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Peter Garritano interview on drifting subculture in Arabia

We have interviewed Peter Garritano in his project Hajwalah, it’s about drifting subculture in Arabia.

Rubber smoke fills the air at a contest in Umm Al Quwain, UAE.

Hi Peter, let’s talk about your project “Hajwalah”. What does “Hajwalah” means?
It’s the Arabic language name given to this type of racing– a specific type drifting unique to the gulf region that’s totally different from the kinds of drifting you see elsewhere in the world. Instead of navigating a technical course it’s more like a freestyle display of a vehicle’s power and a driver’s ability to command it. There are no obstacles to navigate or cones to slalom.

Young men address a mechanical problem.

What is the project about?
The project looks at the sport’s current transition from street to track. Traffic accidents used to be among the leading causes of death in some gulf countries so in recent years local governments cracked down on illegal street racing.  As a result, Hajwalah drifters have largely moved off of public roads and onto private strips of asphalt tucked away in more rural parts of the desert.  There, the sport is taking on a more formal structure and growing a large following.

What first drew you into this subculture?
When I first started driving about 10 years ago I remember my friends and I would watch these videos online. They were so insane– it was unlike any other kind of driving event. I checked back in with these guys about a year ago and found them to have grown a pretty significant community.

Two men cross a street marked by drifters’ tires.

Were people open to be photographed and were you accepted?
Yes, most were quite friendly and open to being photographed though sometimes they preferred to have their license plates obscured, understandably. Before travelling over I’d spoken with a number of the drivers through Instagram and Facebook so I had some contacts that I felt comfortable with.

How long did the project take?
After a few weeks of research I flew out and shot the whole thing in less than a week. I would have loved to stay longer but I wasn’t able at that time.

A turbocharged Nissan Patrol, a favorite among SUV tuners in the UAE is taken out for a road test at Underground Performance Garage in Dubai

Did you find out something interesting or unexpected about drifting culture in United Arab Emirates working on this project?
I was expecting the community to be less welcoming than they were. People were quite open and generous. The hospitality I received was definitely unexpected.

Is there any other subculture you want to document?
There are many! I just need someone to give me unlimited airline miles.

A drifter takes his turn on the track in Umm Al Quwain

Few things about you, I have read that you were working for a financial holding before become a photographer, why do you start shooting?
Yes, I studied Business in college and ended up working in a corporate environment for a while. I soon realized that it was never something that I would be very good at so I left to pursue photography. I’d always enjoyed it as a hobby and I thought I might as well give it a try so I called a photographer I’d met one time and started assisting. I think partially my aversion to that very stable structured job propelled me to try something so opposite.

Do you have a “dream project” you will work in the future?
I’m thinking about taking a stab at a more contrived project that’s less documentary and more a fine art venture. I’ve never shown in galleries but it’s something I’m interested in trying. I’d like to do a broader tableau vivant style series. Something like Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, chronicling the various forces of good and evil in the world.

A member of the Execution group drifting in Umm Al Quwain, UAE.

Peter Garritano is a photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. In was named among PDN’s 30 New And Emerging Photographers To Watch for 2017.

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