"What's interesting in this picture is what's not in it." This was what Francis Matthew, Editor at Large of Gulf News, told an audience while viewing some of the earliest pictures of the UAE in a session at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Sunday night.
For one hour, festival goers travelled back nearly half a century through pictures depicting the UAE's transformation — from small villages to huge modern cities with skyscrapers and record-breaking achievements — in a session called "The Journey from the Trucial States to the Emirates".
These pictures, taken by Gulf News photographers and other institutions are published in the book Building a Nation: 40 Years of the UAE in Pictures.
"The story told in Building a Nation is one of very rapid development. It's about places we all know, buildings we see every day, which had been put up in living memory," Matthew said, adding that many of the pictures were being published for the first time.
"And so some of those pictures showed bits of sand which have now moved into being quite large centres. The pictures showing the sand behind the Metropolitan Hotel is now Business Bay," he said.
If there was one theme the pictures in the book showed, it was how fast that the country worked to achieve this development.
"The extraordinary speed [of development] is the biggest thing. The 40 years of peaceful development — how many other countries in this region have not had civil war, have not had a border war, have had no riots or civil disobedience? It's a story of peaceful, successful growth."
Building a Nation, edited by Matthew and Najla Al Rostamani, Gulf News Deputy Managing Editor, is the second book Al Nisr Publishing has published chronicling the nation's history; with the first one being Rise of a Nation: 30 Years in Pictures.
"In Gulf News, we've got an archive of 30 years. So we can do the last 30 years of the UAE. What we do not have is before we [Gulf News] existed. So we had to find archives and what was the most difficult thing was to find good pictures of the past with information," Matthew said.
This search for information behind historical pictures likewise played a major role in the research of Fatima Lootah from Dubai Culture and Arts Authority who recorded on video tales of the UAE from the years gone by.
"Elderly Emiratis took us to some locations in Dubai, for example the Shindagah [area], where people used to live 85 or 95 years ago. We looked at all these things plus the method of transportation, food they eat, and materials they used in building houses before," Lootah told the audience at the session.
Lootah also emphasised on the importance of retelling these stories, especially to the younger generation. "The risk is that the new generation know nothing about the old generation. They don't care about their culture; what they care about is technology."