner


Ganghoferstr. 2

12042 Berlin




+49 (0)176 70098376

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