While I have regrettably never seen Egypt’s ancient pyramids, I remember looking through my history books as a kid and being a little disappointed by the images after hearing the wild tales of the people buried inside. They didn’t match up—the photos of the pyramids in daylight set against a cloudy blue sky just didn’t do them justice.
Recently, the creative team at the Smithsonian magazine set out to take a fresh look at the Pyramids of Giza for their October 2015 issue. They commissioned Cairo photographer David Degner and gave him the challenge of photographing the ancient pyramids in a new way.
I have lived in Egypt for five years and I always avoided photographing the pyramids. Mainly because it has been photographed so much I didn’t feel like I could add anything new to it.
David’s solution was to photograph the pyramids at night, using the illumination of the (typically cheesy) Sound and Light show as his flashes.
Photographing such a massive structure is no easy task. He moved away from his usual style and embraced the drama and the grandiose by creating images that depict the awe-inspiring nature of these landmarks. There were a few bumps in the road along the way, but David (with some help from Uber) made the best out of the situation.
The main challenge was getting permission from the Ministry of Antiquities, especially during the month of Ramadan. They barely have a fax machine and have offices spread across three corners of the city. Luckily Uber exists in Egypt, which kept me air conditioned as I physically chased officials for signatures and babysat the paperwork.
Finally, after a month of planning, David and his team were able to turn a few dry and dusty pyramids into a series of mysterious and captivating images. David came away from the challenging assignment with a nice reminder:
It may sound corny, but I remembered how great supportive editors can be. I’m used to trying to make magic on short deadlines and scant resources. But with time, money and support from the editors we were able to make something truly unique.