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It’s Raining Here….

Mar 1

In On Location at 2:43pm

It’s not supposed to be raining here. This is Dubai, that giant mushroom of concrete, glass and steel that erupted out of the sun blasted sand and became a magnet for all things over the top. Put the adjective “tallest,” or “biggest” in front of any number of things, and they be here.

I’m convinced it’s me. Bad weather just follows me. Last year in Las Vegas, in the springtime, fer chrissakes, I lost a day’s shooting to a snow storm. Here, where for a chunk of the year the temperature dial is set at “fricassee,” it just ain’t supposed to rain like this. Wild. I used to think it was because I’m Irish Catholic, and I just kind of tug my own personal set of rain clouds around with me, and the following gloom would create an atmosphere conducive to repentance. But now I think I’m just a weather Jonah. A million years ago, I shot so many football games in the rain that at one point I put my 300 4.5 to my eye and watched what I thought was a massive dust speck inside the barrel of the lens just sprout legs and crawl across one of the interior elements. So much moisture had gotten in that thing it was like I had my own personal Amazon rain forest, right there in my camera bag.


Still, though, even after all these years, I remain undaunted. It was looking bleak the other day, but I still went to the desert, looking for non-existent light in the midst of swirling, pre-storm sand. Worked with Sahar, a beautiful Persian dancer, who fuses elements of traditional Sufi and dervish dance styles with modern hand movents and body language. The uncertain sand prevented her from doing her spinning style of dance, but we managed a few frames before we got the hell out of the desert, thunderheads hard on our heels.

Got back to the hotel just as it cut loose, and it actually rained so hard at the rooftop restaurant here, a good portion of the wait staff was dispatched, armed with mops, to combat the rising tide sliding through the doors and towards the tables. Dubai is known for commerce, industry, and increasingly, photography. It is not known for drainage. It’s like Atlanta in a snowstorm, with people staring blankly at streets that just became canals, wondering what to do and when it will go away.

It could also not be me, I’m relieved to report. It could be the city is just having a tough water week. At the Dubai Mall this week, the giant aquarium sprung a leak. The official mall website read thusly:

“A leakage was noticed at one of the panel joints of the Dubai Aquarium at The Dubai Mall and was immediately fixed by the aquarium’s maintenance team.”

A leakage was noticed? Fellas, they just about had sharks sliding through the Benetton in there.

Here of course for the GPP yearly photo fest. It’s a very cool event. Great faculty, great attendance, nice people. And, it was good to go back to the desert, even briefly. I have pursued dance off and on for years, just a photographic hobby I love and keep returning to. Put a few pix lately on the blog of dancers in strange places, and some folks have asked if it’s a new project. Not really. Been doing it a long time. I convinced my reluctant editors at LIFE to send me to Moscow , ’cause I had a contact at the Bolshoi Ballet. They really didn’t want to do it, and when editors really don’t want to do a story, to a photographer that’s a sign from the heavens that it needs to be done. I hectored them about it, and finally they relented and said I could go, albeit unsupported. So, as a staff photographer at a multi-billion dollar company, I used my frequent flier miles to get over there, and I stayed in my fixer’s tenement. It wasn’t a great apartment, but it was a great location. More tk…..


Paige Hermreck says:

on March 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Amazing photographs. Your fantastic!

Paige Hermreck says:

on March 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Amazing photos, your fantastic!

Lewis Coward says:

on March 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm

There are really amazing photos. Truly motivating.

Al Graham says:

on March 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm

First paragraph, you need to add “most expensive” to you adjective list.

Other than that, another thoroughly enjoyable post. I just wish I was successful enough to join you guys. Unfortunately, I suck at business.

Kevin Williams says:

on March 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I’d imagine that if you bring rain to the people of the desert, it’s a blessing. I’m surprised they didn’t saint you. :)

Richard Cave says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Love the Degas influenced pic at the bottom. Hang on got to get the brolly out, every time I read your blog tsk…

NatGeo should do a feature on you as a raingod.

