Fine Art


In Richard Allenby-Pratt’s post apocalyptic project, Dubai has been abandoned and left to the animals from the zoo.

‘In January 2027, the media reported that the CEO of General Electric in Fairfield, Connecticut had called a press conference to announce his companies’ energy research labs’ successful development of ground-breaking technology for the cheap and clean separation of Hydrogen from sea water. The prospect of a future with a totally clean, effectively-free, recyclable, and readily available energy source shook the world. The markets reacted immediately and the price of a barrel of oil plummeted.

In Saudi Arabia the market reaction sparked street demonstrations that grew into a revolutionary movement. The ruling regime used force to suppress the revolution and within months Iran had sent a military intervention force to attempt to depose the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia’s Sunni neighbours in Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE and Qatar were sucked into the regional war, which the international community felt unable to intervene in. Oil still flowed from major producers such as Russia, Venezuela and Nigeria, and it was generally felt in the West and far East that the supply of oil from non GCC sources was sufficient to bridge the transition period, until full implementation of Hydrogen technology for energy production.

By the end of 2027, Dubai was effectively deserted. Many of the wealthy locals left for their houses in the UK and elsewhere. The evacuation of expatriates started slowly but soon become a panicked scramble as the possibility of Iran’s intervention started to look like a certainty. Most western expatriates got out before the summer, but tens of thousands of Asians struggled to find transportation and many perished as the power stations and de-salination plants ground to a halt. Humanitarian ships attempting to ferry refugees back to India and Pakistan slowly cleared the backlog of desperate people all along the Gulf coast; a job that was eventually completed by the end of the year.

Before leaving, the caretakers of the UAE’s zoos, wildlife parks and private animal collections opened the gates and cages of their facilities. Some animals refused to leave their accustomed accommodations and died there, but many escaped out into the empty streets.

On the outskirts of Dubai there still stood many incomplete construction projects, relics from the previous decades’ building boom. Some of the remaining indigenous peoples discovered that abandoned excavations and subterranean basements formed self-replenishing pools of groundwater, and thereby created oases at various locations around the city. They recognised the potential value of the wildlife and learned to live alongside them. Inevitably, after a period of years, certain species were unable to adapt to the harsh environment and died out, but many successfully naturalised and created viable communities that exist to this day. It is generally felt that when the region becomes sufficiently stable again, and an operating international airport can be re-established, Dubai has tremendous potential as a unique eco-tourism destination..’


Richard Allenby-Pratt’s pictures and text conjure a vision of an apocalyptic Dubai – a seemingly inevitable time when the scores of largely unoccupied skyscrapers inching towards the Gulf will be evacuated and swallowed up by the surrounding desert. He has  created a series of images in his Abandoned project that make such a nightmare tangible. By inserting images of the odd lion, rhino, or kangaroo in the dry and broken landscape, Richard calls attention to the plight of the world’s creatures that we have so shamelessly plundered in our ceaseless devotion to acquisition.


Richard’s award-winning images are most compelling for their subtlety. It would be tempting to populate the vacant spaces with a throng of animals running wild, grateful to be free of humanity’s cruel dominion, but that wouldn’t be realistic at all.

Nor are zebras on a multi-lane highway in the middle of the desert, but this series is so well composed that we are willing to temporarily suspend our disbelief in order to absorb the take-home message that we have failed to live in harmony with nature.

Although wealthy Emiratis have amassed an unknown but significant stock of wild animals that are displayed as status symbols, including lions and cheetahs, so perhaps it isn’t so strange to imagine them scouring the ruins of Dubai’s familiar skyline after all!

Marabou stork

When viewing these images, it’s often necessary to really hunt down the animal in the picture, which lends a certain honesty to the scale of both the physical context and overall, global immensity of our destruction.

As Richard says; “In the Abandoned series, I was originally interested in the construction sites around Dubai that appeared to have halted work during the financial crisis around 2009/2010. At that time it seemed possible that the period of exponential development during the 2000s may have drawn to a permanent end. The animals were part of this speculation; nature may reclaim what has been taken from it.

In my home country of England, abandoned places tend to be hidden by their environment much more quickly than in arid lands. Plants and wildlife thrive in many neglected urban places. In the UAE, the scars we inflict on the landscape appear to endure for longer and are only likely to be disguised eventually by abiotic processes such as sand drift. I have a stronger instinctive allegiance with natural places than anthropomorphic ones, so, for me, there is less joy in the UAE’s abandoned places, more poignancy. It seems to me that, when a decision is made to alter a natural environment in arid landscapes it should be taken with even greater care and yet quite the reverse seems to be the case. Perhaps because of the paucity of life in these places it is felt they matter less.”


“While I lived in the UAE, I missed the green landscapes of the UK, but, having finally returned there, I find that I now equally miss the wild landscapes of the UAE. Living in the English countryside feels, by comparison, like living in a manicured garden; one can appreciate the beauty but must only walk on the denoted paths. By comparison, I feel more free, and somehow exhilarated, in the desert and mountains. The opportunities for solitude are greater.”

Wild dog

The photographer

Richard Allenby-Pratt

Richard divides his time between the UK and the Middle East where most of his commissioned work is in the advertising and design industries, and he is well known for his automotive and location work in particular.

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