Joe McNally

When faced with one of the world’s most iconic build­ings, Joe takes a dif­fer­ent point of view… from the top down!

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What it’s like to dan­gle from the world’s high­est build­ing

It is a task as end­less as the desert. The Burj Khal­ifa soars out of the Dubai sands like an 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 at Burj Khal­ifa, and the Emaar Group, I was al­lowed to climb to the top a cou­ple of years ago, and made a snap of some very bat­tered shoes (below right). 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 won­der­ful win­dow wash­ers.

Th­ese guys… geez. They dan­gle from the side of this struc­ture daily, vault­ing into space on their ropes with the ease most folks dis­play when get­ting on a bus. Their ef­forts keep the desert at bay. The sands rise up on the wind ev­ery day, and cloak the build­ings of Dubai with a gritty 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, get to the bot­tom… and 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. Don’t worry about the noth­ing­ness below. Your rig is bomb-proof. Push off the glass. Walk the wall. De­scend. Shoot. Work it the way Mike taught you. Wax on, wax off. Es­tab­lish a rhythm. Smile. En­joy this mo­ment.

Go below the crew and look up. Now your cam­eras are get­ting pelted with soapy, sandy wa­ter (right). Wipe down your glass. Trust the gear, with cam­era straps wired, and ex­tra teth­ers clamped to cara­bin­ers. Each cam­era swing­ing in space. D810, D4s, 14-24mm f/2.8, 16mm fisheye, 70-200mm f/2.8. They do not fail me.

The click of your shut­ter mixes with the squeaks of the wipers. 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.

Say the pho­tog­ra­pher’s prayer: ‘Lord, don’t let me screw this up.’ You won’t get this back. Shoot from above, shoot from below. Work wide, work tight. 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 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. Great things are de­cided. Or de­ferred. Words in the air.

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 how much I love be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher?

Sling­ing into space at floor 112, as a new­bie, can shrivel many things deep in­side of you. Your con­fi­dence, your… well, never mind

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