"Pic of the Month" is a fun look back at the behind the scenes stories,
antics, and events from some
memorable architectural lighting images. Enjoy.
POM #13 - "Wading for Glory",
It's late December, 2002. The phone rings and Ross De Alessi calls to say hi. We talk
about my hope of landing new work in the coming year. He let's me know I just got lucky.
He's got an assignment for me. He asks me if I know anything about a place called Dubai.
At that time, honestly, I had never heard of the place (no clue). I find out that Dubai is an
emirate, one of the 7 emirates called the United Arab Emirates(UAE). Of course I said yes.
Who turns down travel and adventure. I would be ending up in a part of Dubai called
Incidentally, just offshore of Jumeirah Beach is the construction of a gigantic man made
island, about 16 KM long. This island will be in the shape of a palm tree. This man made
artifact will be visible from space. (http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=13560).
While working, there is the constant drone of machinery in the distance. The ground
resonates as well with this offshore activity. At night the sky is brightly lit with the work
lights from this 24 hour construction site (The strong horizontal band of lights visible
through the windows on the right side of the image are this offshore city of construction in
Image: Reflecting Pool - Royal Mirage Arabian Court, Dubai, U.A.E.
Lighting Design: Ross De Alessi
Photo Assistant: Susan "Susie" Stolberg
Film: Fuji NPS Neg Film
Exposure: 90 Seconds
Camera: Horseman 45L
Lens: 90 mm Schneider Grandagon f4.5
Gear Head: Majestic 1200
Photographer: Shoeless, Wet, & wearing 4 day old clothes
Clients: Ross De Alessi, One & Only Royal Mirage Arabian Court, B-K Lighting, Lutron, Lucifer Lighting, Elliptipar, Greenlee/LSI, Hydrel
January 2003, the world is a pretty tense place. Prior to the imminent invasion by the US
forces into Iraq, WMD talk fills the air. Bush, Powell, and Blair are posturing. It turns out that Dubai is situated across the "Persian Gulf" from Iran & close to Iraq (locally, in the Arab world the Persian Gulf is called the Arabian Gulf). I'm being asked to fly to this uncertain part of the world, a few hundred miles from Iraq. I hope the locals like Americans. I'm assured by Ross that Dubai is a very western and modern place. The "Las Vegas" of the Middle East. In fact only a small portion (less than 10%) of its inhabitants are native.
My assignment was to get into and out of Dubai, before the immanent US invasion of Iraq started, and take some pretty lighting pictures of a newly finished 5 star resort call "The One
and Only: Royal Mirage Arabian Court". This project was made possible by the coordinated
resources of Ross, The Royal Mirage, and several Lighting Manufacturers (B-K Lighting,
Lutron, Lucifer, ERCO, Greenlee/LSI, Elliptipar, and Hydrel. )
Susan "Susie" Stolberg was the photographic assistant on this trek. Susie is familiar with
my shooting techniques and always brings a skilled pair of eyes to the shoot. Susie is
unflappable under stress, deadlines, and late hours. Susie has a photo degree from the
prestigious photographic school, RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology, founded by
George Eastman, of Eastman Kodak fame). She was the perfect choice for this project.
New screening regulations by the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) were now
in effect in this post 911 era. Checked luggage would now be opened and screened. This
worried me. Would my large cases of precious camera gear make it through security
smoothly. I always lock my cases. How would this work? Would my professional camera
gear be handled carefully? My cases are full of heavy metal objects and many electrical
wires, just the kind of stuff security screeners are trained to look for. How many times would
my film be x-rayed coming and going. Would it be ruined by one poorly maintained x-ray
machine. Would some "well intentioned" screener inadvertently open one of my light tight
4 x 5 film boxes containing unprocessed film, so they could "properly inspect my film".
(This has come close to happening several times previously). My cases were completely
redesigned to make them easier to inspect. I went through a series of possible designs in the
2 weeks prior to leaving. The resultant new design cost $5 per case at Target and are made
by Rubbermaid. They are the maximum size allowed by most airlines (62 inches). I pack
each with nearly 70 pounds of camera gear. With the addition of plastic "zip tie" locks,
through drilled holes, I get a very secure and durable outer case. Inside I use smaller
modified Rubbermaid trays to hold layers of my stuff. This makes it easier for security folk
to unpack and re-pack the "layers" of the cases. Anyone who has worked with me knows I
travel with lots of stuff. Essentially, the cases are double wall secure with inner trays, for
around $10 total each. Three of these rugged cases protect my breakables. My stands were
in a separate case. My rolling dolly for my cases was in a huge duffle bag along with my
clothing. My clothing provided good padding.
