[an error occurred while processing this directive]


  Field Notes From
Saudi Arabia on Edge

<< Back to Feature Page

Saudi Arabia on Edge On AssignmentArrows

View Field Notes
From Photographer


Saudi Arabia on Edge On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Author

Frank Viviano

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Reza


Saudi Arabia on Edge

Field Notes From Photographer

Best Worst Quirkiest
    Illustrations editor Todd James and I laughed, danced, and jumped up and down the day we finally got approval from the Saudi government to cover this story. We had hoped to get full acceptance from the ministries and high-level princes, which was very important because Saudi Arabia is one of the most closed countries to photography.
    I felt so proud to be one of the first photographers to get permission to go wherever I wanted and photograph whatever subject I wanted in Saudi Arabia. It took two years of "tea and talk" negotiations. I probably drank more than a hundred gallons (400 liters) of tea.

    I saw a lot of unnecessary luxury. It made me sad to see the money from oil, which was a gift for the Saudi people, being wasted on elaborate palaces, gold jewelry, and luxurious lifestyles. Sixty or 70 years ago most of these people were Bedouins leading beautiful, simple lives in the desert.
    Moreover, there are six or seven million foreigners who do the real work that runs the country. When I found out that they live in very bad conditions, my sorrow turned into rage. I have worked mostly in Asia and Africa for the past 25 years, and after seeing all the poverty on those two continents, the squandering of money in Saudi Arabia just shocked me.

    Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz invited me to his palace to photograph his horses. He probably has one of the best stallion stables in the world, with a couple of hundred horses, some worth millions of dollars. I was very excited to see pure Arabian horses and how the Saudi Arabians take care of them.
    When I entered the compound, I saw a few horses being taken care of by men wearing the white dress and red-and-white head cloth specific to Saudi Arabia. I was so happy to finally find real Saudis doing manual labor. But when I went closer and started talking, I was shocked that none were Saudi. One man was from Kazakhstan, one was Indian, one Malaysian, and one Sudanese.
    There's been a lot of talk about the "Saudization" of society in Saudi Arabia, meaning more jobs should go to locals instead of so many foreigners. Prince Sultan is one of the chief proponents of the idea. But even in his stables, non-Saudis tend the horses. I finally understood that by Saudization they simply meant that foreign workers should dress like Saudis. When I saw this Malaysian guy with almond eyes wearing Saudi attire, I simply couldn't believe it.

© 2003 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe