It is a task as endless as the desert. The Burj Khalifa tower, tallest structure in the world, soars out of the sands like a sharply constructed, elegant needle, seemingly designed to pop the blue balloon of sky overhead.
It is a magnet for the eye, and hence the camera. Courtesy of the gracious folks @BurjKhalifa, Waseem and his team, and the Emaar Group, I was allowed to climb to the very top a couple years ago, and made a snap of some very battered shoes.
This time, with the training given to me by the Grako Corporation, and the intrepid duo of Mike Flamson and Pieter Van Der Walt, who are top rated industrial climbers and safety experts, I went over the side of the tower with a crew of amazing, wonderful window washers.
These guys….geez. Diminutive to a fault, but crazy strong, they dangle from the side of this structure daily, vaulting into space on their ropes with the casual ease most folks display when getting on a city bus to go to work. It is their efforts that keep the desert, a raging, living beast that never sleeps, at bay. The sands rise up on the wind every day, and cloak the buildings of Dubai with a gritty, transparent shroud. Ignore it, and it will smother you. Fight it, and it becomes a task worthy of Sisyphus. The crews start at the top, shining up the chrome and glass, go to the bottom….and then start over.
Slinging into space at floor 112, as a newbie, can shrivel many things deep inside of you. Your confidence, your….well, never mind. Keep calm. Breathe. Fight gravity with battered legs that have carried too much gear for too many years. Don’t worry about the nothingness below. Your rig is bomb proof. Push off the glass. Walk the wall. Descend. Shoot. Repeat. Work it the way Mike taught you. Wax on, wax off. Establish a rhythm. Look down. Smile. Remember to enjoy this moment.
Go below the crew and look up. Now your cameras are getting pelted with soapy, sandy water. Tough to see. Wipe down your glass. Trust the gear.
My battered but functioning gear, with cameras straps wired, and extra tethers clamped to carabiners. Each camera swinging in space. D810, D4S, 14-24mm f2.8, 16mm fisheye, 70-200 f2.8. They do not fail me.
Nothing here except the air and the light. The click of your shutter mixes with the squeaks of the wipers, sweeping the desert off miles of glass. It is oddly, pleasantly quiet. Like a silent, invisible hand, the wind will take hold of you and move you. Let it be. You really don’t have a say in the matter.
Think! Say the photographer’s prayer. Lord, don’t let me screw this up. You won’t get this back. Work entire to detail. Shoot from above, shoot from below. Work wide, work tight.
Push off the glass. Descend. Concentrate. Do your job, while they do theirs.
It’s the coolest thing. You’re in the world, in the air, looking, seeing, with a camera in hand. Sweat and uncertainty drip off you. But, there is also the powerful knowledge that this is what you were supposed to do—for all the years, and right now, today.
On the other side of the fancy glass, people sit. Computers hum. Meetings take place. Paper gets pushed. Great things are decided. Or deferred. Words in the air. Notes in a ledger. Numbers on a screen.
Click of the shutter. Time trapped. Absolute certainty measured in hundredths of a second. A knot in the string of time, not to ever be undone.
Have I mentioned on the blog lately how much I love being a photographer? More tk…
Firstly, thanks to Mohamed Somji and Hala Salhi, both of Gulf Photo Plus. They created the tradition of GPP which has allowed me to visit Dubai now almost every year for 10 years.
Again, gracious thanks to Waseem and his marketing group, the folks at the Emaar Group, and @BurjKhalifa, @mydowntowndubai. Thanks to the Grako Corp. and Mike and Pieter, who literally showed me the ropes. Mike’s a pretty good shooter, witness his shot below. (https://www.facebook.com/michael.flamson?fref=ts)
And Pieter helped me be confident in the ropes, by showing me, during training, that even when you go upside down, you are not going to fall.
And to Waseem Khan, without whose can-do energy I would never have made these climbs! Many, many thanks. I think the two of us could converse all day just using Monty Python quotes. He likes to confuse the cat, and I like not to be seen:-)))
Don Bromberg says
Great shots! You prove that you would do anything for your craft.
