Photographer Peter Garritano first learned about hajwalah AKA “Arab drifting” or “Saudi drifting” when videos started popping up of SUVs being recklessly driven around public roads and private strips of asphalt nearly ten years ago. “It was around the time I was learning to drive and it was about the craziest driving I’d ever seen,” explains Peter. “This past spring I checked back in and the community has really taken to Instagram and they’re undergoing some interesting changes so I got in touch with a few drivers.”
Peter’s atmospheric images of the drivers and their cars laden with garish graphics have all been taken in the United Arab Emirates, mostly in Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. This barren backdrop creates a contrast between pale skies and soft, sandy dunes with, brash tire tracks, roaring engines and glistening chassis. “I didn’t have a specific aesthetic in mind [while shooting], rather I let the environment and context inform my approach,” says Peter. “The beige desert hues and the uniform dress leant to a general warm, minimal look. Wider framing also helped convey the sheer emptiness of the landscape at times.”
It’s only recently that the SUV drifters have gravitated towards more desolate terrain. “Over the years, gulf governments have cracked down hard on these guys after a long period of relative lenience,” says Peter. “The driver and pedestrian death toll was getting out of hand and making for terrible PR. The result is an ongoing transition into rural parts of the desert where the community can practice and compete freely.”
After connecting with a few individual drivers, Peter was allowed access to some garages, gatherings and competitions. “For the most part everyone was very friendly and open to being photographed, as long as their licence plate wasn’t in frame,” says the New York-based photographer. Getting a wider insight into hajawalah means there’s a variety of shots within the series, where wider shots of the cars racing and eager crowds are interspersed with close crops of toolboxes and sandalled feet.
With the hajwalah community continually growing, Peter hopes to shed some light on what he feels is the progression from illegal street drifting to what’s now becoming a valid and formalised sport. “I’m interested in the way that transition happens and how things change in the process.”