Editor’s Note: CNN Travel’s series often carries sponsorship originating from the countries and regions we profile. However, CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reports. Read the policy.
What happens when the most lavish and decadent hotel in Abu Dhabi meets an eight-day photo shoot mixed with rare pink diamonds, Arabian horses, trained falcons, couture gowns and international models?
“Magic,” says Australian photographer Anthony Horth. “Magic, magic, magic.”
Horth, who’s previously shot supermodels Christy Turlington, Jean Shrimpton and Eva Herzigová, might be biased. The photoshoot at the Emirates Palace was, after all, his.
Dominating one end of Abu Dhabi’s Corniche waterfront, the Emirates Palace is a self-styled seven-star hotel. It’s a vast creation, with cavernous palm tree-lined hallways and sweeping staircases, plus numerous high-class restaurants.
Apparently that off-the-charts luxury isn’t enough so the hotel recruited a photographer who could spotlight some of the personality behind the glamorous facade.
The resulting images created an Arabian Nights storybook theme, albeit an uber opulent one.
Abu Dhabi Emirates Palace photoshoot turns up the opulence
“I didn’t want a fashion shoot, a jewelry shoot,” says Horth. “It wasn’t a Vogue editorial.”
Models wore clothing from Valentino, Carolina Herrera, Bulgari and Endemage. Rio Tinto’s multi-million-dollar Argyle pink diamonds featured prominently in jewelry crafted by Middle East luxury jeweler Dhamani.
In one day alone, a model wore over $20 million worth of Dhamani jewelry. The single diamond necklace with a delicate Argyle pink diamond sat at $6.5 million.
Every nook and cranny
“It was Cinderella stuff I wanted,” adds Horth, who previously spent time in Australia’s Argyle diamond mine capturing shots of the landscape.
“I have always lived in a world of dreams. I know what magic looks like and I know how to manipulate magic.”
In preparation for the Emirates Palace shoot, Horth took 10 days to go through every “nook and cranny” of the massive $3 billion hotel.
This was no small feat: Emirates Palace spans one kilometer from wing to wing with a 1.3-kilometer stretch of private beach.
Eight escalators and 102 elevators transport well-heeled guests to 14 restaurants and lounges. The ceiling is filled with 1,002 chandeliers dotted between 114 domes, while marble – imported from 13 different countries – glints among one-ton tapestries and indoor fountains.
Stepping inside, one gets the overwhelming impression of space.
Gold is everywhere: in the interior arches, in the Moroccan-inspired spa treatments and most certainly in the food. Five kilograms of pure edible gold are used per year, appearing in dishes like the gold-dusted camel burger.
The property certainly isn’t understated but Horth wasn’t deterred: “I love grandeur,” he says.
“When my wife and I got married, we went to Antarctica. The invitation had us on top of an iceberg. I’m doing what I love to do. It’s like, how do you become a ‘big shot’? You keep on shooting little shots in the same place. If you feel right about it, just keep doing it.
“Essentially you’ve got a beautiful model with classic grandeur and $2 million worth of jewelry around her neck, arms and ears,” he adds. “What more do you need? Just take the bloody picture!”
As for the cost of the multi-day, extensive project? Emirates Palace general manager Holger Schroth responds simply: “The photo shoot was priceless.”
The hotel had been searching for a special photographer who could see beyond the physical elements of the property and convey its real character, he adds.
“Tony’s photos build a narrative. His work delineates the very clear separation between a photo and art.”
Even though Abu Dhabi welcomed 4.4 million foreign tourists in 2016 (an increase of 8% from 2015), more available rooms, a growing amount of cruise traffic and a challenging economic environment have spread the wealth thin.
Drumming up tourism
End-of-year stats from Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority showed a 9% revenue decrease for hotel establishments. Food and beverage revenue decreased by 10%. The number of hotel guest nights decreased by 2% and the average length of stay by 9%.
Does this mean there’s a need to drum up more tourism in Abu Dhabi and its hotels?
“Yes,” says Schroth. “Every hotel would like to accentuate its uniqueness and drive more tourists to both Abu Dhabi and into their own rooms, of course.”
In April, Horth will return to the UAE capital and the luxurious Emirates Palace with “Mother Earth Kimberley,” an exhibit of his diamond mine work. The exhibit runs from April 22 until May 6. (More info at Anthonyhorth.com).
“Abu Dhabi’s close to perfection,” says Horth.
“I find the culture very warm. The Bedouin lifestyle, they have a serious ‘salt of the earth’, everyday practicality. They really want to embrace everything, and I love the mystique. I’ve seen this side of it, and it’s beautiful.”