“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it…” An occasional blog from the front line!

September 30, 2010

Which reminds me… While on the subject of trips to far off places with travel writers. I got into conversation with a writer friend of mine, Jez, about a trip we did to Vancouver Island.

Amongst other things we were to join a sea kayaking trip around the islands to do some whale watching. Only thing was, it was the wrong time of year to see the whales – they were all off sunning it up in New Zealand or South Africa, somewhere a lot warmer than Vancouver Island anyway.

Now kayaking through 12 foot swells and driving rain to see absent whales isn’t exactly my idea of fun, especially when you are sat in a two-man kayak loaded with camping gear for 12 people and a complete stranger at your back who isn’t paddling as hard as you might expect considering the conditions. Jez had a Kayak all to him-self – why do writers always get the best deal?

The point is though, I’d forgotten so many highlights from that trip that Jez had to remind me about; The guest house in Nanaimo which turned out to be an old folks home – only one night fortunately! The poor chef at that Wilderness Lodge in Clayoquot Sound who kept serving up gourmet amuses-bouche in the vain hope we might eventually say something that wasn’t just “yeah, really nice”, and not forgetting “that ludicrous sommelier slash waiter at the Wickaninish Inn near Tofino who recited what was on the menu every time he served up a dish [“we now have a twice grilled comfit of monk fish served with a hand-crushed geranium jus, perfectly complementing the notes of smoked blackberry and hand-siefted spume in the Merlot , etc.), “

However for me the absolute highlight was the owner of a really nice floating hotel in Clayoquot Sound that we stayed at. A really bluff and blustering American chap from the Mid West somewhere that strode around the place (we were the only two guests) with a leather bush hat and waterproof cape and some sort of eagle on his shoulder that he was absolutely determined I had to take pictures of. I tried to avoid it for the duration of the stay – but eventually he cornered me and said; “Hey boy you gotta camera” to which I distinctly remember retorting; “I gotta camera if you gotta bird…” in my best American accent! The thing was he wanted to prove how well he’d trained it – so he released it expecting it to return dutifully to his arm… six hours later he was still trying to coax it down from a very tall tree!

Ah well as they often say: “If it was easy…”

If It Was Easy… Falkland Islands June 2002

March 26, 2010

The idea was to rebrand the Falkland Islands as the new Scotland with unique Falkland Island products.

The only problem was that there weren’t really enough people living in the Falklands to produce anything of any great interest!

The other problem? Well I was commissioned to go in June right in the middle of the 2002 World Cup (Ah the sacrifice we photographers have to make!) Now I told them that this was the winter down there and probably not the best time to go as the weather can get quite sever – but did they listen? Deadlines Eh…

Anyway my contact in the Falklands was the head of the Falklands Development Commission – lets call him Reginald – I quickly found out that this was the least liked and least respected individual on the archipelago… if not the world!

His plan was to take me out to producers who had agreed to be photographed for the project – only problem was that he hadn’t asked them and they hadn’t agreed  – so that when we rolled up their response was, to put it mildly, rather negative… There were a few that were willing to help us out though; there was the potato man with missing fingers (don’t ask…), there was the fisherman, whose only deep frozen stock, due to the winter months, was a kind of sub arctic fish that you might see on a documentary on “monsters from the deep”, and there was the old couple that ran the remains of a once prosperous but now de-populated sheep station on one of the outer islands (They were the only two people on the island!!!). They were hoping to redevelop it as a tourist lodge – only problem was that it resembled a scene from the  Shining, complete with shabby 80’s decor and swarm of blue-bottle’s resurrected by turning on the ancient heating boiler… need I go on.

To make matters worse – The day after I arrived it snowed – and I mean total white out!

You don't go anywhere without one!

White Out - Falkland Islands Style

Emergency Airlift from Snowbound Falkland Islands.

Now the Falklands in the Summer is a rather bleak but stunning place – (I know because I was there before in the summer for a travel magazine – yes I’v actually visited the Falklands twice!) a bit like the Saddle-worth Moors transplanted to the South Atlantic – the sky is ultra blue and the beaches and wildlife are amazing – as are the small military style settlements and former sheep stations with their quaint WWII style corrugated roofs and gorse hedgerows. However in a snowy winter it’s a little disconcerting, like being locked in an infinity room – if you wander off the track you might never be seen again! Not exactly what the marketing people had in mind for the landscape shots…

The highlight of the trip (if you can call it that) was watching England get beat 2-1 by Brazil in the quarter finals of the world cup by a freaky/brilliant goal, (depending on your point of view), by Ronaldinho in the 50th minute – Globe Pub, Port Stanley , 2 am (15.30 Japan time). Not many people except myself can say that they were there – mainly because there was only fifty of us in the pub at the time (48 blokes, the barmaid and a girl in Union Jack ‘Hot Pants’… roughly 2.5% of the whole Falklands civilian population!

What a difference a season makes - Falkland Islands Summer Nov. 2001.

Ah well, If it was easy…

“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it…” Memories from the front line.

March 3, 2010

“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it…” Memories from the front line.

So you think the paparazzi have a hard time? Thats nothing compared to threats of ultra violence from celebrity chefs…

Some years ago I took on a commission from Visit Britain to cover a ‘slow’ food festival in Melton Mowbray (I told you photography was a dream career). Anyway among other things I had to get photos of the guest celebrity chefs doing there demonstrations to the public. Antony Worrall Thompson was a real gentleman and very accommodating. The other celebrity chef shall remain nameless but her partner looked like he might shoot a working class person or indeed a small furry animal on sight, just for fun, while she was doing a fair impression of a meaner and more inebriated relative of Jabba the Hutt – sorry I can’t mention names but she used to be a fat lady…

Anyway having never met her before I thought it only polite to ask permission to photograph her as she demonstrated her cooking skills. So before the event, actually during a lull in her book signing (which I think it was called “a hundred ways to enjoy raw meat” – or something like that) I eventually plucked up the courage to approach…

“Hello,” says I, “I was hoping to take a few pictures of you doing your demonstration”. “Who you working for” she grunted. “Visit Britain” I replied, “f*****g vultures,” she grunted… “If you get within range I’ll f******g stab you…!”

