AUTHOR: LAURA MALLONEE Wired.com
The wealthy never run out of ways to amuse themselves in Dubai, where you can party aboard a house floating in a man-made sea, stroll through an indoor rainforest, or kick back in an ice lounge where the temperature never climbs above freezing. In a city where everyone is rich, shopping malls resemble the Silk Road and the theme parks make Disneyland look small.
Nick Hannes takes you on a whirlwind tour of the emirate's carefully engineered attractions in his ongoing series Dubai: Bread and Circuses. “Dubai positions itself as a leading tourist and luxury lifestyle destination,” he says. “By this enormous supply of leisure activities, the emirate expresses the idea that everything is possible in Dubai, that the sky is the limit.”
Despite occasionally blinding sandstorms and triple-digit temperatures, Dubai is bent on becoming the Orlando of the Middle East. Some 15 million people visited the emirate last year, a number expected to reach 20 million by 2020. Developers are building attractions at breakneck speed to lure ever more people. "The hunger for new projects is unstoppable in Dubai,” Hannes says. “If they have 20 theme parks it doesn’t mean they will stop building theme parks. As long as they have space they will keep on constructing.”
Hannes enjoys photographing tourism in places like Turkey and Spain, and always found Dubai fascinating. He made his first visit in 2015 and has returned three times since then to wander the emirate's theme parks and malls (where visitors can shoot zombies, ski indoors, and dive with sharks) and visit its most opulent nightclubs. "It’s a conservative Islamic society on one hand, but 90 percent of the people are expats, a lot of westerners, and of course they have a more liberal lifestyle that is often completely the opposite of the locals," Hannes says.
Everything looks like it came from somewhere else. Ibn Battuta Mall, designed to resemble a trek along the Silk Road during the middle ages, features ornate Tunisian, Persian and Chinese ‘courts.' The Green Planet brings an artificial rain forest to the desert. “They import a lot of foreign architectural styles, some from the ancient past, and make up new things with it,” Hannes says. “It’s copy-paste architecture—beautiful, but completely fake."
Hannes' images might depict gilded relaxation and luxury, but he never got the chance to relax. He was too busy working. Dubai isn't exactly his idea of a vacation anyway. “I go to cities to photograph and to learn about society, but these are not the places where I enjoy myself,” he says.