Book Review: Kingdom of Sand and Cement by Peter Bogaczewicz

Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis, have experienced profound change in less than a century as they transitioned from living in traditional mud…

© Peter Bogaczewicz

Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis, have experienced profound change in less than a century as they transitioned from living in traditional mud buildings to commencing work on the world’s tallest skyscraper. Kingdom of Sand and Cement by Peter Bogaczewicz explores the challenges Saudi Arabia faces today as it rapidly transforms from a conservative and tribal desert culture to an influential world power.

Examining this legacy through beautiful large-format color photographs, Bogaczewicz documents a country and a society in the midst of an unprecedented change; and the clash of its traditional and modern values reveals a society precariously balancing at a crossroads of old and new. His images of the contemporary landscape are contrasted against Saudi traditional buildings, homes, and culture. Bogaczewicz examines the traces of an ancient culture right up to the point of intersection between the built and the natural environment. He presents the question: does this rapid and often careless pace of change run the chance to lose a sense of cultural identity — and a lasting and damaging consequence to the environment?

Concrete is an amazingly versatile and useful material. It’s very easy to work with. It’s cheap. The ancient Mayans used a form of it for roads. The Romans really perfected it and used it to build important structures like the concrete roof of the Pantheon in Rome. But after the fall of the Roman Empire, the world largely forgot about using concrete as a building material for over a thousand years. Fast forward to the 20th and 21st Century — and the exponential growth of the developed world is critically dependent on concrete and sand. It’s everywhere. No matter what kind of building or office or room you’re sitting in, some part of it is probably made out of concrete. Just like every shopping mall, every apartment building, every office tower and every window, everywhere in the world, from Syracuse to Saudi Arabia, is made out of concrete and sand. The process of extracting millions of tons of sand from the bottom of a lake or the bottom of a river (it turns out you can’t practically use just any sand for strong building materials), in turn creates tremendous environmental damage. Sources of drinking water are disrupted or ruined, ecological systems are spoiled for endangered animals and plants. Cultural changes can be irreversibly damaging as well.

This brings me back to Bogaczewicz’s question — certainly lives are being disrupted or ruined by losses of both natural resources and cultural sources. He captures evocative images of children and families eating and stitting next to an ancient city wall, camel trails switchback across a steep hillside, ancient islamic buildings crumble before our eyes — and structures of glass, concrete and steel rise high above their humble earthen origins. We see the roads carved into, or completely through, previously untouched landscapes. He also shows us images of people living in traditional ways, as well as modern ways: Burqas and bicycles, mosques and motorbikes, a family enjoying their midday meal, sitting on rugs spread out in the shade of a concrete overpass. The current era of globalization has a homogenizing influence on local cultures, which in turn can lead to loss of identity, exclusion and even conflict. Bogaczewicz’s insightful work explores and ultimately highlights the impact made in Saudi Arabia when people don’t fully consider placing culture and the environment at the heart of development.

© Peter Bogaczewicz
© Peter Bogaczewicz
© Peter Bogaczewicz
© Peter Bogaczewicz
© Peter Bogaczewicz
© Peter Bogaczewicz
© Peter Bogaczewicz
© Peter Bogaczewicz

Kingdom of Sand and Cement by Peter Bogaczewicz
ISBN: 9781942084723
Cloth Bound Hardcover
10 x 9 | 144 pp
58 color photographs

Published by Daylight Books

Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.