Urban Bites in Abu Dhabi is a café that offers fast, healthy lunches. It now also offers a gallery where diners can view artworks while they eat. It’s a spot we think is well worth making the journey for. The first artist to participate in the new Urban Bites Art Gallery is Vera Vernerova, a photographer who uses pictures to show how people from all walks of life experience love, compassion, joy and sorrow. Having lived in the Middle East for nine years, working as cabin crew, she has been able to take trips to the most far flung corners of the earth and record what she sees. We sit down with her to learn more about her art.
Can you tell us how you began your photographic journey?
I had a number of friends who were professional photographers and they provided me with insight, inspiration and knowledge. This accelerated my path into the world of photography. Also, my career as a flight attendant, travelling the globe, gave me access to destinations off the beaten track for interesting subject material. I am also grateful to be a resident in the UAE, which is an exciting and supportive environment for emerging artists. And I am grateful to Urban Bites and its art gallery concept, which gives local artists an opportunity to have their work exhibited.
How would you describe your photographic vision?
My vision is to record as many of my interactions with the world as possible. I am always searching for the human element in a photograph.
How do you capture a portrait?
Portrait photography focuses on people or groups with the aim of capturing their expressions, mood and personality. I spend a lot of time looking at how people respond to their environments. I am fascinated by how they interact with their surroundings, with each other and with me. I get close to my subject, which allows me to engage them and frame a perfect, natural picture.
Is this your first exhibition? If not, where else has your work been exhibited?
This is my first photography exhibition and I am also the first artist to have my work exhibited at Urban Bites Art Gallery, which makes me feel very proud. My next exhibition will be held at the French Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May. I am also very excited about exhibiting my photos in my hometown of Zatec in the Czech Republic in July.
What is your favourite destination to photograph and why?
I enjoy visiting places where people respond positively to my camera. I find that people in Nepal, India and Indonesia are the most excited to have their photographs taken, which makes for good interaction with the camera.
How do you capture people so naturally in front of the camera and make them feel at ease?
People usually feel comfortable around me. I try to get to know them first and make a natural, human connection with my subjects. As a result, they feel more at ease when I then begin to take their pictures.
You seem to capture your subject’s spiritual essence. How do you do it?
I get very close to my subjects. Their life path can be read through their eyes and expressions.
What characteristics does a good travel photographer need?
You must have a good eye, be talented, adventurous and able to adapt to different environments and circumstances. Above all, you need to be able to capture the moment.
Who are your favourite photographers and why do you like their work?
I like Steve McCurry – he took the famous photo of the Afghan girl with the piercing sea-green eyes that was featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine. I admire how he gets close to his subjects and creates a very intimate feel.
You’ve taken hundreds of photos over the years, but do you have a favourite among them?
My favourite photograph is of a family in the Kibera shanty town in Nairobi, Kenya.
What’s one quality that you possess as a photographer that sets you apart?
I think my job sets me apart. I travel around the world as a flight attendant, which enables me to explore so many great destinations and the people who live there. Also, I do not concentrate on the overtly technical side of the photograph. I prefer to capture the moment, the feeling, the meaning. Sometimes when people worry too much about the technical side, they lose the moment and the photo loses its soul.
Art gallery open Sat-Thu 6pm-10pm. Café open 7am-10pm. Urban Bites, Airport Road, Abu Dhabi, www.urbanbites.me (800 87226).
Art eateries to try in Dubai
This Mediterranean eatery displays a range of artworks on its walls in collaboration with Fann-A-Porter art gallery in the Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates. The artist featured changes every three months. Currently on display are the works of Ghada Kunash.
Pieces cost from Dhs6,500 to Dhs46,000. Open Sun-Fri noon-1am; closed Saturday. Gate Village 6, DIFC (04 323 1833).
XVA Gallery Art Hotel & Café
The actual gallery at the Art Hotel and café features the works of Middle Eastern contemporary artists from the Arab world, Iran and the subcontinent. In addition, the design shop sells everything from art books to jewellery and fashion, as well as handcrafted ceramics, too.
Open daily 7am-10pm (café), 10am-6pm (design shop). Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Bur Dubai (04 353 5383).
Noon Hotel Restaurant
Guests can dine and take in various creative pieces at this art-themed hotel. Featured works include those by Emirati artist Najat Makki, who is at the forefront of the fine art movement in the UAE, and Ali Hassan, a contemporary Qatari artist specialising in calligraphic works.
Open daily 7am-9pm. Noon Hotel Apartments, Al Barsha (04 347 7676).