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    Love. City. Home. Film. Ocean. Africa. Road. Lost. Road. Smile. Found. Plan. 2012 in review.
Love. City. Home. Film. Ocean. Africa. Road. Lost. Road. Smile. Found. Plan.

I don't think a year has ever thrown as many punches as 2012 did. Even years ago when I was nomad on a boat with coin to play there was still a sense of groundedness, (word add excused), like I still knew where I was and where I wanted to be amongst the uncertainty.

2012 passed in two halves, each being dictated by overheads; present, then removed.
The first half was filled with film instead of photos - producing West Away occupied a number of months and logistics for underwater commissions led to where the water was warm and clear, plus with the help of the UK press the handmade books were a hit, just as I realised I hadn't actually made one from scratch. It took 30 orders in the first two days to force me to time how long each book would take - 3 hours each kept me busy for some 90 odd hours while getting high on ink fumes.

Kigamboni came next, helping the community tell their story and gain media to further their projects was an incredible amount of work, but totally worth it in the end. Kept me stoked to think that people actually give a damn and are willing to put up a few dollars to help those who help others.

For personal reasons I left Sydney in July. Almost 4 years to the day that I stepped into the city I was leaving, memories compiled in the same order as the gear in my car: sporadic; strangely with only a few extra possessions than those I arrived with.

Upon leaving Sydney I thought of ways to continue to do what I want to do, without the overheads bearing down. I found myself thinking back to when I lived in a beat up old station wagon while filming surfing movies a decade ago. A time when I could work for two months and take the next four months off, travel was cheap and accommodation was free, the kind of life that was all about keeping it simple.

This led to refining the idea given the growing logistical challenges to do what I do today; Vanlife was born.
2012 was about rolling with the hits and misses, learning and adapting, while staying true to what I believe. No compromise.
Handmade books.
Once again, at the start of the year Sydney was said to have a wet summer. Based on the previous year where the weather failed to break until April, I was nervous. The majority of my business income comes from print sales, and while investing in two fine art printers in late 2011 helped to maintain profit with looming credit card debt I couldn't just sit around and wait for the weather to break to shoot more and sell more.
My girlfriend said some of her friends were interesting in buying prints, but when they looked through the website they couldn't make up their mind as there were so many to choose from, and soon clicked away. I thought of a way to capitalise on the initial interest, obviously the option for print sales would always be there but it would be great to narrow the field into a package they can buy; a book seemed logical.
I spent a few weeks researching different publishing companies and weighing up supply vs demand, trying to get a price point and all that jazz. This process seemed fairly generic, and somewhat fake, like I'd be giving away the years of work to a printer who may not care about the product (I spent 5 years in a printing factory and know first hand about apathy towards print quality), and when I stumbled upon a handmade book video on YouTube I thought this could be the answer.

A few weeks of revisions and modifications later I had a prototype, and was stoked to hear people's positive reaction to it. I thought I'd run it for a year and see how many would sell, as 2013 starts the interest is still there and it's great to have another outlet than a standard print on the wall.
Each book takes a little under 3 hours to make, and while accountants yell at me with profit vs hourly wage I wouldn't change a thing.
Summer Storm. Underwater Project photo # 24,918.
We had recently moved into an apartment a few blocks back from the beach, and while it was a greater effort to get to the beach I could gauge what the conditions would be like through the huge windows over-looking a park. Wind would mean choppy water, which led to sand being disturbed, which led to me being frustrated and screaming at various pieces of seaweed underwater.
I had a number of underwater filming commissions to work on, most were long term shoots due to the weather and budget restraints, so while some conditions may not have warranted their day rate I took the slim window in the weather to make some photos for the series.
Summer Storm was just this; a brief period of light winds and warm weather which brought the people to the beach, and a playful swell to keep them interested. It was somewhat strange to get back into the groove, I later realised apart from a fun shoot with a friend and her brother I hadn't shot since the SporTV interview back in September.

