Fishing from a kayak in the Florida Keys with a GoPro camera

There is nothing like securing a contract to photograph an event like the one I was blessed with in June.

Nik Wallenda was going to walk a high wire across the Grand Canyon, untethered, and the Discovery Channel was going to broadcast it to more than 200 countries with an estimated viewership of 200 million people.


Nik Wallenda walks a high wire across the Grand Canyon June 24, 2013

I had been hired to document the event, Nik’s family and friends who were there, and add to the already-vast Wallenda family legacy, archives and heirlooms. I would also feed to Getty Images.


Nik Wallenda gestures into the abyss on the first day of on-site training.


Nik sits on the edge of the Canyon at sunrise on the first day of on-site training.

All in all, it would be a demanding, pressure-filled shoot, four-day shoot, yet with a built-in cushion: Great visuals guaranteed. How could it get better?

By taking my near-80 year old father along.


Dad made friends easily. He laughs with Jack Hanna’s wife, Suzi, at the Grand Canyon within five minutes of meeting her

Nik Wallenda is a nice, kind, sweet, friendly, talented, charming, devoted family man. I didn’t steal that line from any press release. I learned it on my own. This year he let me photograph him nearly a dozen different times.


Nik Wallenda walks a high wire over downtown Sarasota on January 29, 2013


Nik Wallenda poses holding a piece of the cable he used to walk a high wire over Niagara Falls February 15,2013

His family is always there. Most times it’s the physcial presence of his wife and three children, his mother and father and many other family and close friends who rig his cables, handle his media calls, guarantee his safety and hundreds of other details that go along with being part of the most recognized high-wire family in history.

Always present is the shadow of his great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, and others who carved out history in the 200 years the Wallendas have been performing.


Nik’s wife Erendira (Left) and his sister, Lijana, share a hug after the Grand Canyon walk.

I really like breaking rules. The big one on this trip, if Nik would allow it, would be to bring my father along. It’s not professional to have family and friends along on shoots. We all know that.


Nik Wallenda tugs on the wire that he’ll use to walk across the Grand Canyon during a training session two days before the actual walk.

When I thought about Nik’s devotion to family and legacy, I couldn’t help but think how great it would be to have my 78-year-old father, Marvin, along with me. He was a truck driver for most of his adult life. He’d never seen a TV stage in real life, much less one that crossed the Grand Canyon. But, he is in good shape, he is warm, smart, funny, charming and very sweet. He is devoted to his family.

He is much like Nik, in other words. I had to ask.

“Nik, can I bring my dad along?” I wrote in an email two weeks before our journey was to begin. “I’d be honored to have your dad along,” Nik wrote back.


With Nik in the backround, my father Marvin and I pose for a photograph. Photo by Thomas Bender

So, for three of those days, my father was at my side as we followed Nik Wallenda and his family and crew to press conferences, training sessions, meet and greets with fans, rehearsals, meals, horseshoes and hijinks, and finally to Sunday, the day Nik was going to create history and put his life on the line in front of 200 million people on live television.


Nik Wallenda walks a high wire across the Grand Canyon

My father became a minor celebrity himself along the way. His hometown newspaper, The Altoona Mirror, wrote a story. Dad said he couldn’t go anywhere without people asking him about his trip with Nik Wallenda to the Grand Canyon.

He developed a true friendship with Jack and Suzi Hanna who invited dad to visit them at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. (We went this month)


I never asked Nik to pose with my father until the after-party. Dad was tired. We had been working together for about 12 hours by the time this photo was taken.

I think a lot of people were moved about seeing my father and I hanging out together at the biggest event in the world.

Two other photojournalists there told me they had lost their own fathers recently. One teared up, I believe from the wish that he could have been in my sooty shoes, with his own father. I was reminded how blessed to have mine there.

The successes were huge. Nik finished the record-breaking walk despite immense heat, windy updrafts from the Canyon floor, slippery desert dust on the wire and a thousand other challenges he and his team faced and conquered.


Nik blows a kiss to his wife and children as he nears the end of his historic high wire walk.

My dad and I had a great time, bonding and making memories and photographs that will be around long after we’re all are gone. One thing I didn’t plan on, but was incredibly satisfied to find out: Not only did I add to and enhance the Wallenda family heirlooms and legacies, but those of my own family as well.


