After a trip changed the way he saw animals, photographer Wesam Saka decided to take up photography and use his time behind the lens for a greater cause across the UAE. Staff writer Camille Hogg sits down with him to talk conservation, using images to tell a story and the desert wildlife hiding in plain sight
How did you get into wildlife photography?
A friend of mine a few years back suggested we take a trip to South Africa – I didn’t even have a camera then so I bought one of those point and shoots. A lot of people go there, they take lots of pictures and they move on. When I got back, I felt different, like I was connected.
I like it because it’s difficult, and the rewards are amazing. When you take these shots, you have to make decisions in the fraction of a second; [animals] walk out, they see me and freeze, and then they’re gone again. That’s all the time I have.
You’re on a quest to show that there’s life in lifeless places, such as the desert in the UAE. What makes these landscapes so special?
I want people to know that this is here in our country; it may not be as diverse as others, but wildlife does exist here.
It’s amazing when you see an animal in the desert, a place that we don’t typically associate with life. The contrast of the landscape and wildlife is amazing in that respect.
Photography really has the power to change people. Some people might not have any interest in wildlife, but when they see these images and they realise it’s here, they are so taken aback.
As more buildings take over the desert, your photos also show another side to the story too…
That’s what’s very important for me, because when people see photos like these, they care and they take action. These animals, particularly the Arabian foxes [pictured], have experienced habitat loss. That’s the reason they live near us, and so many people don’t realise. The more urbanisation takes place, the more habitat they lose.
Those foxes were one of my favourite sights; I don’t think I’ve seen images of them in this way before. Those photos took me eight months, visiting three to four times a week to gain their trust. I recorded them in both their rocky habitat and their city settings. They’ve moved from wild to urban wild; they live on the fringes of our society.
Sooner or later, they will have nowhere to go; they will vanish. So by taking these photos I’m trying to record history – and maybe someone will see that and take care.
What do you think the next steps are to protect our native species here from further harm?
We need awareness, and we need to see more active action. The message needs to be stronger. There is not a lot of wildlife here, and the fact that it is surviving at all needs to be celebrated.
People need to be more engaged. I could tell you something about conservation here, but showing you the images is much more effective; that’s the power of photography, it tells a story. If an image doesn’t tell a story, it’s a waste of time.
To see more of Wesam’s work, visit: wesamsaka.com