“Ummn, I’ll take that as a no then!” I thought, retiring post hast to the real ale tent for a swift half of ‘hobgoblin’… ‘Well if it were easy…’

Hand made Melton Mowbray Pork Pies

Pork Pies - Just one good reason to visit a Melton Mowbray food festival...


Occasional thoughts on photography…

February 26, 2010

When I was writing my original travel blog I used the phrase “If it was easy – everyone would be doing it…” this got me to thinking about the current state of the photographers lot because my implication was that photography was not easy and that not many people were attempting to do it for a living. I think this may of been a little misleading!

A quick online search or a look at the list of photographers on the members list of any of the main directories and associations quickly dispels the “everyone would be doing it ” part. However whether they are doing it well is probably the topic of another blog entirely!

As to the “If it were easy..” bit, that’s also a relative question of course. If it’s something you love doing it’s obviously easier to you than doing something you hate. However the advent of digital photography has democratised the image making process. At least when we were shooting on film and for those of us involved in the printing process, there was at least a degree of mystery and alchemy involved in the chemical process. My feeling now is that almost anyone with a digital camera can get a half decent image and you have to admit everything does have a lookalike feel as everyone it seems is now a master photoshop technician…

Not that I hate digital – (although I was dragged kicking and screaming from my Nikon f5 film camera and favorite film stock) – it’s just that now there is no choice and I do genuinely miss the organic feel of film. A bit like comparing vinyl to Cd to use the old analogy. I suppose in image making terms vinyl might have a more appealing tone to it but can you really be bothered with all the effort of turning it over to hear side two…?

It seems to me that the only photographers (if you can still really call them photographers – that is) still guaranteed a future in the industry are the ones involving themselves in CGI!

“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it…” on assignment in Lapland

February 18, 2010

“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it…” That’s what Geoff, my old college tutor, used to say to me as he was rejecting my latest photography efforts back in 1995 and in a way what he said drove me on to became a travel photographer. Well It’s up there in the pantheon of dream jobs isn’t it, traveling around the world taking pictures for a living. Although like any passion, after a while you do get a love/hate relationship with it, and things are rarely easy or straight forward are they?

I thought it might be fun to talk about some of the places and experiences I’v had working as a travel photographer and to keep an occasional travel journal as I go along on new assignments. I hope you find it interesting, please let me know what you think.

Lapland for Lonely Planet Magazine: The job was to travel with a family of Sami herdsmen for a couple of weeks while they guided their Reindeer herds through sub zero Northern Sweden. Apparently it’s in the list of top 50 things you have to do before your fifty…

First thing I notice is that the snow is 4 – 6 feet deep and we are wearing very thick all in one suits over our already thickly layered winter wear. I’v never been a skiier so this was an interesting new experience. It makes moving around a wee bit difficult & we waddle around like giant toddlers in romper suits! Add to this the huge effort it takes to walk through waist deep snow & despite the subzero temperatures I’m sweating like a pig and wishing I was a lot younger & fitter! Umm – better make that top 50 things to do before your forty!

Sub-Zero_Protection_Padded_Jumpsuit_Lonely_Planet_Lapland

A Missing Scene from Star wars - No Just Writer Amanda In A Jumpsuit

Nowadays the reindeer herders use snowmobiles rather than ski’s, thankfuly. However this is a cross between riding a very frisky motorbike and a jet-ski. Needless to say, after an eight hour day of riding, well I say riding… more an assorted falling off, digging out, getting on, falling off… (Repeat when necessary), I’m left feeling compleatly knakered & wishing I was a lot younger & fitter!

Staying_On_Ones_Feet-Not_Always_Easy

Staying On Ones Feet - Not Always Easy

Just_Another_Tog_Along_For_The_Ride

The only way to travel!

Still I should get a good nights sleep. Oh, by the way, I’m sleeping in a lavu – traditional tipi type tent with five heavy snorers at minus 12 •c. I luv this job – lol!

Sleeping_Quarters

The Lavu - Surprisingly Comfortable Sleeping Quarters-Even at minus 20!

Tomorrow it’s – how to survive a White-out at 2000 meters at minus 20•c… And by the way we can’t find the route down off the mountain…

White Out On Sacred Mountain

White Out On Sacred Mountain

But hey don’t panic! Why? Because we have a secret weapon, that’s why! His name is Kenneth. He’s big, he’s hairy, he’s hard! It’s his Reindeer herd, he knows these hills like the back of his hand and after a few false starts he manages to find us a path down. Just as well really as its getting on for 11pm, we’ve been on the trail for a good 14 hours and we are all cold and tired. Mind you – “If it was easy – everyone would be doing it…”

Kenneth - A Hero In Every Way

On a positive note – this is one of the best things I’v ever done – It’s exhilarating, surreal and completely sublime and it was a real privilage to experience an aspect of the Sami way of life  and the good news is – you can do it too with Lennart Pittja at Pathfinder Lapland – Thanks also to the wonderful folk at Lonely Planet Magazine for sending me there! You can see the finished article in the Dec 09 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine and more images at http://www.garylatham.co.uk

G