Q&A: Crane worker’s camera captures Toronto construction
We spoke with crane mechanic Justin McConnell about exploring his passion for photography.
A crew works high above the city of Toronto. – Justin McConnell/Toronto Beyond Media
Justin McConnell has combined two of his passions, construction and photography, into a project that aims to put Toronto’s blue collar workers in the spotlight. McConnell’s company, Toronto Beyond Media, uses cameras, drones and his years of job site experience to capture the complex and dizzying work being done high above the city. To see more of McConnell’s work, check out his Instagram account.
SiteNews: How did you get your start in the construction sector?
Justin McConnell: Got my start in the tower crane / construction sector about five years ago after deciding to make some big changes with my life. Moved into the city from Peterborough, Ont. after a little help from a good friend of mine who was a safety supervisor within one of the tower crane companies.
Was fear of heights something that you had to overcome or did this kind of work come naturally to you?
I’d be a liar if I said heights didn’t bother me at the start. But with a lot of experience and day to day work involving working at extreme heights, you just learn to focus on the task in hand, and heights just become an everyday thing to deal with.
What sort of skills does it require to do crane erecting/mechanical work?
Skills involved with everything to do with tower cranes can range from being physically fit, problem solving, mechanically inclined but with that said, it’s very task-specific with cranes. These machines are changing every year and getting more and more computerized then ever. We all learn new things everyday which makes it more rewarding going into work everyday. Working within a team is extremely important as well. I could sit here until my fingers hurt trying to explain how tower cranes get erected, dismantled, climbed and jumped which is terms used to basically raise the crane up within the buildings. Some tower cranes climb on the external side of buildings which is a whole other world of raising the cranes up higher.
Has this sort of work given you a different perspective on the city of Toronto?
This line of work has given me a massive change in my view of the city. Literally. But just learning the process from the engineering, working with all the different trades that it takes to build these massive buildings is honestly more of an honour to be a part of.
How did you get interested in photography?
My story on the interest of photography is kinda funny actually. I was literally just laying there on a Saturday night not being able to sleep. Looking for another change. Something more. A hobby basically. I always knew I liked photography but there was just something sitting in the back of my mind with it all. So the next day I woke up bright and early and went to Henry’s downtown Toronto and purchased my first camera which is a Canon R6 mark 2. Working in the industry I do, there was this lightbulb that went off. I could give people a different look as to what these hard working men and women went through. Getting to know the right people I was able to go out alongside these men and women on my free weekend and take action shots. First the photos started. I made a social media account and wanted to stay blue collar specific. Unions started to see them, other companies started to see them along with just the general public. More and more people started to see what I was able to have access to with these amazing heights and Job locations. My first photos were published within the local 793 Operating Engineers Union Magazine and I couldn’t believe what was happening. But once again wanted to show more. I wanted to be “ that guy” that when I show up to a job site, everyone knew who I was and what I was showcasing to the world. So then came along the drone which the skills and knowledge involved with these amazing toys if you will, all just came as a natural talent for me. I was obsessed and in love with this passion that I had no idea was inside of me. I showcased to the world my first video of tower crane erectors prepping a tower crane downtown Toronto that no one in my mind in the GTA has seen before. The views and likes, comments and shares of this video blew up. And this is how Toronto Beyond Media came about. A hidden passion within myself that has lead me to meeting some amazing people and new friends. Where this is going to lead me, who knows. But I know it’s going to be somewhere I’ll never forget.
Why did you decide to start Toronto Beyond Media?
Toronto Beyond Media is Candid photos and action shots within the blue collar industry. It has started out with tower crane erectors, welders, iron workers and so on. I want to showcase anything and everything involved. It also involves video being captured with a DJI drone, and that to me has really given the people an amazing view and perspective on these extreme workers.
Did your experience in the construction industry help your videography/photography career?
I think my experience within my industry gives me a huge advantage with the general person that wants to film. I say this because when I film a dismantle or a tower being erected, I know all the different timelines and steps that are involved. So knowing when to fly at specific times and knowing what exactly to shoot, gives people the idea of how all this goes down.
What has been your most difficult/complex shoot so far?
I can’t say there’s really been a difficult shoot. I say this because wind, rain, and bad lighting all come into effect. If I know its going to be bad with any of these, the shoot just won’t happen. I am able to be alongside these men and women at their extreme heights to fly and capture images so obstacles that may come into effect, I am always aware of. I am honestly proud of every video and photo I take. And that’s because of the love I get from the fans of my work.
What do you find most visually interesting in construction as a photographer/videographer?
I think the most interesting part of all this is just how much the general population doesn’t know how much work, or what kind of work goes on within these industries.
What do you want to show about blue collar life through your images?
And once again, I wanna be the person who provides the utmost amazing, realistic, up close and personal views of these industries. I wanna “wow” people and really bring a new respect for these hard working men and women.