The secret to success is not just contacts and know-how but humility and passion, all traits that a charismatic and stylish Ayaad Damouni possesses, and attributes to the reason why he is the go-to photographer for the UAE’s elite crowd. Even Mohammed Sultan Al Habtoor refused to have his image captured by anyone other than Ayaad for our recent Ahlan! HP supplement – as far as word of mouth goes, that’s got to be pretty powerful.
Having only been in Dubai for five years, the managing director and co-founder of Capital D studios is considered one of the best and most prolific photographers in the region. Yet, when asked why he’s so in demand, with Mohammed Sultan Al Habtoor name dropping him, he laughs, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him.”
One thing is for sure when it comes to not only capturing the region’s most important people, but the UAE’s most iconic events, Ayaad is at the helm – “I was the first photographer to go up Burj Khalifa the day it became the tallest building in the world. I was commissioned by Arabian Business to do a photo essay, so that was a historic moment.”
So, what’s the secret to his success? The photography extraordinaire explains, “Attention to detail – this is the most important trait as a photographer. I’m lucky that I have started my photography career prior to the digital age. Before digital you had to take great pictures full stop. There was no post-production or Photoshop.”
“Film and processing was extremely expensive, so every frame counted. Plus shooting on a Pentax 67 you only had 10 frames per film. I still use this principle today. I pretend Photoshop doesn’t exist, so I always try to achieve what I want in the final shot on camera rather than relying on post as I see in many new photographers who have started on a digital camera.”
What makes Ayaad so rare in his industry is his understanding of the West and East and their differing cultures and attitudes. “I was born in Lebanon and spent the first five years of my life there before moving to Abu Dhabi,” he says, explaining his background. “Yet, due to the instability of the region at the time, my dad decided to move to Australia and that’s been home ever since.”
While he is currently at the peak of his trade, Ayaad reveals photography wasn’t his initial passion, insisting his first love was in textiles. “My family’s profession was in furniture manufacturing and importing, so I’ve spent a lot of my early childhood in the workshops with my dad looking at different types of fabrics, textures and design and the smell of glue,” he explains.
He went on to launch a successful fashion brand in Australia with his wife of 10 years, Meredith with whom he has two children. “We launched our fashion line around the same time as our first child Wolf was born. He spent a lot of time with us on the cutting tables and at the screen printers. Meredith has worked with and supported me all these years – we have been working together since day one.”
Despite a career in fashion being a lucrative decision for Ayaad, who is known for his incredibly dapper style, his current profession crept up on him. He claims, “Photography chose me, I didn’t choose it!”
Adding, “I’ve always been attracted to photography in general. Being from the Middle East, photography was not an ideal career choice, so it never crossed my mind that one day, I would be a professional photographer. Then one day while contemplating what to do with my life, I was offered an assisting job on a recommendation from a friend and that was it.”
“At the moment I am the ultimate multitasker. Besides being a photographer I’m running a business and managing 14 people,” he explains about Capital D. “We’ve had an amazing growth since we started, and without the dedication of the passionate, hard working and creative team that we’ve managed to build over the last three years, none of this would have been possible. I feel my passion for what I do has been passed on to my colleagues at work and we’re all working towards the same goal.”
While he is happy in his career, Ayaad admits it’s not all easy, “You have to have the passion for creating imagery that is evocative and powerful, and an attraction to the glossy appearance of the industry from the outside. Once you’re on the inside, you learn quickly that there is nothing glossy about it. It’s pure hard work eight days a week, which is exactly why it’s so important have a burning passion – otherwise you would burn out too soon.”
As such he has faced his fair share of obstacles yet none that have ever made him want to quit – “I guess in life there are obstacles every day and that is what makes this whole life thing fun – it’s the game we all play every day. So, whatever it was, I don’t remember it anymore, because I’ve had many more since that I’ve overcome in turn. Each obstacle is small in the grand scheme of things. The most important thing is to look for solutions quickly.”
His job also has its perks, and that doesn’t just include working with Ahlan! – he’s also been fortunate to work with some of the hottest stars including fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld. “That was a career high,” he says.
When it comes to inspiration, he claims his subjects as well as his fave cities make it easy for him to be creative. “Positive people have always been a source of inspiration to me,” he admits. “I guess this is why I love portraiture as it allows you to meet lots of interesting people. A great portrait is only achieved once all boundaries and guards have been dropped between the photographer and the subject.”
Adding, “I love Dubai because it’s so transient. There are always new people to meet and people make decisions quickly. People are generally in a very good mood here in Dubai which I love. Paris is also an amazing city.”
Having helped shape the photography scene in the UAE, Ayaad shyly admits he isn’t sure where he wants to be in five years time, though having yet to accomplish his initial dream to “shoot a cover for Sports Illustrated”, he certainly hopes to have a good time in whatever path he follows...
Ayaad Damouni's top 5 places
Ski Dubai - I spend hours snowboarding with my nine-year-old son Wolf.
Dubai Polo Club - I started polo a year ago and got completely hooked.
La Petit Maison - I love the food, staff and the atmosphere.
Qasr Al Sarab’s Empty Quarter - It’s fascinating being in that part of the world, an ocean of sand as far as your eyes can see. It’s nature at its best, and the hotel is absolutely mind blowing.
Cuadro Gallery - I love the size of it, the fact that you can really spend real time immersing yourself in all the art.