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My father was a Scot. He would take on massive projects like removing every clay tile from our roof, lowering them in buckets to me, and we'd scrub the lichen and moss off them. I don't know how long it took us to brush the roof of our house, but it wasn't a quick process. It was a labor of love and deferred gratification.
I laughingly say he brainwashed me into joining the military, perhaps because he had wanted to but was unable to due to an ear problem. He'd say things like "your sergeant major wouldn't like (whatever I was doing wrong at the time). His father was an Irishman, a chauffeur to a wealthy Scot. My father didn't own long trousers until he was 17, and this before global warming had taken the nip out of a Scottish winter.
My father dragged himself out of the working class in Edinburgh into the warm embrace of the middle class by educating himself in accounting. Not many did that in those days. He took a cold bath every morning and would sing aphorisms to himself. My mother hated it, but I think he knew how to make himself "greet the new day".
"If a man has enough determination, he can do anything." It was a thing we would say when working on a project. I have many happy memories of working with him and the smell of tobacco from his pipe. He laid the foundation in my mind that life could be anything you wanted it to be.
On my inner forearm, the idiom "he who hesitates" is indelibly drawn.
It's a nod to Marcus Porcius Cato and the British Special Forces (the SAS), of which I was not one (unfortunately).
Sometimes the tattoo seems to mock me, and I have scars to suggest hesitation would have been prudent. Generally, I think it's pretty sound advice.
Don't be put off by that. I am no knuckle-dragging troglodyte, but I do think one has to be able to protect oneself and one's group. I am a pacifist of the first degree. I've been to and seen war without the protection of the military. I was a solo dude with a camera and a nose for adventure.
I think Jiu-jitsu should be a part of everyone's education. It teaches us to let go of needing to be the best and to learn how to be better.
It's really about having ideas and implementing them, and moving from one learning experience onto the next. Not getting caught up in whether you are right or wrong, but asking yourself if the experience moves you forward?
When I was eleven, I saw people parachuting off cliffs on the TV. I knew I wanted to do that. I instantly knew I needed to be 20 years old, as people of that age didn't need permission, and I didn't want to get older than twenty because of the life I wanted. I would need a lot of youthful flexibility, strength, and stamina.
I failed out of a good school, whose education I did my best to avoid, but somehow, through osmosis, some useful information took hold and settled. Not enough to be able to stay there, though. The next school had girls in attendance, Co-Ed. I believe it's called, which was wonderfully refreshing and gave me further reason to avoid learning from the prescribed curriculum. I was asked to leave and found myself gainfully employed as a farmhand for a while, but I hated working alone.
Eventually, paternal brainwashing proved effective and fortunate because my father had passed away when I was sixteen and between schools. I recall it was a balmy English summer.
So I joined a battalion of soldiers who were fighting terrorists in Northern Ireland. I had a lot of friends, and I was doing a job requiring many skills and social abilities. And I had a lot of responsibility at a young age. I was the top student of my Non-Commissioned Offices course. I could run 2 miles in full combat gear (44lbs of gear, a rifle, boots a helmet), in 13 minutes.
They trained me for war and then we didn't have one, which is a good thing. It is unless you want to see what those conditions are like and want to know how brave you are.
I decided I needed to go to war and become a war photographer.
Basil King wrote, "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."
Well, that seemed to work. I found myself in Sarajevo, a city under siege by Cheknik and Serbian militia forces. There was no in or out unless the United Nations gave you a ride.
For five months, I lived in a bombed-out tower block, which was the largest building in the city and resembled a miniature version of New York's twin towers. The BBC's nightly reporting would close with a shot of those towers. I used to sprint through the sniper covered ground to the Holiday Inn, where the world's best war journalists stayed. I would sneak into a room on the side of the building, which was empty. Most rooms had been abandoned on the side of the building nearest the enemy guns, and had taken fire on multiple occasions. But at that time the water still worked so I could take a shower.
The people in the city had a saying, no water, no power, no nothing. And that's tough in a European winter. There were signs on street corners saying "pazi se snajperista", danger sniper, and people would gather in huddles and then choose a time that felt right and run. The snipers would fire. It was the strangest thing to observe and be part of. These europeans were well dressed, spoke english, were educated and yet were having to take their lives in their hands to get home in the city in which they lived. And this was what they had become accustomed to. I could be standing chatting to someone in the street, and a shell would go over our heads, I would flinch and look for cover, and they wouldn't even acknowledge it.
I wish I'd had a video camera because the experiences I had and the people I met would have made an incredible documentary. I've been shot at by snipers, run outside into mortar fire to rescue a man whom I discovered was beyond any help, and at night, lain on the building rooftop in the rain watching the light show of battle and listened to the sound of bullets passing in the rain. They make a rather beautiful if deadly swishing sound. It was a huge adventure, but what sticks with me are the people I met and the conversations I had with those people. We are all of the same template, and civilized society is wafer thin.
After leaving Sarajevo, I decided I needed to understand what all those little numbers on the lens meant.
The Art Institute at Bournemouth, UK. liberal, unstructured, excellent reputation, free, 4 years.