Off we went! 3:00 pm depart for the airport. I find that in order to clear security and make
my flight comfortably, I usually leave for the airport around 3 hours prior to my flight. I'm
always nervous that security might not re-seal my cases properly after inspection. In my
research prior to leaving I questioned the security people at SFO to see if the would reseal
the cases. They said if I provided the closures they would probably reseal them. So my
cases are outfitted with extra zip ties and instructions on how to properly reseal them. You
might say "little reminders". I'm picky about this sort of thing. One of the security screeners
after finishing and resealing my cases asks me if I was ever in the military. I take this as a
compliment. The plane departs on time at 6:00 pm.
What was to be a rather lengthy air journey from San Francisco was compounded by the
presence of snow at Heathrow airport in London. The airport at Heathrow is not well
prepared nor designed to accommodate snow. We arrived in the airspace on time. The light
snow on the ground caused an hour's delay of circling in the sky before we landing. Our
connection was going to be tight. The plane landed and we ran for our connecting flight.
We were the last passengers to board the plane for Dubai. We felt lucky. Now the issue was
that our plane was a bit late departing the gate. With the temperature dropping outside and
snow falling, the captain needed to get the plane de-iced before we could take off. With only
3 de-icing trucks for the the entire Heathrow airport, we spent the next 5 hours waiting
onboard the plane for the 36 planes ahead of us to get de-iced first. We heard that snow is
very uncommon at Heathrow. About six days a year. We were not so lucky! Ouch...
Well, we landed in Dubai at 5 am (5 hours late)(23 hour Journey). Dubai happens to be
exactly 12 times zones ahead of California time. Everything with us is x-rayed upon arrival
in Dubai, as well as the film. This extra x-ray was of little concern at this point, because
none of our checked bags (Camera, Lenses, Equipment, and all of our clothing) has made the
connecting journey to Dubai. Further research revealed that British Airways had thousands
of lost bags in piles at Heathrow, back in London. They were unable to tell us where the
equipment was or when it would be shipped to us. They handed us lovely white T-shirts
and gave us an emergency toiletry kit. We got names and phone #'s and I spent hours on the
phone. Lost luggage reports were filed. No one seemed very concerned. They all said that
our luggage would arrive in a few days. Not to worry. "Enjoy your stay!"
Of course, Susie and I are still wearing the same clothes we were wearing when we
departed San Francisco 1 day earlier. The good part of not having my equipment, allowed
us extra time to worry. I contemplated a lot. Let's see 85 degrees, and a fair amount of
humidity. I did have a brand new white T-shirt. Our planned two days of sight seeing in
Dubai were occupied with mostly making various phone calls to London and trying not to
stress too much. My phone bill that I was asked to pay was about $150. I negotiated with
the resort and was able to reduce most of this cost (Thank you Jean Loup).
Our contact at the resort was Jean Loup Chan. His planning and coordination made the
shoot a complete success. The resort staff was super.
On the positive side, we were still able to work at night "pre-setting" all of the lighting
levels we would use for the final images. Since the entire hotel was on a Lutron system, a
computer controlled lighting system, we were able to create a separate preset lighting
channel using a remote controller box. (In techno speak- A Lutron GRAFIK 6000 Lighting
Control System, using a hand held programmer, connected to a wall port/programmer jack.)
Just by plugging into various wall jacks we could remotely adjust the levels of any area to
the best levels and ratios for photography. My skill as the photographer is matching the
lighting levels the eye sees to what light will look best on film. What the eye perceives is
quite different from what film "sees". When we returned in the following days, the
information I needed was already programmed in. One touch of the Lutron controller and
we were close to perfectly lit. We turned a real disaster into a positive outcome.
Again, the staff at the Royal Mirage Arabian Court were fabulous. Fixtures were cleaned,
lamps were replaced, etc.
Following six "Heathrow to Dubai" flights and two days later, our $10 Rubbermaid cases
and light stands arrive. Of course, the "reddish brown" bag with my rolling dolly was still
missing. (It was actually a maroon colored bag. On the British Airways computer system,
the closest color we could specify was reddish brown. Oh yeah, that's the dolly bag, the one
with all our clothes. We looked pretty silly wearing the same clothes amidst all the fine
people of this 5 star establishment.)
This reflecting pool shot was important for its layering of the light. Many different types
of fixtures combine to show all of the architectural detail. By shooting at dusk, the beautiful
blue sky is enhanced.
