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Through the Lens of Hussain Al Daghriri Unseen Treasures of Southern Saudi Arabia
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 08 - 04 - 2017

In a land full of rich historical culture, there is so much left to explore. Hussain Al Daghriri, a Saudi storytelling photographer and avid traveler, recently embarked on an unforgettable road trip across the Sothern region of the Kingdom in partnership with Cadillac. Capturing the beautiful environment, culture and people who preside in the region, he ventured across 5,000 kilometers region covering three unique areas of the South.

Al Daghriri embarked on a six day road trip, starting in Riyadh passing through different villages and cities until he reached the highest mountain peaks of the Kingdom. Hussain immersed himself into the local culture by wearing, eating and living like the local people. The trip was a very inspirational one and gave him a strong feeling of national pride making it his duty to share his experience and photography of the great wonders it holds with the world.

What was the objective of your trip around Saudi Arabia in collaboration with Cadillac?

Saudi Arabia is extended over a large geographical area, which can hinder many from visiting different places and discovering the beauty of this nation. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to do this trip and discover the Southern areas and learn about the different cultures, heritage and art that varies in every city and village in the region. I discovered during my travels around the world that many people do not know much about the history and culture of the Kingdom. I wanted to capture both the natural beauty and culture of the area to bring awareness of that diversity that is in a country that many around the world think is only a vast desert.

What did you need to prepare in advance ahead of the trip in terms of equipment, Technology, travel and transportation?

Going on such a trip required a lot of preparation, for me my cameras always have to be with me including my wide range of lenses, allowing me to capture the perfect angle. I also have a drone that helps getting great photos. Smartphones these days also have high-quality cameras, I used it to document my journey more personally through my social media channels.

A long trip like this one meant I needed to pack, food, special filters for water, camping equipment, blankets and a sleeping bag. I like to hike so I brought my hiking equipment and of course prepared a playlist of songs that I wanted to listen to during the journey, I also made sure to take additional batteries and chargers to make sure I am always connected.

In terms of vehicle, I needed one that could tackle the difficult terrain and long roads of the trip, an SUV with all-wheel drive was the obvious choice. I also wanted it to be fun to drive, and enables me to always stay connected, a great sound system was also a plus. The natural choice for such a journey was the Cadillac XT5, as it collectively delivered all of these needs and wants for me.

Where did you visit in KSA and how long was the trip?

One of the first places I visited was the city of Taif, a very ancient and historical place with its popular Okaz markets and the areas of Shifa and Al-Hada. I also visited Baha which is famous for its nature, historical villages that have existed for over a thousand years. The villages of the Namas and Baljurashi area and Tanumah have wonderful buildings. I also enjoyed exploring the many castles in the area of Abha which were beautiful. Jazan was another highlight of my six day trip with its beautiful valleys and natural sites.

What was the distance covered?

Overall we traveled 5,000 km during the trip, where we started off in Riyadh and went on to the Taif Hijaz path, and headed South to Baha, Abha, and Jizan. Then we passed through Jeddah and Qunfudah on the way back to Riyadh.

Who did you meet during your trip? What did you learn from the people?

During the trip, I met singers, musicians, artists, dancers, photographers, and filmmakers. All of whom have been inspired and owe much of their creativity to the rich culture of the Southern region. There was a huge array of songs, dances, traditional clothes and food.

We also met the tribal leaders and Sheikhs who received us and were very welcoming, teaching us of the history of the region and the unique folklores of the South. I learned a lot about the beginnings of these areas their cultures and about the natural landscapes. I was inspired to capture the art of folklore and share the old Saudi Arabia with others, as we often focus on contemporary and modern art and lose sight of the real history of architecture, colors, and designs.

Did this trip change you as a person and photographer? If yes, how?

The trip has had a profound effect on me personally and as a photographer. I didn't know what to expect when I started this journey with Cadillac, and now I have come back from the trip with a profound understanding of my culture. As a photographer I feel I was gifted the opportunity to capture something truly unique, capturing so much in only six days has helped me develop my skills and more focused when capturing an image that truly speaks to a person when they see it.