My father and I at the Grand Canyon. Photo by Douglas Hay


iPhone close-up of Nik’s autograph on the 16×20″ I printed for my father.


iPhone shot of note we received from Jack and Suzi Hanna. I sent them a 20×30″ print of their choice. He said he wanted it signed. I told him, “you know Nik, you ask him to sign it.” He said, “I want you to sign it.”


Show hosts Willie Geist and Natalie Morales pose with Nik at sunrise on the morning after the walk.


Nik back on the wire at sunrise on the morning after the walk.

Thank you to Scott Kelby, David Hobby and Joe McNally for showing me the light.

Thank you to Nik Wallenda for saying yes to just about anything I ever asked him and for always giving me something interesting to shoot.

Thank you to my Jack and Suzi Hanna for treating my father like he’s the most important man in the world.

Thank you to my father, Marvin, for always having a sense of adventure and my mother for things I could never put into words.

You can see more of Tim’s work at TimBoylesPhotography.com, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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14 Comments

  1. Awesome post Tim, I would love to have my father here to see me now! Every moment is important with our family.

  2. Great post, Thanks.

  3. A couple of those photos gave me goosebumps! Great story, and I’m glad your dad got a chance to experience all of it.

  4. Very cool post. Loved the behind the scenes and it was great that you got to bring your dad (also got a kick of seeing the photo of you two by my buddy Thomas).

  5. What a great “feel good” story!! So wonderful that your dad got to come and experience that with you and even more that he was welcomed by NIk and his family who you were working with. Oh …. and great photos too!! lol ;-)

  6. Great post! LOVE all the photos, but the last one is WONDERFUL! Tricia :)

  7. I know this is off topic, so my apology in advance but wasn’t sure where to post it. Has this been discussed at all on your blog?

    Adobe Creative Cloud hacked and compromised:
    http://www.zdnet.com/adobe-admits-2-9m-customer-accounts-have-been-compromised-7000021546/

    Another reason for people to hate the new model…

  8. My palms got sweaty just thinking about what he did and looking at the “wire” photos.

  9. Forget the absolutely amazing story of what Nik and the Wallendas do and have done. Tim, kudos to you for bringing Dad along, THAT story made my night!

  10. Great story, what I loved best is including your dad and all his interactions with the project and the folks involved.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Hey Tim,

    I lost my mother over 2 years ago, and my father has been struggling ever since. I’m now spending as much time with him as possible. I read your guest blog today, and it absolutely resonated with me. God Bless you and your father! It gave me ideas to include my father in some of my upcoming events…yes, it’s work, but with him nearby, it won’t seem like it.

    It is apparent you love your father, as I do mine. They are, after all, our very first heroes. And what a great human being Nik Wallenda is to allow you to include your father at such an auspicious event.

    And yes, I enjoyed the photographs (Wait, there were photos, too??). Great job, great event and great blog post. Believe it or not, the best photo wasn’t even yours – the photo of you embracing and kissing your father (well…I also liked the closeup of the high wire cable – nice shot!).

    Thanks for a touching, poignant post. I will check out your website and look forward to seeing more of your work. If you’re inclined, please check out mine at http://www.urbanindustrialimaging.com.

    All the best…

    Frank Villafañe
    Photographer, Urban Industrial Imaging

  12. Tim, you are a gifted photographer AND storyteller. Your passion shines through the images you capture and your joy in having your dad along for the adventure is as tangible as the photos. Looking forward to seeing more of your work.

  13. Sadly, six months after the Grand Canyon trip and one month after spending a few days with Jack and Suzi Hanna at the Columbus Zoo and The Wilds, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma. He had had no symptoms and was literally the picture of health and happiness as you can see in the photographs. He passed away four months later. Photograph your loved ones every chance you get. The photographs and memories of our trip together give me so much comfort and pleasure every day and the family heirlooms from those trips will live forever. In all my jobs these days, I always strive to capture heirloom-quality images of the older people there, knowing that someday they will pass too and perhaps the images I shot of them will become a big part of their legacies.
    It has happened and I can say from experience that there’s perhaps no greater pleasure than someone telling you that the photograph you captured of their grandfather, father, mother, wife was the most beautiful (poignant, expressive, accurate) photo they’ve ever seen of them and used at their funerals, services, memorials and on the walls of their homes.

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