Marco Barbieri investigates the two worlds of Doha, Qatar

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Marco Barbieri documents the stark class divides of a city going through constant reinvention and construction

Italian-born, London-based photographer Marco Barbieri’s project Land of Plenty explores the ongoing constructions of Doha, the Qatari capital deeply divided by class, labour, and luxury. With its natural gas and oil reserves, Qatar is currently one of the richest countries in the world, preparing to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Since the World Cup announcement, The city has gone under large scale changes through the labour of African, Indian, and Fillipino immigrants. Class division, reshaped skylines and empty streets characterise the city and Barbieiri’s images, displaying the almost surreal urban landscapes. Travelling to Doha on four separate occasions, Barberi displays the differing worlds sharing one city.

British Journal of Photography: Can you tell me about your series Land of Plenty? What were its aims?

Marco Barbieri: Land of Plenty is my attempt to document a city with a recent history, a place that, in its current shape, should probably not exist and a society deeply rooted in class division.

What interested me in Doha is that this is a city built by the many for the few. It’s a place that most of the time feels empty but whose skyline and new public infrastructure seems constantly growing from the desert. It’s a city of opulence rapidly being transformed on the road to the 2022 World Cup even if the boom of its oil and gas economy has slowed down due to the blockade imposed by other Gulf States.

With my pictures I hoped to describe a surreal place run by a traditionalist monarchy and cared for by a service “class” composed mainly of migrants from Africa, the Indian Subcontinent or the Philippines. Building sites leave way to luxury developments and strange gated communities (a life size replica of the Venice Canals) while the Emir face appears everywhere, from skyscrapers facades to fridge magnets.

It’s a land of stark class division where migrants work around the clock for the small elite of Qatari nationals and for a much bigger population of Westerners employed in the Gulf.

BJP: You have photographed Doha several times. What draws you to the city?

MB: In the Middle-East and specifically in the Emirates, Saudi and Qatar a lot of money are being invested in the creation of museums whose purposes are either nationalistic (celebration of their own culture/history) or promotional (put a city on the map or increase its global appeal).

I had the opportunity to work on one of these projects so from the beginning my intention was to describe what is around that makes it possible.

From the series Land of Plenty, 2019 © Marco Barbieri.
From the series Land of Plenty, 2019 © Marco Barbieri.

BJP: There is an emptiness, or stillness, to the photographs – was that your intention? 

MB: My approach to photography is quite compositional to start and I have a general fascination with architectural spaces. However, I am also interested in the ways we inhabit urban and non urban spaces which results in an effort to represent scale and relationship between men and built environment.

Doha is a city that could easily contain twice its current inhabitants and most of times feels empty, especially in public spaces. Finally, shooting in medium format using a film camera is a calculated choice that forces me towards a certain type of slower visual contemplation.

From the series Land of Plenty, 2019 © Marco Barbieri.
From the series Land of Plenty, 2019 © Marco Barbieri.

BJP: What was it about rapid urban growth that you were interested in exploring?

MB: In this case, the relationship between resources, availability, and the possibility of igniting growth in a place otherwise likely to be a desert.

BJP: Why do you think photography is such a powerful weapon in the fight against climate change? How can we utilize it?

MB: Photography can be graphic, strong, poetic, delicate etc. It can communicate to people in a fast and incisive manner that brings attention to specific themes and touches on people from different backgrounds and ideas. It may not be the only weapon, but it can help put news in front of people, and in certain cases, drive policies.

From the series Land of Plenty, 2019 © Marco Barbieri.

BJP: What do you hope viewers will take away from the photographs?

MB: I hope people can experience that sense of surreal that I tried to communicate. This is really the starting point as my project touches lightly on a number of different things. Hopefully the viewer will ask themselves questions and get an interest in the bigger socio-political aspects of these urban realities.

BJP: What’s next for you?

MB: I will soon embark on a 4 week trip to Nepal followed by a week in Bangkok. I haven’t got a clear plan yet but my intention is to look at how mass-tourism may have changed Nepal.

I am also looking at specific ideas for Bangkok but I am just starting my research on delivering a different view of the Thai capital.

From the series Land of Plenty, 2019 © Marco Barbieri.