Photography pioneer dismisses claims development has spoiled Maldives “paradise” potential

Photographer Michael Friedel, one of the most prominent names associated with capturing images of the Maldives over the last forty years, has dismissed criticism that rapid national development has ultimately spoiled the destination’s “paradise” mystique.

German national Friedel has spent forty years photographing the changing societal and architectural landscape of the Maldives since the inception of its tourism industry back in the 1970s.

Speaking to Minivan News at the opening of a special exhibition in Male’ this week dedicated to his photography, Friedel conceded that the impact of his work had attracted criticism due to some “bad developments” intense global publicity brought to the country.

“There are people who have said I spoiled paradise, but the country has always been involved in the global market. The country has to sell something to get something and rice doesn’t grow here,” he said yesterday (January 6).

Friedel, who first arrived in the Maldives in the 1970s, is described by exhibition organisers as a major pioneer in capturing images of the country for intentional media.

His photography has been published in international magazines and newspapers, as well as being found locally on postcards and five different stamps that have been sold in the country.

“Most of the bad developments in the beginning did come from the outside, but the country has got it under control now,” Friedel claimed. “In the early days, Italians would just shoot fish with spear guns just to show how many they had caught, not to eat and people were also hunting turtles just to sell the shells. But after two years, these things were banned.”

When Friedel first arrived in the Maldives in the early 1970s, he said the country was relatively unknown to rest of the world.  However, after pictures he had taken of the country were published in Germany’s Stern magazine, he said major press organisations around the world wanted copies.

“Most countries in the world were well known in the 70s, but Maldives was not. So when I first took these pictures, I was lucky to have so much interest from international publications,” he said.

Friedel argued that while the whole world had changed over the last 40 years, the scope of these developments was far more noticeable in the Maldives.

“This used to be a country where nobody came to and it was extremely isolated. The British had an agreement here, and they had one officer stationed on a little island. Most other countries were influenced by colonialism, but the Maldives were not,” he said.

“The whole world has changed in 40 years, but here it was more because the country was untouched.”

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb, who officially opened the exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Male’, praised Friedel as a “pioneer”. He added that his work helped introduce the Maldives to glossy international magazines and travel media, defining the image by which the destination is still sold to this day.

“Michael has been one of the key players to promote the Maldives and through his pictures he brought the country into the lime light,” Adheeb claimed. “This all started back in 70s and 80s when our tourism budget was zero. We appreciate everything he has done, through his pictures we see where we were then to where we are now.”

The exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Male’ showcases 58 of Friedel’s photographs taken in the Maldives from between 1973 to 1977 as part of celebrations marking 40 years of tourism in the country.

The exhibition will run from January 6 to January 13.