Then the real learning:
Assisted big advertising guys and gals in London doing studio and fashion stuff mainly. Could barely pay rent. Lived with two girls who kept bringing drunk guys home.
Met Paul Wakefield, a fabulous landscape photographer, who started getting gigs shooting for Lexus and traveling all over the world. Introduced me to LA, great wine and luxury travel. (thank you Paul, you were ever the gentleman)
Met a lady on a shoot in Hawaii, and we had a thing and I moved to LA. Thing didn't work and we divorced. I applied for green card post-divorce and mighty hands came to my aid.
I assisted many top LA photographers and learned how to light anything, but mostly Stars and Cars, I've had lunch with George Clooney at his house, and his neighbor is Brittany. He also has a basketball court, but for all his success, his home is quite modest in an attractively restrained way.
I loved learning about lighting and was fortunate to hook with a motley crew of bearded, tattooed, dudes Doing Business As, O.T.M.F.C.
One Tight Mother Fucking Crew. And they were, and they knew how to light. I hated photographers with big egos.
Started shooting for Conde Naste Portfolio, (defunked), Audubon Magazine (couldn't understand why they chose me but I had a lot of fun shooting birds in Mexico)
Started shooting for MTV. That made a lot of sense in terms of youth and action and fun.
Photographed Ryan Scheckler, top, top, top, street skateboarder for the show "Life of Ryan." Had multiple runs with that gig. He was cool and had a killer smile, which he could turn on whenever asked.
I shot four seasons of Americas Best Dance Crew, super fun. Those days were brutal. I photographed 130 individuals and 30 different group shots. It was a fifteen-hour day, and I didn't take a break. They called me "Machine."
Shot a reality show in Fiji for a month, "Stranded with a million dollars." Fiji was excellent, the show, not so much.
Moved to NYC
Shot Tough Mudder.
I was running with the athletes shooting like a war photographer, and heard a man shout "hey photographer, get out of the way." There sat a man in a blue bib, clutching a camera with a huge lens. I yelled back, "if you were doing your job, you'd be here with me." It slowly dawned on me he was an event photographer employed to shoot the participants to sell them the pictures, and I was ruining his shot.
Tough mudder got some attention at Mcgarry Bowen, and I shot an eight-day Reebok campaign.
I started skydiving and put a camera on my head as soon as I could. I was hired again by Mcgarry Bowen to shoot a part of a commercial for Degree Men deodorant. So I called my British world champion skydiving mentor, Hannah Betts, who is married to an American freestyle world champion skydiver Travis Feinage and said, "Hey I have a gig, can you help me get a crew?". I hired two of the Red Bull Airforce (BASE and Skydivers extraordinaire), rented to Hot Air Balloon, and for two days, we shot video of people falling through the Californian sky. Dream job, thank you very much.
BTS footage here:
Since then, I have moved into the world BASE jumping, which is fascinating and a serious business.
I love movement and fitness, and I love people being in the air and the flow of the body. I like being fit to be able to keep up and or get ahead. I love to engage with people and distract them from the "act." Who likes having a camera pointed at them? I hate it. I get them to forget I'm taking pictures, by engaging in an activity or I tell them stories and make them laugh. I think it's a beautiful thing to be genuinely complementary to the subject without blowing smoke. It's very flattering, and we know where that gets us...
I've run ultra-marathons (fifty miles). Supposed to be training for a hundred miler now, it's in October. I free dive, (no tanks), taken rides on really big sharks, snowboard, rock climb, skydive, base jump, run, and do a lot of bodyweight exercises. I recently started shooting video and love, love, love it. Maybe more than stills. But stills is a great discipline to come from.
I've shot for NYT, WSJ, Asics, Reebok, Under Armour, MTV, Toughmudder, JBL Harmon Kardon, Google, Foursquare (a lot), United Healthcare etc.
Here is my closing pitch, if you look at my website there is a bit called
My Zipwire incident, it's a bit gnarley and left me somewhat disabled for a while, and I'll never fully recover, but it made me focus on not wasting time and not bull shiting and not being frightened.
I have had many real-life "serious" experiences, and in the words of Alex Honnold (Free Solo, shout out to Jimmy Chin and his wife) I feel like, "I've played my man card," and have zero to prove to myself or anyone else. I am a student of human behavior. I have found myself to be brave and calm under rather unpleasant conditions. I love honor and courage, and morality. I'm curious about people's lives and their experiences. I was born a British white male who wondered whether he was gay for a while in those "confusing years," I'm not but so what If I was. I could just as easily have been born black, brown, or be a transgender kid from Botswana. So I think about what it must be like to grow up gay in a small town in the south, or what it feels like to be a woman walking at night in the city. Or what it feels like to be a Muslim under siege by Catholics and Orthodox Christians. I think we are all the same, and I don't think we know what we are. We are all children doing our best. Have you heard Sam Harris talk and about consciousness and the nature of reality. We have no idea.
I have a dog called Bear, and I love her. We live in Manhattan, which is weird because the adventure is on the other side.