9th August 2017
Why am I a portrait photographer?
My journey started 9 years ago when I saw an ad one night for the Fred Hollows Foundation. Now at the time, I didn’t know who Fred Hollows was, except that he was an ophthalmologist and advocate for Aboriginal health and welfare. The advert was for his organisations fundraising campaign called “See the World Challenge”. Money raised under this initiative would provide funding for eye surgery in 3rd world countries, remote and regional communities worldwide and provide health services to Aboriginals in remote communities of Australia. Like most good things from New Zealand, we claimed Fred Hollows as one of our own. And in 1990 Fred Hollows was named Australian of the Year.
I am not one to back down from a challenge (sometimes to my detriment) and when I saw the outstanding work being achieved by the organisation I registered. The challenge was to raise $5500 for the organisation and in return you would get to see first-hand where and how your fundraising efforts were spent. I challenged myself to” See Nepal”. Here’s the thing, I didn’t want to sell chocolate or hold quiz nights (probably for my fear of public speaking) but I had latched on to the notion that in Nepal people would travel for kilometres, walking for days at a time to receive the treatment and services The Fred Hollows Foundation offered. I wanted the same experience. Because ultimately, I would get the same reward. An opportunity to visit the clinic and experience life changing eye surgery. So, I did it.
With the help of Sean White, my brother Reg and my 2001 Subaru Liberty I walked 600 kilometres from Kalgoorlie to Perth in 12 days. At times, I wanted to quit. When my knees buckled under the swelling of walking 10 hours a day. When the thread from my socks intertwined with my raw blistered skin. But I got to Perth in the end and the following year I was chasing light in Kathmandu and hiking in the Himalayas.
The year was 2009
5 days of hiking through the splendour that is the Himalayas. Our course was set amongst peaceful, breath-taking scenery of the Lang tang valley. It was during this trek that I started to pay more attention to people. I began to listen to not what was just being said, but also to what was not. On the second last night of the trek we set up camp at a local school ground. These schools were (and probably still are) basic and humble but full of voice upon our arrival. Sunset soccer with socks (our soccer ball) does that I guess. In the morning, I woke early with the challenge and task to photograph as much as possible. It was our last full day. So, before breakfast I walked to the village and looked at everything through my lens and clicked. I photographed dogs fighting on the dirt road, local children tending to their cows, the valley down below. I was trigger happy to say the least, knowing I wouldn’t be interrupted because no one spoke English. At least I thought. It was at about that time that I received a tap on my shoulder and a softly spoken, robust gentleman asked if I would be so kind as to take his photograph. I kindly agreed and from our discussion to follow came to realise that he had not had his picture taken in 5 years, when he visited family in Kathmandu. 4 hours away by bus.
I asked him to accompany me for the remainder of the morning to offer the towns people the same opportunity he had. Now, with my translator in tow we went from house to house walking the street to offer portraits. This is where I met and photographed my most memorable and cherished family portraits. This family at the time had been married for 10 years. Their names elude me but their faces remain as clear as day. They had a you daughter about four or five years old with a mischievous smile and the boldest eyes. She reminded me of Lisa “Left-eye” Lopez of TLC fame.
On the front of their home, sitting on their porch. The morning bathing light on their faces. I photographed their first family portrait. They had no photographs of themselves before this time. As a couple or as individuals. Nothing from their wedding.
I spent my last moments with them. Showing them the images. Their smiles made my year. They made me appreciate and value so much that I had taken for granted.
The local store didn’t have the facilities to print. Not really an essential. But the owner gladly agreed to receive the photos at his shop and deliver them, once I had printed them in Kathmandu.