Amongst the clouds once again, I thought it was a pretty cool start to the new year.
West Away.
During 2011 I worked on the Ocean film series, focusing on a photojournalism trend at the time of multimedia (basically a photo slideshow with an audio interview), which led to the Valla film and the Frothers gallery. At the end of 2011 I wanted to do the same but on film, and traveled west into the desert with two friends searching for waves in a place I call home. We climbed over sand dunes and crept to the edge of cliffs looking for something new to surf, all the time hoping the weather would break and show us what we were looking for.
Although the trip was in late 2011 I didn't finish the edit until March 2012 and released it shortly after. The reception in the bodyboarding community was huge, most reviews saying the style was something they hadn't seen before, mainly due to there being only 9 waves ridden in the 7 minute film.
I don't shoot weddings. I get asked to shoot a few each year, and my standard responses are A. "Is it underwater?" or B. "I don't want to shoot weddings so why would you trust me to shoot yours?" and pass them onto people who are wedding photographers.

One of my best mates from home was due to be married, and asked me to shoot 'a few photos during the reception'. They planned for a beach wedding, in Adelaide, in April, and given the Australian summer thus far it seemed like it could be a washout. I agreed as I'd be stoked to be alongside a mate on his big day, even if a traditional wedding shoot wasn't really my style.
The strongest memory of three months with Jay in Byron Bay were the long days in our tents listening to the rain pound on the thin piece of material - my tent was bigger than Jay's and his frustration at water drips was audible even above the thunder.

The bux party was a simple surfing trip on the previous weekend for which we had perfect waves and weather, which also may have meant the following weekend would suck; karma or fate coming into play. The rain started early morning, 30 knots of wind picked up around midday, when Jay started asking for help I thought this could be another day of rain filled frustration.
We found a friend of a friend's back yard with a verandah, under which each guest scrambled for a patch of shelter from the downpour. An hour later with vows exchanged and rings slipped on, we bailed for the reception.
Even with the challenges of the day, Jay didn't seem to mind. He was married to his bride.
Dimmer Light.
Again, storms seemed to effect most of 2012. On the 4th of June the weather report said a storm would hit Sydney at 10am, bringing 40 knot winds and large messy seas. I had a lot of editing work to do so I was grateful to know I wasn't going to be missing out on a chance to shoot underwater, but at 1pm the next day the sky was still clear and the wind was non-existent. I sat at my desk until frustration got the better of me at 2pm, and raced to the beach. The clouds had moved in and the winds were light, but there was a sense that something was on it's way. Similar to the smell before rain.
I took my camera for a swim and filmed a wave or two every few minutes, birds overhead or lulls in-between sets, wanting to see how the day would change leading up to when the storm would hit. It took another 4 hours of waiting in the water until 40 knots of wind hit bringing the larger wind swept seas, shortly after I tried to keep the camera rolling as the rain turned to hail and I had to blindly bodysurf a wave in to get to shore.
I spent the next day editing the footage down to a short film called 'Dimmer Light'. To see the afternoon cut down to a few minutes is pretty cool, and made up for the shocking chest cold I fought for the next week.
One of the main reasons I love what I do is having a vehicle that allows me into places I would never have thought I'd be accepted. From spending with the workers in the largest rubbish dump in Jakarta to living in a village in the outer islands in Fiji, it's cool to see an instant recognition towards the camera. Usually it's one of acceptance and openness, after which trust can be added by asking to share their story.
I met a friend who worked with the Kigamboni Community Centre at a leadership event in January. Richard told me what they do at the centre and that he'd love to see what I could do with the Gallery Project concept. It took six months of planning and organising before myself, a journalist, and producer landed in Tanzania, for what was to be an incredible two weeks of sharing story.

The plan was to produce a reportage of the students and volunteers at the centre doing what they do, to be used as promotional material and to help with future funding from print sales. The photographs and films were the easy part - the 'work' side of it - but I found the most enjoyment in the down times of the trip. Times that I knew weren't going to produce an exhibition print, or when the footage wasn't going to be the most compelling, moments when I subconsciously forgot what I was there for and just relaxed and experienced without the camera.
On the third day I was asked to photograph one of the volunteer's weddings. I don't shoot weddings, I'd rather leave them to people who specialise in them, but the KCC acrobats were going to perform after the ceremony and we needed some community interaction for the reportage, so I thought we could arrive an hour early and catch the tail end of the wedding.