Rob Byron says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Absolutely love the Moscow apartment shot.

Carl Licari says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Hey Numnuts, sure beats 2 feet of snow!

Simon Grosset says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm

In one of the late Douglas Adams’ books (not the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy ones) there’s a character who is a truck driver who can’t work out why it’s always raining wherever he goes. Turns out he has a personal ‘rain god’ who follows him around…..
I’ve been to Ayers Rock/Uluru three times. It drizzled on each occasion.

Kyle S. says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:18 pm

It’s ok Joe, I tend to tug around run clouds with me….and I live in West Texas! Any time I get a hair on my add that says “Lets shoot” it is very quickly halted as the first batch of rain drops hit my face as soon as my camera is pulled from its bag.

Cheers to odd luck!

peter says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I love the 1st pic.

Kyle S. says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:40 pm

rain clouds*

ron hiner says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Joe .. thanks as always for another great post….

Every time I see that tenement picture, it unravels so many stories all by itself. I love the contrasts.. youth vs. age… glamor vs not, leaping high vs bending low, warm light vs florescent light. Awkward framing and the asymmetry of the two scenes and two symmetrical doorways… these pieces all come together in a wonderful magical way with an amazing depth and texture.

So, what have you shot lately? (just kidding!) Have fun in the desert!


Iden Ford says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Nature’s own fog machine in the sky
cool shot with lots of majesty

Ruben says:

on March 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Your pictures never seize to amaze. You truly are a great inspiration.

ingoman says:

on March 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm

great post! joe, I hope we are going out there in the desert with a dancer. I would love to have a shot in my cam like this above! like it so much and I hope the rain keeps away from your terrific workshop!
cu soon

Chris Beckman says:

on March 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Love the dancer in the dessert, reminds me of Iraq except this dessert looks a lot nicer. I would kill for a chance to take my camera to a location like that and snap some pics *one day.

Roger Aylstock says:

on March 1, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Raining in Dubai, eh? Could be worse…could be in Sacramento, CA where the forecast is rain all week. Wait, I’m signed up for your location lighting tour here in May. I’ll get my boat! 😉

JayM says:

on March 1, 2010 at 4:54 pm

The “hall dancer” is beautiful.

karl bratby says:

on March 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm

thanks for sharing joe, sounds like life is in your back pocket…

Jen says:

on March 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Fun read. Both images are wonderful, but I really like the second…the lighting is really cool, esp. with the cleaner in red. Beautiful.

Hoolinator says:

on March 1, 2010 at 6:33 pm

You’re an interesting individual Mr. McNally. I hope you enjoy the desert.

Adam says:

on March 1, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Joe, I’ll carry your umbrella for you if you cover my air fair and hotel

Trevor says:

on March 1, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Looking at all your pics, you jus love ballerinas don’t you! :) By I’m for Abu Dhabi currently in XIIth, giving my finals from March 3rd. Budding interest in photography,but a little quite slack on the equipments. Would love to watch you shoot a scene,or something like an assistant kind of thing, would get a great first hand exposure feel to photography! And yeah…Salaam Uwalequm! Enjoy your stay in Dubai. By the by, ‘av u tried the Metro?

Chairman says:

on March 1, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Joe, when are you going to publish a big, lavish, expensive coffee table book of your dancers?
You’ll put Degas to shame.


Ken says:

on March 1, 2010 at 8:21 pm


Thinking about your comments about the bad weather following you.

I think it more like you are following bad weather. Its a sovereignty of God thing. You see Joe, you are being set up my God to get your attention of a higher calling……not a higher ISO.

All that religious guilt seems to do you in, as it did me, until I was found wandering in my viewfinder….

Love your post, always keeps me going
Ken in KY

Barbara Thorbjörnsson says:

on March 1, 2010 at 8:25 pm

These are exquisite! I did not think you could top the ballerina in the mist but you just might have with the first photo. Beautiful! Inspirational! A joy to view.

