DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – When the coronavirus pummeled Dubai this spring, the maternity and wedding shoots and all the gigs that freelance photographer Paula Hainey had lined up vanished almost overnight.
She wasn't alone. Within weeks, she knew too many jobless people to count. As the pandemic shut borders and grounded flights, businesses collapsed in the skyscraper-studded Persian Gulf city, once the world's busiest international air travel hub. The cascade of layoffs forced tens of thousands of expats residing in the United Arab Emirates on temporary work visas to pack up and buy tickets home.
To fill her newly free hours, Hainey had an idea. In groups for expats on Facebook, she offered free photo shoots to families abandoning the lives they had built in the UAE because of the pandemic.
“I remember thinking, a popular request even before COVID, expats would come and hire me to photograph them at landmarks as a keepsake,” Hainey said from the beach where she captures families' final moments in Dubai. “If you've been living here for 15 years, you want something to remember it by.”
The response, she said, was “crazy.” Her phone exploded with texts from people of all nationalities on all forms of social media.
Most of her subjects are pilots and others in the aviation industry, whose fortunes plummeted as the pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt.
Darrin Chapman, a 49-year-old pilot originally from Greenwich, Connecticut, tossed his toddler daughter in the air as Hainey's camera clicked, waves lapped against the shore and his wife watched adoringly.
“A picture tells the biggest story, and we wanted some memories,” Chapman said, for when his year-old daughter, Harper, grows up.
“It was our dream to raise her here,” he added. “We're not too excited to raise her in the States, but it is what it is.”