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Visualizing the Desert
Karl S. Twitchell and the Environmental Imaginaries of the Saudi Arabian Desert, 1936-48
Dalal Musaed Alsayer
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This paper uses three different representations (aerial photograph, map, photograph) to shed light on how environmental imaginaries of the desert systematically created a “wasteland” that enabled an architecture of exploitation and extraction in which the histories, characteristics, and narratives of Saudi Arabia were replaced. Organized in chronological order, the images were produced in connection with US geologist Karl Saben Twitchell’s desire to extract resources from Saudi Arabia through his role as the Saudi King’s confidant and US expert. Here, representation and extraction allowed Twitchell and his company, Saudi Arabian Mining Syndicate, to frame the landscape as a “regime of emptiness” that enabled the systematic transformation of the Saudi desert.

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