We arrived to a slightly angry reception, and soon learned they had delayed the wedding until I arrived to shoot the marriage ritual. This wasn't a problem, as I (vaguely) know what happens at weddings and can adapt to make some photos of the day, then realised that this was a Muslim wedding which is completely different to the weddings I know; my day started to get weird.
The ceremony rushed past in a blur, variations of deafening silences broken by frantic screaming, a handshake and a kiss brought the stampeding guests into a tiny room with me in the middle trying to 'make photo' as best as I could. When the hype died down the KCC students, Kat (the journalist) and a few others stood outside the property and waited for our bus.

I was forced to take part in a sugar crash mixed with heat stroke which caused my head to pound, then saw that the pounding was the drama students killing time by singing and dancing. Both of which, are of course contagious, and soon the streets were alive with a 'waiting for the bus' dance party amongst the dust and the heat.
I stood back and watched for a time, marveling at how they can take a mundane situation and turn it into an infectious event, then picked up the camera and got amongst it.
Ocean swim.
The start of the year had been pretty full on with producing branded content, with only a few shoots that were out of the box so to speak. I was either continuing the underwater series or shooting for clients, both of which were in a very similar style. After talking with a friend I realised I hadn't shot anything out of my style for a very long time.
Tanzania was amazing, but a very similar feel to my other work. The Underwater Project was still cruising, but I was somewhat 'in a rut' with how it was made.
I asked photographer friends if they've ever been in a similar place, and is this what a rut is and/or how can I break it - while I wasn't sure that this is what was happening it was a point of concern for what could come. Their answers were to try a new lens or travel or to simply do something different for a while, just something to mix it up a bit.

I may have taken this too literal as the next day all of my underwater gear was on eBay and I spent the next week watching the auction time run out, waiting to try something new.
I'm not exactly into gear, but the process of research and evaluation was pretty cool, and most of all kept me thinking. Plus...I mentioned that winter was pretty slow, right?
On a quick trip home I met with two ocean swimmers who were getting back into the water after the angry winter. I had all this new gear and was eager to see if it would help to make something cool.
Although the shoot wasn't totally new or different it was an eye opener to just how easy it is to get stuck and hit the autopilot switch; even when you're shooting what you love.

Best of all it kicked my brain into seeing familiar things differently, which would help immensely over the next few months.
Sobo Rosi / Navakai return.
While I was in Africa I was in the mindset of virtually every traveler there ever was; trying to justify my existence back home and wondering how I could change or adapt to how I was feeling. Upon return, winter was pretty tough both professionally and personally, and with minimal shoots lined up I made the call to return to South Australia to wade through an ever growing list of back-end work. If a freelance photographer ever says they spend more time shooting than they spend on computer; they're lying.

I didn't see much of August, locked away working almost exclusively on the Tanzania reportage and the 4 films we shot to prepare for the exhibition planned for the start of September in Sydney.
Happily enough, come September I was booked until November, and I jumped in the car and headed back to Sydney with a few sleeping bags, a swag, cooking equipment and a plan to nomad in the 'burbs for a few months. After two weeks of sleeping in a cemetery and lurking on the beach, I had a week free in between shoots, and thought if I were to be homeless anywhere I might as well be in Fiji. It had been just over a year since I last visited Navakai, and as before I arrived in surprise.
I quickly found the joke was on me, as the lack of communication was due to where my friends were living at the time. Tui and Janetti were on Yasawa Island, Joka was in Suva and Amini was staying in Lautoka after a misunderstanding with his employer.

