On the face of it, the UAE might seem an obvious theme for a pictorial automotive publication, given its proliferation of incredible motors, but Cloud 9 Photography, the husband-and-wife team behind forthcoming book Cars of the Emirates, aren't quite that straightforward.
Jonathan and Zarina Taylor’s previous two tomes of four-wheeled eye candy have centred around two left-of-centre locations – Cuba and Iceland – while their bread and butter is the often-lucrative world of architectural and interior-design photography. When I meet Jonathan in the English town of Reading, about 30 minutes west of London, he has just finished a shoot for fast-food giant McDonald’s, while multinational fashion brands such as Jimmy Choo are among regular clients.
Yet their true passion lies in capturing some of the world’s most photogenic cars, and it was this that eventually led the couple, who live in Leeds, to Dubai, from where they also explored two other emirates.
“We started on a vacation to Cuba, with all the amazing cars there, in 2013,” Cambridge graduate Jonathan recalls. “I’d been in the photography business shooting buildings for 25 years at the time, and although it’s nice and I love architecture and interior design, I’ve always liked cars and I wanted something where I didn’t have a client telling me what I was going to be doing.
"The car work was a personal project that has developed and got slightly out of hand now – sometimes I spend more time shooting cars than I do buildings. In 2015, we did Iceland, and for the past two years I've been shooting in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah to make Cars of the Emirates."
Jonathan’s links with high-end camera company Phase One resulted in him being invited to Dubai for an event where he gave a talk about the photography in the aforementioned Iceland book.
“I’ve been to the UAE on and off for the past 20-odd years, but while I was out there with Phase One, I had the idea that I might use Dubai as the next project,” he says. “I met one or two people there, who put me in touch with other people, and I built a network.
“I’ve come back and done about 10 shoots in Dubai – 10 individual trips. Some have been two weeks, some just over a weekend.”
Initial plans to juxtapose the cars with recognisable architecture, as they did with their Iceland project, were hampered slightly by the UAE’s laws on public photography.
“Yes, it would be nice to pull up in a Lamborghini outside a shiny hotel [and shoot it], but I got to the point where I knew I couldn’t do that – you logistically can’t organise that,” he says. “That turned it on its head and I ended up with something different, which I think is more interesting, because you’ve seen a million shots of Lamborghinis and Bugattis parked outside the Burj Al Arab. I want to show things that other people don’t see. So many people go to Dubai and think it’s just high buildings, shopping malls and a lot of desert. Anything quirky I can photograph a car in front of, I’ll do it.
The “something different” that he refers to is a collection of automotive images in front of lesser-known landmarks across Dubai districts such as Al Barsha and Al Quoz, and farther afield. Casual observers will nevertheless recognise a handful of locations, such as Yas Marina Circuit and Dubai’s Armani Hotel.
When it came to sourcing cars, as well as private owners, they worked with Dubai experts such as Tomini Classics, Kanzen Motorsports and detailing company District 31. The stable of picture-perfect wheels include modern hypercars (Ferrari LaFerrari, Bugatti Chiron), sports and supercars through the ages (Lancia Stratos, Ferrari F40, Porsche GT3 RS) and even some 1980s curios (DeLorean DMC-12, Lamborghini LM002). The Cars of the Emirates remit was flipped when it came to the UAE-built Jannarelly Design-1, though, via a guerrilla shoot in New York.
"I was in town for Jimmy Choo," Jonathan recalls. "We took it down to Times Square at 5am – it was like a 28 Days Later shoot [the Danny Boyle movie that featured sequences filmed in empty early-morning streets in London without shutting any roads]. We ended up with a shot that I think is as good as if I'd had a whole team behind me.
“We also use studio lighting outside, but not so much that it looks fake like an advertising shot. There’s a lot of work that goes into them – some images have had eight hours of retouching just to make them look perfect.
“Because the quality is so good, they look amazing blown up to two metres. We’re going to do an exhibition with this work.”
Plans for a Dubai show follow an exhibition of the Iceland book’s photos in Reykjavik, plus a mooted return to Cuba next year. A Dubai venue is yet to be confirmed, but Jonathan moots Tomini Classics’ base in Al Barsha and next year’s Xposure International Photography Festival in Sharjah.
The project isn’t quite finished yet, however, with numerous permissions required from owners of the buildings and backdrops featured. Having already invested £20,000 (Dh95,360) of his own money, Jonathan says it may even become an ongoing affair after the book is published.
“It’s going to be well into next year before we decide what we’re going to do with [the book],” he explains. “I could shoot for ever, because every time I go to the UAE, I meet more people and they say: ‘Oh, can you come and shoot this?’ I know a guy who’s a stunt driver with 4x4s, so I was hoping to get them jumping on the dunes – that’s another element of UAE cars that ought to be in the book. I’d like to do another couple of shoots, but I also think I could add to it over the years because I’ve made so many contacts in the car world that I’ll go back just for the fun of it doing extra shoots.”