As the shot was near to ready, I noticed that one of the fixtures in the pool was not aimed
where it needed to be. I mentioned this to Susie a few times, but somehow it was never
addressed. I was not sure that she wanted to go into the pool. Maybe she didn't understand
my idea. Anyway, as it was so close to shooting time, fast action was required. I knew the
shot needed that last final lighting adjustment to look great. We had one crack at getting
the adjustment right. I quickly removed my shoes and waded into the knee deep pond to
adjust the light. I had to be careful getting into and out of the pool from the side area . Any
wet foot prints left by me would not dry in time. I towel dried my hands so I could operate
the camera. So there you have it, I was standing in Dubai , barefoot and dripping wet,
wearing the same clothes and underwear I began the journey wearing. Glamour has it's price.
The bigger problem with this image was how much time was needed for all of the water
ripples to clear (created by my wading in the water). The first exposure did not have the
reflection stilled at all. You could still see lots of motion. By waiting the sunset was getting
very close to critical mass. For this "hero" exposure, the water was finally calm, as you can
see. The exposure time was around one minute, thirty seconds. The sunset was beautiful.
We just made it.
SFO to Heathrow - Cases are X-rayed and hand inspected at check-in. Carry-ons are X-rayed at security checkpoint. Film is Hand inspected only and not X-rayed.
Heathrow to Dubai - security check unknown (transferred by British Airways).
Dubai Airport - Everything with us is X-rayed upon arrival. Film is required to be X-rayed. (I negotiate, but lose this point.) Sigh.
Dubai to Heathrow - At Building Entry: Cases and Carry-ons are X- Rayed and hand searched . Film is X-Rayed (I lose the discussion).
At British Airways Counter: Cases are X-rayed
At Main Terminal Entry Point: Carry-ons are X-rayed. Film is X-Rayed (I lose the discussion).
At the Boarding Gate: Carry-ons are X-rayed. Film is X-Rayed (I lose the discussion).
Heathrow to SFO - Cases are X-rayed at Check-in.
(We win the British Airways security lottery. Computer selects us for
additional free X-ray screening of all of our bags, etc....)
Cases are RE-X-rayed and hand searched at special security outpost.
Film is X-Rayed (I lose the discussion).
Carry-ons are X-rayed entering terminal area. Film is X-Rayed (I lose the discussion).
SFO Airport- Cases and carry-ons are X-rayed upon arrival. Film is hand inspected only
(I love SFO).
Total Film X-rayed: 6 TIMES (out of 8 Potential Situations)
Security people have always assured me that the x-rays their machines emit is safe for my
kind of film on a single exposure basis. . But, they do not take into account multiple
exposures to a variety of machines and conditions. After working for 6 days halfway around
the world (12 time zones), I was curious if any of the images would be ok on my film. The
film I shoot has a relatively slow speed (asa 160), but multiple exposures to X-ray really
concerned me. My precious work had been zapped 6 times in total. At this time in the
world, post 911 there are few standards for multiple exposures to x-ray. I have tried many
times to plead that once may not harm my film, but the repeated zaps from the many airport
changes on a long trip might pose a threat to the film. I was a little nervous.
The TSA in the US, now has guidelines for pro films like mine. Now, they will usually
hand inspect the film. I have found that outside the US, the overseas security people will
almost always x-ray the film. No amount of negotiating will change their minds. Sigh...
Despite the many x-rays, my film managed to arrive at my usual SF lab (Light Waves)
without scan marks from the x-ray machines. I was lucky. I could finally relax, and breathe
a little easier. The film was then scanned by Iris Photo Digital in SF (on an Imacon
scanner). 120 Megabyte files were produced to give the various clients large enough files to
handle most future needs. Enjoy the shot...
Douglas A. Salin Photographer
647 Joost Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94127
Previous "Pic of the Months" may be viewed at:
PS- On the morning of day 5 wearing the same famous clothes, I decided to be daring. After working all night, I got back to my room at about 8 am. I undressed and sent ALL of my clothes to be cleaned at the hotel laundry. There was still no sign of my lost maroon bag.
Nice of the hotel to provide bathrobes to their guests. I had the laundry rushed with the 4 hour service. I slept while the clothes were washing. My greatest fear, of course, was that this would be the ONE TIME that a distant laundry lost my clothes. I'm feeling just a wee bit vulnerable. It would be the wrong time. It was not to be this time. Simultaneously my clean clothes showed up in the early afternoon of day 5, along with the long lost Maroon Duffle. I was drowning in clothes...
Dubai History, etc...
Stumbled across this...
Ross De Alessi...
The One and Only Royal Mirage Arabian Court...