Jim White says:

on March 1, 2010 at 8:32 pm

As always, Joe’s photography inspires . . I would spend the remainder of my life (if allowed) following him around the planet assisting with creating his amazing images . .

Fernando Felipe says:

on March 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Great post Joe.
I have to say that you are an inspiration to me, not only when i look at your photos, but also when i hear/read you.
Cheers from Argentina 😀

Jim says:

on March 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Could it be Joe, that you may be a distant relative of Joe Btfsplk of L’ll Abner fame, ya know the guy with a dark cloud always over his head?

Greg Westbrook says:

on March 1, 2010 at 9:49 pm

These are incredible photos Joe. I spent a year in the Iraq desert and never found a dancer like that 😉
As for the rain, at least you can get some great shots of the stormy sky’s. I tend to just have lousy photo syndrome follow me around.
Enjoy Dubai!

Caleb says:

on March 1, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Hey Joe,

Love your photography, but lately, I have grown to love your , ahem…..writing just about as much as any! Love this post. You publish with Human emotion in a way that others can’t touch.

Have fun in Dubai!

jochee says:

on March 1, 2010 at 10:30 pm

always a pleasure reading your blog..
wonderful photos… :-)

Marianne Bush says:

on March 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Fantastic work, Joe. However, you should be happy about the rain. The sky would’ve been blue and really boring without the clouds.

Mark says:

on March 1, 2010 at 11:59 pm

You make people and place magical.

Thanks for more insight.

Simon Fleming says:

on March 2, 2010 at 1:02 am

Another great read Joe. I don’t reckon your rain attracting abilities are a bad thing – I’ve found some of the most interesting images I’ve seen have often come from bad weather that no one else wants to go out in/stay out in… some of my better stuff has definitely come from weather that threatened to blow or wash me away.

Rikke says:

on March 2, 2010 at 1:17 am

Wow is all I can say. Thanks for sharing, gives us something to strive for

Best wishes for a joyful visit in Dubai
/Rikke, Copenhagen

Greg says:

on March 2, 2010 at 3:02 am

I love the photo of the dancer in this old building ! Always brilliant this way of bringing poesy in such places…

Bo Vejgaard says:

on March 2, 2010 at 3:16 am

Hi Joy,

Yet another great description of the situation and your surrounding followed by some great photos.

I keep wanting more.

Ban_D says:

on March 2, 2010 at 3:22 am

Great story, and beautiful shots again!

Gordon says:

on March 2, 2010 at 3:46 am

Joe that last shot is really just beautiful. Love it!

Mike says:

on March 2, 2010 at 4:48 am

That rain is a punishment for forgetting about books give away. All the best Joe:-)

Sheikh says:

on March 2, 2010 at 6:09 am

Not only a great photographer, you are not that bad a story teller:-)

Abdullah AlGarzai says:

on March 2, 2010 at 7:30 am

Had you waited until after the rain, sand would be harder and sand lines would be more pronounced. the color of sand would be punchier also :)

I love rain, but that might be because I am from Saudi Arabia. when i was a kid. we skipped school and went to the desert when it rained. we had to go out in the open and get showered by this blessing. last week, we had a sand storm. that’s something you get from adding wind to an already very dry sand. that might be a good reason to love rain.

Jesper Skærbæk Jensen says:

on March 2, 2010 at 7:36 am

Sharks in the sand? yes, I saw a mobile phone video from the leackage, and yes, there were sharks everywhere :-) Not often you see that …

John A. says:

on March 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

These are awesome! I love your ongoing dance projects. The cool thing it seems about dancers, is that they are a work of art themselves, just add background.

varre says:

on March 2, 2010 at 8:53 am

nice shots.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on March 2, 2010 at 9:27 am


It could be worse, as you could be back in the Northeast where we have been saying it is snowing here. We still have many people in New York without power, only about a half an hour from CT. Trees are down everywhere, road crews trying to restore power, and limbs everywhere. Kids have not been to school in a week. We have been digging out, and now that the sun is out and the weather is a bit warmer, the snow is melting and we have that wonderful season – Pothole season! Out roads have suddenly decided to go south, literally. Holes in pavement have appeared, sinking into a black morass. You can stand in some of them and probably are challenged to see out.