Tui and Jen came to Navakai from the islands to say hey, which kept me stoked. When they arrived we spent most days visiting Amini, and playing with the sister trio of Lani, Grace and Bush, and the now-walking Legani. I spoke at length with Tui about his home in the islands, which was similar to the village I was in for Cyclone Gene in 2008 but on a much smaller scale. His days in the sun and on the ocean will make an interesting Ocean film, when I can finally make it back there this year.

Jen walking through the heat on the Navakai trail.
Mare Vida.
In November I was still on a 'must shoot other stuff' tangent, so much so that while we were swimming amongst super fun waves in the clearest water I've ever seen I actually asked Mike to stay out of the picture.
Mike and I met up in the Cook Islands to shoot more of the underwater series; we'd both been there previously to surf and knew that we could get the job done with minimal effort - especially since the road around the island is only 30kms long - we would be able to find somewhere to shoot no matter what the weather. With the ease of crystal clear water and favorable seasonal weather we were looking forward to relaxing in the sun and shooting underwater for the better part of the 10 day trip.
On the first day the tide dropped out faster than we anticipated - the walk over the reef was close to terrible - and after a short time underwater Mike came off second best. A wave picked him up and bounced him over the reef for a good 20 meters, over sharp coral heads and urchins, leaving every limb to bleed and seep yellow goo as soon as he left the water. After the wave he stood up yelling 'I'm done bro, I'm done', which has made me laugh literally every time since when I hear him say 'bro'.
With the shoot put on hold until Mike's wounds healed over I looked for something else to shoot, when fish didn't hold my interest I played with the settings on the camera and found something I hadn't seen before.
Mike. West.
I met mike in the Cook Islands on the last stop of his round the world trip. For me, it seemed like three months since we said farewell in Adelaide; he said it felt like an eternity. During his trip we rambled on as usual in text messages, he'd talk about the snow capped mountains he was looking at and I told him about the bakery food I was consuming; always there to bring my vagrant life vices to a miles from home friend.

Similar to me, his winter had thrown its own punches. Personally and professionally, his trip was fueled by the past five years of intense study and work, his career focus clear while putting the travel bug on hold. When the punches threatened to take their toll it was time for Mike to hit the road.

When I saw him walk through down the dirt path through the mango trees relaxed with a grin from ear to ear, it was the same old Mike.
We spent a number of days in the Pacific ocean, shooting underwater and surfing when our injuries would allow, as the days floated by and Mike's return-to-work date loomed his carefree attitude started to waver. A simple answer to this was to get back into the ocean.

On the last night of his three month trip solid waves at a shallow reef came to play; and any uncertainty was dissolved.
As the sun sets and the clouds roll in, Mike once again looks west to his next destination.
Thirty Minutes.
I had an idea. It was going to be epic. I was going to do what no one had EVER done before, combining technical, story and emotion in a single image. But, I had no idea how to do it.
After 4 months of sporadic planning I took my tripod into the water, knelt down as the sun was about to set and pressed the button, excited to see what would appear. After 10 seconds an image appeared on the screen, which sucked. It was pretty close to what I was thinking, but sucked. I made one more photo that was slightly better, but still sucked. As I walked to the shore with the tripod upside down, hoping no one would ask why I was leaving with an amazing sunset, I pressed the shutter once more in silent protest to tripods and dumb ideas. What appeared on the screen was actually pretty cool, and I laughed out loud at the amount of planning that went into this image - about 15 seconds, give or take.
From that night I spent the next three weeks in various parts of South Australia working on the Thirty Minute series, still laughing at how bizarre I must look waving a camera around attached to a tripod half an hour after sunset.
2012 threw some solid punches. From all of the projects, shoots, travel, and challenges it put me through; I'm stoked to say I've gone backwards.
Once again I'm that kid on the road, following the setting sun to another story in another place.
In short; I just don't want to compromise what I believe. And if doing that means staying mobile to cut down overheads, then so be it.
As my weary eyes and sunburned skin morph in front of me - to what end I have no idea - I'll keep rolling (pardon the pun). Even if nothing comes of this whole venture it'll still be an amazing journey.
Clear eyes full hearts. Never have heard a better line.
Even if it was from when I used to own a TV.