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‘In Dubai, we’re collectively joining forces to shed as much light as we can on the things that we’re doing here.’
Gems in this
Cyprus-born, Dubai-raised photographer and creative powerhouse Prod Antzoulis is proud of his roots. Since returning to Dubai in 2016, he has consistently made efforts to promote and draw attention to the city’s immense local talent, and it’s starting to pay off.
From shooting the first-ever Louis Vuitton Ramadan campaign in 2022 to covers for GQ Middle East and ELLE Arabia, Prod’s work is deeply tied to ideas of community and representation. Long known as a transit or business destination, he’s keen to show us a different side to the city in his Dubai Travel Playbook: one that is full of art, beaches, and the secrets of Old Dubai.
On beginnings in photography
I was gifted my first camera by my parents when I was 12. It was a Polaroid i-Zone that would spit out these tiny film images. Growing up, I had to create my own creative space in Dubai because the city wasn’t offering much culturally, other than MTV broadcasts from the US — that was all we had for inspiration.
On taking your creativity from Dubai to London, and back again
Growing up in Dubai was a special experience. I wasn’t able to study photography in school and I was hungry to explore, so I moved to London at the age of 16. That's when I really learnt the technical side of photography. I started with photojournalism: spending hours going around London, shooting different communities. Once I graduated, I was commissioned by a designer from Oman who was doing her final project at Central Saint Martins. The connection we had while we were collaborating was so strong. I realized that it was because we came from the same background: we had the same values, similar upbringings. This was a significant moment for me as I realized that I wanted to go back to Dubai and start working there, because I wanted to be connected with people in the same sphere as me.
On the memorable stories you’ve shot so far
In terms of personal work, it has to be my Lebanon story, which I've been documenting for the past seven or eight years. Lebanon holds a very special place in my heart. It's literally a hybrid reflection of my upbringing between Dubai and Cyprus. It's an Arab country, but it’s still in the Mediterranean, so you have the ocean and the warmth. In terms of commissioned work, the Gucci story I shot on Hollywood Boulevard in LA was amazing. I was flown to attend the Gucci show and got the chance to shoot a few editorials, including a GQ Men of the Year cover. It was a really special moment, especially as it was my first time in LA. I even had a few exchanges with the Creative Director at the time, Alessandro Michele. It was an unbelievable experience.
On the creative community in Dubai, and how it’s evolving
Creativity has always existed but the city hasn't always given people the platform to express that. In the past few years, that’s starting to change — we've had a lot of different foundations, galleries and independent cinemas open up. The government has started to pick up on people’s hunger for creativity, which is why they have started to push for it more. But I also think it’s a result of the community-driven energy here. It’s not like London or New York where it’s been there for generations and there’s a lot of competitive energy. In Dubai, we’re collectively joining forces to shed as much light as we can on the things that we’re doing here.
‘Brands are finally coming here and handing over the creative responsibility… I feel like we are finally getting the chance to control the narrative.’
On highlighting the local community and showcasing Dubai’s creativity
One of the main things that pushed me to move back to Dubai in 2016 was the lack of representation in fashion and media. There was almost no focus on the Arab community and the beautiful things they were working on. We had all these big brands start to come here, but there was still a separation as the actual community couldn’t relate to the talents that were being featured. So I made it a goal to focus on representing the Arab community in the best way possible. Whether it’s a model for a shoot or an interviewee for a story, it's crucial for me to use local talent. I got to shoot the first-ever Louis Vuitton Ramadan campaign exclusive to our region, where they created a lookbook purely for us that was sold globally. Brands are finally coming here and handing over the creative responsibility. In the past five or six years, we've had so many international publications come here: GQ, Esquire, Vogue Arabia, WIRED. I feel like we are finally getting the chance to control the narrative.
On adapting to new environments through travel
Travel has taught me that I love to explore and that I'm hungry for activities, like running around and meeting new people.The most challenging travel I've done to date was a 10-day retreat for myself in India, in the Himalayas. I was really worried, but I went on my own, put my phone on airplane mode for 10 days, and was in pure solitude. It reminded me that it's okay to sometimes be out of your comfort zone, because as long as you have your values, you can always find a way to adapt to different environments.
On a window or aisle seat
If it’s a long flight, an aisle seat because I need access to the bathroom. If it's a short flight I'll do window, because I love to look outside and just take in the energy the world is giving me.
On where Dubai’s creatives hang out
We have two districts. Alserkal is in the industrial area of Dubai. It's a bunch of warehouses that have been converted into coffee shops, art residency spaces, yoga studios, creative incubators, and office spaces you can rent. Then there's Dubai Design District, which is where all the brands have their offices. D3 is more of a man-made space, whereas Alserkal is more community-driven and grew on its own. It’s a very small city. We’re all quite interconnected.
‘Just outside of Dubai there's the Sharjah Art Foundation, which has beautiful work from some of the best artists in the world. They recently had one of Yayoi Kusama’s exhibitions with no queue, which is crazy.’
On your ideal day around Dubai
I would start with breakfast at HAPI, which is a homegrown brand. They focus on organic food. It's in a really beautiful park in the middle of the city called Al Khazzan Park, which has one of the only water towers still standing in Dubai. Then I would go to Al Bastakiya to see all the wind towers, as well as more of the street culture. For sunset I would take them to Al Qudra Lakes, towards the desert, and then go to Cinema Akil, an independent cinema, to finish off the night.
On the city’s best cultural spots
The Jameel Arts Centre is on the canal. There’s a lot of beautiful art there and they have a really nice lunch spot called Teible, where they grow their own produce and ferment their own vegetables. Everything is locally sourced and their menu is seasonal. After Jameel Arts, I would go to Les Spot, which is the first vintage store here. You can find some nice items for really reasonable prices. Just outside of Dubai there's the Sharjah Art Foundation, which has beautiful work from some of the best artists in the world. A few years ago they had one of Yayoi Kusama’s exhibitions with no queue, which is crazy. Amongst few is really nice. It's a store that has streetwear clothing, as well as a coffee shop and a vegan restaurant. Analog The Room is our first-ever vintage camera store that develops film, does courses on film photography, and sells really nice, well-maintained vintage cameras.
On a hidden secret people should visit
I would have to say Old Dubai, because it’s super inspiring to understand the growth that’s come to the city now. There’s also the XVA Art Hotel. It functions as an art space as well as a bed-and-breakfast. It’s been built with the idea of the wind towers, so it's a huge open space with a lot of air coming in and a beautiful courtyard in the middle.
On a song that best represents Dubai
‘La femme d’argent’ by Air. It's a super rhythmic, moody song that suits the background of Dubai any day.
On Dubai in one word
Transformative. It's an ever-changing city; you see new things being built almost every single day.