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Dubai: The city of the future exposed at UC Riverside Museum

February 12, 2011 | 11:00 am

Lake Photographer Connie Samaras refuses to accept filtered versions of information. She's had to employ similar tactics used by celebrity shutterbugs to get off-limits shots. Whether  posing as a housewife to snap the interior of a highly monitored Las Vegas casino or dressing as undercover security to finagle her way past barricades at the 2000 Democratic convention, her goal has been to capture the story behind the official photos.

For her latest set of photos of the United Arab Emirates' Dubai, Samaras relied on drivers to escort her into the construction sites and labor camps in the shadows of the 2,717-foot-high Burj Khalifa skyscraper. The resulting images and video are on display in "After the American Century," at UC Riverside's California Museum of Photography.

 "The title is referring to the end of America being the default country for future thinking," said Kristine Thompson, assistant curator of exhibitions at the museum. "Developers are looking elsewhere, in cities such as Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. She draws attention to the construction workers, working conditions and labor camps that are a largely underrepresented element of capitalism and growth."

ElectrictowersBased in Los Angeles, Samaras has spent the last  10 years working on projects that deal with architectural narratives, global futurism and  cities situated in geographically extreme environments including Las Vegas and the South Pole.

A grant allowed Samaras to travel to Dubai in late 2008 and early 2009 at the start of the worldwide economic downturn. "It was phenomenal how fast everything was being built," said Samaras, who is also professor of Studio Arts at the UC Irvine. "There was a constant clanging of construction."

 "Workers Checking Fountain Nozzles at Burj Dubai Lake," one of six photographs on view, shows workers on boats in a turquoise man-made lake surrounding the Art Deco Address Hotel in Dubai. The image displays the extremes of extravagance with the workers from Southeast Asia who are part of the transient population. "I was looking at the workers as they are rendered invisible, constructing a building that they can never enter themselves," said Samaras. "I was struck by the similarity of a metropolis seen in early silent films, the 1920s utopia of the future with the labor living underneath and the elite above."

 Laborcamp"Electric Towers, Dubai Skyline" reveals  skeletons of unfinished skyscrapers with the Oz-like Burj Khalifa cloaked in a shroud of dust in the distance resembling a corporate-looking ghost town.

 "I wanted the images to show that you don't know whether the city is in a state of becoming or unraveling," added Samaras. She is currently working on a show dealing with the New Mexico landscape including photographs of Spaceport America, the commercial outer space port being built in Las Cruces, N.M.

"After the American Century" runs through April 2 at UC Riverside's California Museum of Photography.

 -- Liesl Bradner

Images: Top "Workers Checking Fountain Nozzles at Burj Dubai Lake"; right: Electric Towers, Dubai Skyline; bottom left: Mosque at Worker's Labor Camp, Jebel Ali. Photos by Connie Samaras. Courtesy of the artist and De Soto Gallery.