Night sky on Socotra
Photo by Abdul Dremali
Photo by Abdul Dremali

Astrophotographer Abdul Dremali Wants You to Build a Relationship with the Night Sky

From Easter Island to Socotra, Dremali explores astronomy across cultures.

You might know Abdul Dremali as the guy who has the @Advil handle on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter). And no, he's not linked to the ibuprofen brand. Dremali is a Nevada-based astrophotographer who travels the world connecting not only with dark skies, but also with the cultural legacies associated with them. His journey has taken him to some of the most remote and scenic places on Earth, from Easter Island to Socotra, which he documents in prints and photo books he sells through his website and Patreon. But it's not just the landscapes and skyscapes that call to him—It's the people and their histories, too. As told to Stefanie Waldek.

I grew up deeply passionate about space. I used to take my dad's Carl Sagan books to school with me, and instead of reading what we were supposed to be reading at school, I'd be flipping through the pages of astronomy books and magazines. It wasn't until college that I realized that I liked the pictures in those books more than any of the other stuff. Photography in general was something I didn't realize I was passionate about, but in retrospect, I always had a camera by my side, taking photos of my friends and everything that I was up to.

When I graduated college, my mom gifted me a digital camera with an ultra-wide-angle lens so I could start doing Milky Way photography. I studied kinesiology to become a physical therapist, and upon receiving that camera, I immediately threw away my education and said, "Nope, this is what I want to do forever."

Milky Way over Easter Island
Photo by Abdul Dremali

I was born in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, and I moved around a lot because my family and I are refugees. One thing that I always noticed was that I saw the same stars everywhere I went. It was a huge, huge comfort for me to look up and see Cassiopeia, to see Ursa Major, to see Orion in the winter. And to know that no matter where I was, I could go outside, look up, and I'd have friends waiting for me out there.

That was something I really wanted to bring to my audience, and especially to other people who don't have that kind of relationship with the night sky. It's so important for you to not just live vicariously through others, but to build a relationship with the night sky, because all of our ancestors looked up, and they wondered. It's our duty to do the same.

Abdul Dremali
Photo by Abdul Dremali

Right now, I'm working on a project where I am visiting the dark skies in the world. Rather than just choosing the absolute darkest points on a map, I'm trying to link places with a connection to the night sky. So, for example, I went to Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, and I learned all about the Polynesians and their methods of wayfinding. They were the greatest sailors in human history, sailing the entire Pacific with outstanding precision, and the stars were one of their primary navigational tools.

It's really important for me to connect with the local cultures, especially the indigenous cultures, and learn firsthand to communicate that to my audience. I was given exclusive permission from the indigenous community of Rapa Nui to go photograph the quarry at night, which is a huge, huge privilege. Then I found myself on Anakena Beach, photographing the Moai under the starry sky, hearing the waves in the background. I remember smiling so much that my face was sore. That was something I don't think I'll ever forget.

Bottle tree on Socotra against starry sky
Photo by Abdul Dremali

I also deeply connected with the people of Socotra, which is an island in the Arabian Sea, in Yemen. When I was there shooting, it was Ramadan. When I was a kid, my dad was the leader of the local mosque, and it was his job to sight the moon for the first day of Ramadan. We would go to the Everglades, and we would get away from light pollution, and we would try to sight the crescent moon. So being in Socotra for the first day of Ramadan was incredibly special. I'm Muslim Arab, so I was able to communicate with the locals in our native language, and it was a very special experience for me overall.

My point here is to learn and teach astronomy from a different perspective. We're typically taught the European perspective of astronomy, which is great and really does the job of teaching the basics and fundamentals of astronomy. But astronomy is something that connects all cultures all over the world, so my goal with this project is to connect people with the astronomy of the world, not just of Europe.

Erupting volcano and night sky
Photo by Abdul Dremali

I think it's really important to communicate the impact of astronomy because we're losing the night sky at a rapid rate. Light pollution is getting worse, and we need to protect the night sky so that future generations can look up and wonder just like our ancestors did. By robbing them of that opportunity, who knows what kind of inspiration we're taking away from them?

Something that really motivates me about the future of light pollution is the simplicity of what it takes to actually fix the problem. It's things like lowering the intensity of light bulbs, pointing the light bulbs downwards, or using motion sensors so that the lights are on only when they're needed. Countless animal ecosystems are affected by light pollution—Most migratory birds travel at night, for instance, and they need a dark sky in order to do so safely. And of course, human health is vastly affected by light pollution as well.

Dragons Blood Trees on Socotra against night sky
Photo by Abdul Dremali

And we're already doing the work. As part of DarkSky International, there are Dark Sky Sanctuaries, Dark Sky Parks, and even Dark Sky Communities. These are neighborhoods that have committed to protecting their night sky in various parts of the United States and elsewhere. Flagstaff, Arizona, for example, is the world's first Dark Sky City. You can see the Milky Way from the city center, and it's quite an incredible sight.

We're not abolitionists when it comes to light. We're just advocating for the responsible use of artificial light at night. Going to and reading the blog and the countless resources they have available is an excellent starting point for someone looking to protect their night sky in their community. A better future is possible. We just have to make an effort.

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Stefanie Waldek is a contributor for Thrillist.