What I learnt backpacking in the mid 90’s

Back in the mid 90’s, at the tender age of twenty, I left the comfort of our family home to travel around Australia for a year. It was possibly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made… and I’m so glad I got to do it pre-internet.

Back then, travelling was so much more about living in the moment, making and sharing your experiences with the people you were with at the time, exchanging travel stories and cool places to visit via real conversation. “Heard you just got back from Byron Bay. Know a cool hostel?” Out from a dirty backpack, would come The Lonely Planet… the then bible for travellers.

I would take photos on a camera using film of just 36 exposures. Film cost money so I really put thought into what memories to capture. Once developed, I would continue my travels with physical prints and a strip of negatives. Friends and family left behind would only see the pictures when I returned home, months later. Life just moved at a different pace. There was no pressure or urgency for instant uploads. You simply cruised around, spending your time and energy with those you happened to meet and stick with.

Yesterday, I was looking at my Lonely Planet collection in a book cabinet I actually custom designed to fit these very books. I don’t think I could ever part with them. They’ve covered so many miles alongside me and made me who I am today. The last time I bought one was probably in 2003, when I attempted to ‘backpack’ around Peru for three weeks. I say ‘attempted’ because at that point, I’d already started (my albeit short) life in the corporate world and had got used to business class travel so the novelty of basic hostels, cold showers and lousy mattresses soon wore off. What I did love was spending time with a crowd of people that were travelling without strict time limits. No urgency, no commitments, no plan… that sort of freedom is hard to come by these days.

Looking through my book collection made me wonder how backpacking works in 2018? Our digital rat race is all consuming. Do Millenials even go backpacking? Do they still turn to The Lonely Planet? Do they even talk to each other… or do they sit at communal tables in hostel kitchens, glued to their screens, fixated by social media? Jennifer Aniston put it perfectly about a possible Friends reunion when she said “There was something about that time where our faces weren’t stuffed into cell phones. We weren’t checking Facebooks and Instagrams. We were in a room together, in a coffee shop together. We were talking, having conversations. We have lost that.”

Pre-internet, we called home from a phone booth (an infrequent treat when funds allowed) or we would write letters… yes, pens to paper, stamps to envelopes! Back then, I would receive real letters at post offices. That patience and anticipation waiting for them to arrive served as valuable life lessons.

Backpacking will never return to what it once was but I hope that those who venture around the world now are aware of trying to live in the moment and make an effort to really connect with each other, living the rough with the smooth rather than sharing on social media, all the gloss and none of the chaos. It’s the rough that builds character.

Travelling for no one but yourself is what brings the most enriching experiences. So ditch that screen and dump the Wifi. Get off the beaten track and find new trails. Share your experiences with whoever is sitting next to you. You never know, you might become long life friends. Travel is all about exchange. Happiness is only real, when shared in person.


Emirates Marhaba Campaign

Following our Emirates Flight Catering shoot, we got the gig to work on the next round of Emirates artwork… this time creating a fresh image library for Marhaba. We were shooting at the new Dubai airport, which, like any airport has its complexities, especially with a crew of 25. Reach beyond immigration and you can’t just pop out to the car to grab a forgotten something. Access passes, x-ray machines and endless long corridors make for a challenging labyrinth for production.

The lounges have a fresh and modern feel, making for a great backdrop. Part of the brief was to make the imagery feel alive. Real people in real places… connection, engagement and an open invitation to travellers to enjoy their services.

Like all big productions, we worked to a tight schedule to deliver the goods. I had my camera set up for the shots to arrive on the agency / client iPad in real time. This way, the images can be reviewed on a larger screen and we can work on the finer details. It’s all about the detail…

All round, an enjoyable gig, a great cast and a grand job by RAPP in managing the production and creative.

Till the next.


What feeds creativity?

Whilst buzzing along in my Defender today, this question came to mind. “What feeds my creativity?” It’s not a new subject, I know. There’ve been tons of books written on the topic. Nonetheless, here’s what came to my mind.

1. ENERGY. First of all, creativity needs energy and energy comes from sleep and downtime. At least for me, that’s very much the case. On the other hand, if I feel tired and drained, I operate on auto-pilot and the engine for new ideas operates in slow-motion.  If there’s anything more non conducive to creativity, it’s falling back into old patterns of thinking or creating images. For me, a complete recharge of the batteries from time to time is super important to keep on delivering amazing work… hence my recent Project Pause. Power-naps are another powerful tool, I’m an early riser where most of my writing gets done early morning before the world wakes up, so to reenergise with a quick 15min head down does the trick for me.

2. FRESH HORIZON. What feeds new ideas aka creativity is seeking new environments. I love travelling, exploring new cities… walking the streets, seeing the people, checking out the billboards and bus ads, chilling at trendy cafes or bars, discovering trendy designer hotels and equally the backpackers districts… Travelling certainly gives you one big, fresh take on things but what when travel isn’t possible? What also works is buying new magazine titles. Personally, I don’t think I’ve actually purchased a single photo mag in the last decade. Rather, I always pick up travel, design, culture, interior design or architecture titles. I’m a big fan of Frame magazine although it’s hard to find in this part of the world. Over the years, I’ve built an impressive collection of books and magazines which I often return to for ideas.


3. WORLD OF ART. I’m a huge fan of visiting art shows, galleries and museums. There’s just so much amazing work out there. I also love looking at how work is presented, packaged and displayed. A really worthwhile visit is the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar which I visited earlier this year. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of historic artefacts but the way they’ve packaged and presented their collection is truly outstanding. So much about art appreciation for me is wondering how others got their ideas, what inspired them and how they sell it. I have a poster in my studio by Andy Warhol with the words, ‘ART IS WHAT YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH’. Love it! On the topic of art shows, I had the privilege recently of presenting a key note address at World Art Dubai.

4. ART DIRECTION. There’s always great value in working with an art director, either in the early creative stages of a project or on site at the actual shoot. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a few and have often found them to be great characters with lots of energy and ideas. With bigger productions, there’s such a large crew which can easily absorb more of my attention than is necessary so having an extra set of (art directors) eyes helps to push the envelope. Often art directors represent the brand and know it inside out so they can easily make instant decisions on the spot… I’m talking simple decisions like sunglasses on or off, socks yes or no. Simple things yes, but trying to discover the best answer at 5am can be a challenge otherwise and getting it wrong could have a negative impact on the whole shoot.

5. CREATIVITY FROM OTHERS. For many years, I’ve had a folder on my desktop named ‘Creativity by Others’, which is filled with inspirational work on a super wide range of subjects including photography, art, interior design, quotes, furniture, art installations and more. When I see something nice, I screen grab/photograph it and chuck it in this folder which, as you can imagine, now contains thousands of things. I guess the folder acts as a good summary of the person I am today, the work I do and the work I want to be doing. I tap into it regularly when working on a new gig or putting together proposals.

6. CREATE YOUR OWN SPACE. Finally, I believe we all need our own personal space to be at our best. With our recent move, I’ve had the opportunity to re-create my studio which is now my think-tank, editing suite, chill out zone and inspiration chamber all in one. Studio//73, check it out… it’s even cooler than you can imagine.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but rather the first thoughts that popped in my mind on this great topic. There a great quote by Ansell Adams that my copy editor Victoria Leckie once sent to me. It goes, “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, music you have heard and the people you have loved.”