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:-)))