With reporting from Heba Fahmy
A collection of candid photographs of wealthy shoppers taken in London’s Knightsbridge district has caused a stir on social media, with many Qataris criticizing them as being distasteful and an invasion of privacy.
The photos were taken by British photographer Dougie Wallace, who regularly posts them to a website showcasing his new project, “Harrodsburg.”
According to Wallace, the images reflect “an up-close wealth safari, exploring the wildlife that inhabits the super-rich residential and retail district of Knightsbridge and Chelsea.”
Knightsbridge, the location of the Qatar-owned Harrods department store, is a popular hang-out for Qatari tourists, many of whom rent or own apartments in the area.
Consequently, Wallace’s collection of photographs contains images of Qatari and other Gulf Arab tourists, alongside numerous images of other wealthy people from around the globe.
Under the hashtag #دوغي_والاس (Dougie Wallace), some on Twitter have lambasted the photographer for sharing photos of children and others without their permission.
Wallace, who has worked on several “social documentary” photo projects, called his latest collection “a timely and stark exposé” about the emergence of an “ultra-affluent elite.”
He claims that such wealthy people are “changing the face of our city, pricing out the upper middle class natives of Central London, excluding first times (sic) buyers from the city and (marginalizing) old wealth from their time-honored habitats.”
Unsurprisingly, his collection does not flatter its subjects.
Wallace’s photos are all taken on the street in London, with images frequently showing shoppers laden with bags from designer stores, or sitting inside expensive cars.
One image, taken through a car window, shows three young children sitting with their mother while their nanny stands nearby.
It was this image in particular that upset Jassim Al-Thani:
— Jassim Al-Thani (@JassimAlThani4) August 23, 2015
Others online demanded that Wallace should be taken to court for invading the privacy of the shoppers:
المفروض القضاء البريطاني يحاسبه على اللي يسويه بغض النظر بس هالشي يسئ حق زاير فهالبلاد لو كانوا فدول الخليج جان قامت الدنيا #دوغي_والاس
— Dana (@d997_3) August 19, 2015
Translation: The British judiciary should hold him accountable for what he’s doing, as this offends visitors. If they were in the Gulf, this would have been a big issue.
Meanwhile, some posted photos of Wallace, urging Arab women to beware of him if they saw him on the street:
When contacted by Doha News, Wallace did not return requests for comment about the criticism his collection has received.
Not all Qataris have expressed offense at the photos.
Some, like journalism student Al Anood Al Thani, said they were rather surprised by the clothes worn by many of the subjects:
On the Harrodsburg website, Wallace said he was motivated to take the photos to cast light on the damaging effect he believes wealthy foreign buyers are having on the Kensington neighborhood, where around 40 percent of properties sit empty at any given time.
“In a phenomenon dubbed ‘lights-out-London’, buy-to-leave absentee property owners are pushing up house prices without contributing to the local economy, adding insult to injury for the hundreds of thousands living in temporary accommodation or languishing on social housing waiting lists,” he writes.
His work feeds off a wider social unease over the amount of property and businesses owned by Qatari investors in London, an issue frequently covered by UK newspapers.
Qatar now owns or has large shares in high profile London landmarks like The Shard, the Olympic Village and Canary Wharf.
Meanwhile, contributing to the tension is an ongoing battle over the presence of noisy super cars in the upmarket Knightsbridge neighborhood during the summer, with authorities in the district planning legislation to curb the practice.
Each summer, hundreds of tourists, mainly from the Gulf, travel to the UK, bringing with them their luxury vehicles.
Many of these visitors congregate around popular hotspots such as Harrods, revving their engines, parking illegally and generally creating a nuisance in the area, according to local residents.
Two years ago, a British TV documentary sparked debate after it highlighted complaints about rich, young Khaleeji men turning London’s streets into their own personal playground in their imported supercars.
The film, “Millionaire Boy Racers,” provoked discussion about multiculturalism and tolerance in the wealthy London area.
Have you seen the photos? Thoughts?