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Vertiginous photos show Dubai from the sky

Published 8th July 2020
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Vertiginous photos show Dubai from the sky
Written by Stephanie Bailey, CNN
How do you capture in images the transformation of a city's ever-changing skyline? In Dubai, photographer Jumana Jolie has decided the best way is from above.
She's been making a splash with her dizzying photos of the emirate from the sky, and amassing a growing army of Instagram followers in the process.
Her signature style of aerial imagery was something she discovered while working for a news agency. In 2007, three years into the construction of the Burj Khalifa -- the iconic super scraper and tallest building in the world -- Jolie was sent on assignment to photograph its progress.
Struggling to find the best angle, she had an idea. She found a nearby hotel with a pool on the top floor, set up on the rooftop and took a picture of the growing silver scaffolding.
This was the beginning of a career documenting cities from above, capturing snaps from helicopter windows and rooftop edges.
On the left is the photograph Jolie shot of the Burj Khalifa, from her first rooftop. The photo on the right is from the same location, 10 years later.
On the left is the photograph Jolie shot of the Burj Khalifa, from her first rooftop. The photo on the right is from the same location, 10 years later. Credit: Jumana Jolie

Forgotten images

Now, with life changed by Covid-19 and social distancing restrictions, Jolie is using her social media accounts to reflect on what she misses most about life pre-coronavirus and share some of her older photos of Dubai with the world.
"The lockdown was really difficult because I couldn't go out and shoot anything," said Jolie. "But it gave me the chance to go through my archives because I realized I had a lot of forgotten content and a lot of unpublished images."
Born and raised in Dubai, Jolie graduated with a degree in photography from the American University in Dubai in 2005. Two years later, she joined international news agency Reuters.
For some seven years, Jolie says she photographed sporting events and news, including the Arab Spring in Yemen in 2012. But she eventually left the job, wanting more control over her images and the chance to explore more opportunities with aerial photography.
"When you're working for a news agency, you shoot what you see," she explained. "You cannot really work in post-production or do anything with the content."
Now, Jolie focuses on her own platforms, working with brands including Nike and Turkish Airlines, and snapping shots of cities from the sky -- either by using a drone, from a rooftop, or her preferred method, a handheld camera from a helicopter window.
"I've been shooting from helicopters for almost 10 years," she said. "I am constantly on the move, whether it is getting up at sunrise to get one shot of the desert, going out at sunset or 'blue hour' to shoot the lights of the city."
Jolie admits that photography is still a male-dominated profession in the Middle East, but says more women are entering the field.

A desert town to a metropolis

The bulk of her photography has focused on documenting changes to the evolving emirate.
"I was lucky to see the changes and see how fast Dubai transformed," she said. "I remember growing up and seeing it from mostly a desert landscape to seeing it now, how it just transformed into a metropolis."
Jolie says she favors aerial photography because it has given her the chance to zoom out for a simpler understanding of the world below, away from the bustle on the ground.
"Seeing a city from above is completely different," she explained. "Everything looks so simple, so serene and the opposite of being on the roads, between the traffic and the chaos."