Andrew Livelsberger says
And I think that I go through some struggle getting images sometime!! lol
Those pictures made me feel like I do if I were there. You are a braver/crazier man than I!! 😀
Thanks for all the great images, stories, inspiration over the years. Keep them coming!
Jim Cutler says
Just……..WOW. A very Joe adventure and great storytelling. I have to sit down now. 🙂
Joe S says
I saw where you had mentioned the Emaar Group and Grako. I do not think I would be able to do that shoot without a corporate sponsorship from Fruit of the Loom!
Dan Levesque says
Joe, once again you add new meaning to your great advice to “get your camera in a different place”.
Richard Haber says
Hey, Joe, seems like you’re not happy unless certain death is one of the options for the shot. Hang in there, in the most literal sense!
Great images from a greate photographer
Anthony C says
Hole. E. Sheeet….
Chris Wilkins says
OMG Joe. I am in awe of your bravery. Not to mention your photography skills.
George Aubrey says
Great shots. Looks like a lot of fun. it may be a good idea for a workshop. I can see it now….Joe will conduct this workshop between the 82nd and the 115th floor during a raging windstorm. Learn how to balance the color and yourself at the same time.
Valent Lau says
Wow that is crazy. Even knowing you won’t fall, at that moment I don’t think my mind would be functioning.
Awesome photos. You are one of the bravest guys I know! To come over the side that high up for your first time is awesome!
Congrats Man. Look forward to seeing you again in the near future.
David Taranza says
Magnificent set of pictures. Next run, will you try to employ some droned speedlights? 😉
Seriously, I am honored that you let us live your adventures with you.
Fadi Kelada says
It must be very humbling experience. Thank you Joe for being such an inspiration.
Jim Ruppel says
Your writing draws me in like your photography.
Brave man Joe!! Awesome set of images.
Craig McAllester says
Good stuff Joe. Next, an Everest expedition?
John Pierce says
whats the saying “you must have a good camera”. Joe has been one of my favourite photographers for many years. These pictures leave me speechless
In your reflection in https://joemcnally.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/JM58073.jpg, I see you away from the building. Did you kick off the glass to create distance between you and the building? ‘Would not have been able to do that. 🙂
James Haddock says
Great adventure Joe!
Wonderful images brought further to life with the wonderfully written backstory.
“The Imagination of Joe McNalley……”, good title for a book?
Joe McNally says
Good one! Many thanks for the kind words…
Joe McNally says
Yep, kicked off pretty hard, and flew outwards to get some distance. Very fun to feel like you’re flying!
Lee Turner says
Joe you always get to have such fun!
I remember you talking about this assignment on one of the Kelby videos. You talking about it doesn’t even come close to seeing the work! Wow Joe, you never cease to amaze me. Great work as always!
Great pics! 🙂
Joe, You are my hero!
I look in awe at your photos, and sit in amazement at your will.
Not many of us could step over the railing, and our hearts thump everybit as hard as yours did.
Your photos convey so much.
thanks again for sharing your works of art, and your story.
Karalyn Hubbard says
Oh my goodness! I get shivers just looking at your images, I couldn’t imagine being out there once, never mind everyday! And your push off the wall…You are so inspiring Joe, keep being fearless, love your images! 😀
Richard Kimbrough says
I am not very comfortable with heights, although I get a lot braver with a camera in hand, and have gone some places I wouldn’t think I would go, you take the cake here. I bet it is fun once the terror wears off. Love the self portrait of you. Really puts the shot in perspective.
Manu Antuna says
Thank you so much Joe, for sharing your knowledge, your experiences, adventures, tips and tricks etc…
To me and many others you are a great source of inspiration and i swear you made us become ,if not good, at least better photographers !
Mike Mahaffey says
Great reading and video. Seeing your dirty cameras had me wondering how you got so many great pictures and managed to keep your front element on your lens clean as you came down the building. How did you get those bodies that dirty but not the glass?