• 06.17.13

Eerie Photos Show The Strange Emptiness Of Dubai

You can build a shiny modern metropolis out of nothing, but how do you create the bustle of a city?

Recently released timelapses of images from NASA’s Landsat satellite highlight the dramatically rapid urbanization of the desert in places like Dubai over the past couple decades. Cities sprout so quickly from nowhere, you can see the landscape morphing from space.


But another photography project is a reminder that these cities are just as shocking to behold up close. Photographer Matthias Heiderich’s series “UAE” reveals a post-modern kingdom in the desert, hauntingly empty and utterly lifeless. Glistening buildings appear unused. Construction projects seem endless. Parking lots are barren.

Of course, the shots are just one way of looking at Dubai and Abu Dhabi, home to 2 million and 600,000 people, respectively (so someone’s living there!). But the emptiness, the lack of pedestrians, and the constant construction that seems almost in vain are shown to question the modern obsession with progress and development, and the power of oil money to transform landscapes wholesale, to put people somewhere where maybe they don’t belong. These images seem to ask the question: What’s the point of all of this?

About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in,, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere.