One of his photographs shows the structure standing as a solitary presence above sunlit clouds, looming over the fog in a neat white arc. The photo was taken some time after the observation pods were fitted on to the wheel late last year and captures the serene landscape that could be seen from the top of the 250-metre-tall structure.
Opening on Thursday, Ain Dubai has long been publicised for its record-breaking size. Knowing it's the world’s tallest and largest observation wheel is one thing. Actually seeing its windowed pods peering over an endless wash of clouds is an entirely visceral way of grasping that fact.
The photograph is one in a series that documents the structure over a nine-month period. The images capture the attraction in the midst of photogenic weather as well as during key moments, such as New Year's Eve celebrations.
“The photographs can tell you two things about Ain Dubai,” Alnaji, 23, says. “Most importantly, the height of it. Even if you see it in person, it’s hard to imagine how huge this thing is. Another is its stunning location. It’s in the middle of the sea. You can see boats, and the Moon’s reflections on the waters.”
Alnaji’s photographs of Bluewaters Island show Ain Dubai dwarfing the beachside cluster of commercial, hospital and residential towers. However, what gives a pretty good impression of its size are the photographs captured in fog that isolate and accentuate the wheel’s enormity, albeit with some poetic licence.
One image shows the wheel with fog up to its midsection, while far down below, two boats draw lines along a patch of the Arabian Gulf’s waters. The boats’ frothy trails are more apparent than their pinprick forms.
“Next to the wheel, they look like toys,” Alnaji says.
But a photograph can only be as good as its vantage point. To take an image looking down at the world’s tallest observation wheel meant having to be somewhere even higher up. Alnaji knew of such a place because he used to live in it.
Up until last year, he lived on the 90th floor of Princess Tower, Dubai’s tallest residential building. The apartment’s balcony, he says, is one of his favourite shooting spots and offers an unobstructed view of Ain Dubai. Luckily, Alnaji is friends with the current tenants, who let him come and go as he pleased.
“I used to wake my friends up at like 5 in the morning, saying I was coming upstairs,” he says. “I’d also stay awake all night on that balcony, taking pictures and getting some work done, while waiting for the Moon to come. It was tiring, but great.”
Alnaji began photographing Ain Dubai as early as last summer. He took countless images of the observation wheel, but started again once the pods were in place.
“Around November [last year], when the cabins were installed, I decided to start the project. We began on New Year’s Eve to photograph the fireworks.”
Not all of the images in the photo series were captured from Alnaji's view from Princess Tower. He also took to the skies via a drone and photographed Ain Dubai from the rooftop of Caesars Palace at Bluewaters Island, situated at the foot of the observation wheel.
The Ain Dubai project is Alnaji’s latest effort in capturing the city’s architecture. Last year, he released a time-lapse video documenting the city from his 90th-floor balcony during a thunderstorm. The project came about during the thick of the pandemic, as stay-at-home measures were put in place across the city.
A Palestinian born and raised in the UAE, Alnaji’s interest in Dubai’s cityscapes stems from seeing its transformation first-hand while growing up.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” he says. “From the early days of my childhood, I got attached to the city’s architecture and construction.”
While photography has been a running passion of his since he was young, Alnaji began to take photography more seriously in the past few years, accepting freelance projects and working professionally as an aerial and cityscape photographer. He is now looking at the site of Expo 2020 Dubai as the inspiration for his next project.
“There is a lot of work to do there,” he says. “Every pavilion is a story in itself.
“I want to take more than just photographs. I want the work to express a message. To create artworks through photography.”