And around the world we have earthquakes and tsunamis. I don’t think we have global warming, but global weather confusion.

Hang in there. Water does drain through sand better than clay.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Girish says:

on March 2, 2010 at 9:40 am

Nice photos.

Always a great read when you post. Nicely put. It is really surprising that place like Dubai getting such a rain. Oh yeah I saw the your photos of various dancers and various places. Looks nice with the great lighting of course.

Can you share how is the last photograph lit.

Fiona says:

on March 2, 2010 at 10:29 am

Wow,those pictures are incredible! What luck to have rain and clouds in the desert.You’re amazing too.I love your sense of humor and the way you write.

Mistie Mcdonld says:

on March 2, 2010 at 10:47 am

Yay mother nature!!But you got an amazing shot before she rained on your parade! LOL
I so understand the love of dance..I myself have a bit of an obsession with it.I photograph some of the belly dancers here in Lawton Ok from time to time…but I wanna shoot a ballerina so bad..the look of motion & pose are soo fluent…love the shots man!!!

Ken Toney says:

on March 2, 2010 at 11:51 am

Joe, don’t think the bad weather is following YOU, it’s everywhere! Hey man, I think I like reading your bloggers comments as much as your blog, I mean “numnuts”, thats funny.

Atiyeh says:

on March 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Hi Joe,

It was so lovely meeting you today and getting your autograph on your book! SO AWESOME!

i though bad weather comes when my husband washes his car!! we actually laugh at this because he can wash his car once a year here in Dubai since its so hot in summer! so since he started washing his car again.. we have rain.. and he washed his car last night or the night before I believe.. so I think you can blame him!

Are you gonna go to the desert again while you are here? Can anyone join?

Sahar looks lovely and I know you shot her in dark, right? thats what I heard from one of the models today. she said she was there and you were shooting in dark and it would turn out like its a day! she was sooo amazed! I was like welcome to Joe Mcnallyhood!!!!



John Swanson says:

on March 2, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Joe, you must have some power. Your rain cloud hit here at Baghdad. Definately a man that packs power!

Christina Wehbe says:

on March 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm

LOL I was there in Vegas last year when the snow hit the desert! It was devastating. good luck In Dubai. I miss that side of the world

Colleen says:

on March 2, 2010 at 5:32 pm

I enjoy your blog :)

Brian Burke says:

on March 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Doo-hoo-hoo’d. That desert shot is just crazy.

Phat Photographer says:

on March 3, 2010 at 1:55 am

Surely you had a (shoot through) umbrella with you to shield you from the rain :)

Ken Toney says:

on March 3, 2010 at 10:54 am

Joe, just saw the storms on the news for Dubai, did you get any lightning photos?

Michael Kalbo says:

on March 3, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Mr. McNally I would just like to say that I truly enjoy your blog. Your a HUGE inspiration to me. Someday I hope to be able to produce amazing photographs like you.

Thank you for sharing your creativity with us.

Michael Wiesman says:

on March 4, 2010 at 9:37 am

Better luck with the weather for the remainder of the stay, at least there isn’t snow on the ground there like back in Wisconsin. Although, we have had a heat-wave over the past few days, it’s been into the 50’s!

shawn chamberlin says:

on March 8, 2010 at 8:57 am

hey joe, hope you had a great time in dubai, just want to mention that i love that top photo in this post. there are so many elements that just make it beautiful, something about the combination of cool sky and warm sand just help the dancer jump out at you. theres also just a hint of warm details on her outfit to help tie in with the background. looks pretty cloudy in the background, i’m assuming you didn’t need that 10 speedlight rig on your c-stand this time? its okay if you did, we know how you are with your light. thanks for sharing joe.


on April 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I LOVE the girl on the sand shot!

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