This has given me the determination and ambition to show this side of Saudi Arabia, my collaboration with Cadillac also allowed me to do this with my first solo exhibition outside of KSA, I displayed my images of the various folk dancers along with physical representation of the clothes they wear in each dance. With Cadillac also gave me the opportunity to exhibit my work in the UAE, where I saw the true impact of my work, giving me the motivation to continue education the world of the rich culture and nature we have in Saudi Arabia.

What were the top 4 memorable experiences across your whole journey?

I loved watching the unique and interesting Taif dances, especially the weapon's dance which is called "The Art of T'aashir", a popular tradition which demonstrates different roles.
My visit to the heritage village and museum of Rijal Almaa was very memorable and I photographed many buildings made from stone which had colorful wooden windows and inscriptions in the walls of the rooms.

Hiking with my friends in the Jazan area was a great adventure, we saw the true magic of nature and the beauty of the area.

I enjoyed the road trip and the experience very much in the XT5 which was memorable. It was the ideal vehicle for me and my friends.

What is your attitude now towards culture, art, and design in KSA?

My trip to the Southern areas of Saudi Arabia and discovery of the richness of these areas made me realize how uninformed we are about the arts and culture of the Kingdom. However, I think to understand and experience these practices and arts fully, I will need to spend more time in these specific areas. I want to inspire my own children and bring awareness of these fascinating areas to as many people in and outside the country.

What elements under each culture, art, and design are important to you?

Culture has multiple forms of expression but the most important element for me are people because they are part of history and heritage and that is why I focused on observing their movements and customs and brought them to life through expressive images. I also focused on their expression of culture through poetry, singing, dancing, laughter and sadness.

When it comes to design, as a photographer I think the most important elements are the colors and motifs that reflect customs and art. Telling a story of the community is integral, showing the way they live and their attention to detail which demonstrates their changes through history.

Why do you think such projects are important for the country?

It is important that we educate our community, the youth and future generations on the diversity of our traditions and customs. Projects like these build bridges between all the different areas in the Kingdom in order to strengthen the unity of our people and our society.

Projects like these also bring tourism to the areas and contribute to the development of these areas and their inhabitants. It also gives people the opportunity to explore the history, civilization, culture, customs and traditions which in the long term is beneficial for our Kingdom. What is imperative to making this a reality is projects similar to mine with Cadillac, providing us with support and large platforms for us to express our talents.

What and where will you be showcasing your work?

My first exhibition is in Dubai, where Cadillac will be showcasing my work at the Khazzan X Cadillac venue. I am also going to showcase my photography in a number of exhibitions around the world to bring awareness to Saudi Arabia, particularly through the help of Cultural Missions that are part of the Saudi Arabian embassies worldwide. I would like to especially showcase my work in Washington, London and Paris to bring awareness to our rich culture, heritage, clothing, food, colors and wonderful architecture.

How has Cadillac impacted your career in terms of opportunities?

This trip really motivated me to plan more trips and to experiment with my photography skills. Working with Cadillac has opened the door to a new world of possibilities, I was the first solo artist to exhibit at Khazzan X Cadillac in Dubai. The concept of the venue is great as it is targeted towards young talent in the region, a platform to showcase our skills and creativity through arts. The motivational space allows people to express their talents including architecture, design, art, fashion and other creative industries. I truly believe my recent collaboration with Cadillac will help me share my work with the rest of the world.

Lastly, you mentioned the Cadillac XT5, what are your views on the car in terms of taking such a trip?

For this trip the Cadillac XT5 was great like I previously mentioned, I really enjoyed using a lot of the different features and the size of the vehicle was perfect for this trip. The car delivers great power and enabled us to climb mountains, valleys and winding roads smoothly and with ease. Before I went on the trip people were questioning why I was taking a Cadillac because in their opinion they thought it was a luxury car and not one for road-trips however, the vehicle was really great and perfect for road-trips. Especially with a great space to store luggage, as well as a lot of space for the driver and passengers, providing a comfortable experience.

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