Perceptions of the desert vary enourmously, but to many an inexperienced mind the desert lands of Arabia are a succession of unrelieved and undulating dunes imbued with a certain sense of mystery. The mystery does exist, as does the spirit of adventure - even in these days of the mass-produced, petrol-fed camels, which can transport us over the entire Peninsula with little real danger as we hurtle along the seemingly infinite ribbons of tarmac. Nevertheless, it would be a grave error to consider this land monotonous, and only a fool would stray from the comforting roads with anything other than caution and respect.
In Arabia, an acute sense of scale is imperative to appreciate the contrast of a lone thorn bush in an ocean of gravel, a miniscule plant in a sea of dunes, or a herd of camels in a limitless horizon of scrub. Even the remotest parts of the Empty Quarter have been traversed since time immemorial, but it is presumptuous to consider that Western man has only recently ‘conquered' this inhospitable region. The hardy Bedouin have wrestled with the rigours of life in the desert and have successfully adapted their lives to the environment's foibles - perhaps unwillingly. Equally, Nature's survivors, the plants and animals, have come to terms with the realities of climate and geography, although there have been casualties.
It is only in the latter part of the twentieth century that man has begun to make any appreciable mark on this forbidding landscape. And only time will tell whether such marks have any measure of permanence. In the meantime, The Arabian Desert presents, with a formidable array of photographs, a chronicle of contrast: between ancient and modern, large and small, artificial and natural.