Ayesha Malik had a pretty idyllic childhood. She spent her days biking down tree-lined streets past green lawns and modest houses, going to softball practice. It would have been fairly standard Norman Rockwell Americana — if it hadn’t taken place in an enclosed compound in Saudi Arabia operated by the world’s largest oil company.
Ms. Malik, an American citizen of Pakistani descent, grew up in Dhahran Camp, a 22.5-square-mile gated community first developed for the American employees of the Arabian American Oil Company, now the state-owned behemoth Saudi Aramco. Today, in addition to housing more than 11,000 employees and their families from all over the world, Dhahran is the location of the company’s worldwide headquarters. While that means Dhahran exists, at its core, to facilitate the daily extraction of millions of barrels of oil, to a young Ms. Malik, that mission was largely invisible and irrelevant. Dhahran was simply the place she called home.
“It just felt like my normal,” Ms. Malik said.
In 2011, however, when Ms. Malik’s father retired from Saudi Aramco, she was inspired to take a closer look at Dhahran with the benefit of age and an emerging artistic sensibility. A photography student at Parsons the New School of Design in New York City at the time, she returned to her hometown to examine the beguiling abnormality beneath the surface of the familiar. She went back several more times in 2016, commuting from her parents’ new home in Riyadh, to make photographs for her book, “ARAMCO: Above the Oil Fields,” which Daylight will publish in August.
“I spent a lot of time after college really reminiscing about being a kid there and feeling attached and not knowing how to let it go,” she…