ISTP2, United Arab Emirates

Stéphane Lavoué arrived one find day at the Al Wathba 2 site, about 40 kilometers south of Abu Dhabi, along a road shrouded in sand. The Photographer could barely see five meters in front of him. All of a sudden, he came across a vast worksite and some of 20 cranes reaching up to the sky. An unreal landscape, which he describes as being like something out of the movie Mad Max. A worksite worth of the Pyramids…

Stéphane Lavoué traveled the length and breadth of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula for three years, Leica camera in hand. The photographer’s two visits to the Al Wathba 2 treatment plant were a memorable experience.


The man who greeted Stéphane Lavoué on his arrival at the site revealed not the slightest patch of skin. And with good reason. The sandstorm raging around the emerging plant on that particular day forced workers to protect their faces by whatever means they could. Glasses, handkerchiefs and T-shirts all provided a perfect patchwork for a photographer tasked with capturing the look and actions of construction workers at this impressive industrial facility as it rose from the sand! “I arrived along a road shrouded in sand. We could see little more than five meters in front of us. All of a sudden, we came across a vast worksite and some 20 cranes reaching up to the sky. It was an unreal landscape, like something out of the movie Mad Max. A worksite worthy of the pyramids!” remembers Stéphane. Work on the Al Wathba 2 construction project - 40 km from the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi—began in early 2009 and was well underway by late 2010. For two days, Stéphane explored the site to watch the work progressing while talking to people in an attempt to capture the everyday life of construction workers in the appropriate light and surroundings. On the ground, teams bustled about, barely ruffled by the whims of the desert. It was these same workers who would serve as Stéphane’s subjects. “The challenge for the photographer lay in reconciling this human endeavor with such a vast industrial undertaking.
There was a certain amount of scene-setting that fit well with my approach as a portraitist,” says the photographer. Yet the place was immediately inspiring and provided some unforgettable experiences. One that springs to mind was a descent of more than 20 meters “into the core of the plant, to the bottom of the wastewater tanks, where you feel disconnected from everything.”

Stéphane returned to the site in 2012 for a day, to pay tribute to an outstanding achievement in pictures. «On my first visit, I was completely free to move around,” says the photographer. “This time, the plant was finished and access to the facilities was naturally more restricted.” The wastewater treatment plant had been operating for about a month. However, it offered an equally surprising spectacle to visitors. “All around, the desert had restacked its claim, with camel breeders already going about their business,” says Stéphane. “The clarifiers looked like huge pools amid the dunes, contrasting starkly with the boundless stretches of sand.”

In 2014, Al Wathba 2 plant produces approximately 300,000 cubic meters of water per day for farming, livestock and the capital’s parks and gardens. A shining example of Abu Dhabi’s determination to promote a more moderate approach to water use

Background • Born in 1976 in Mulhouse, eastern France, Stéphane was raised in Germany and Africa. He took an interest in photography while studying engineering at Ecole Supérieure du Bois in France.

In 1999, he set off for the Amazon to buy wood for a French company. After returning to Paris, in 2001, he devoted more of his time to photography, shooting portraits for French daily Libération during the 2002 presidential campaign.

That was the start of his career, with orders flooding in from a number of newspapers and magazines in France and further afield. He began working with French industrial companies such as Veolia in 2010.


Al Wathba treatment plant

Abu Dhabi water conservation

ISTP2 – Independent Sewage treatment plant