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The second series of Gold Rush is now the top show on Friday night in the USA.
Below is an adbrag running in US newspapers and magazines.
On Friday, someone who’d looked up my blog asked me why I stopped being a professional photographer and ended up a television producer. I’ve been asked that question many times and it always seems loaded, like there is a judgment in the question. My offpat answer has always been that I got lonely as a snapper in the Highlands and Islands.
Inspired by the question, I picked these pictures to illustrate the idea of my romantic isolation and then realized that apart from the canal picture, the other two are actually collaborations. The picture of Malcy Maclean on the beach was a joint project with his national Gaelic arts project in the 80′s. We made a series of posters attempting to highlight the perilous state of the Gaelic language at that time in Scotland.
The images of the Burka clad women in Kabul Market was taken for another collaboration. This time with writer Henry Naylor, when we produced a play called ‘Finding Bin Laden‘ (starring Nina Conti and Dave Lamb, now better known as Mr Come Dine With Me) at the Edinburgh Festival to draw attention to the conspiracy between the military and the media in Afghanistan in 2003.
So it seems that even as a photographer I’ve been drawn to working with others to create images and longer-form narratives. Looking back, the move into television – the business, the teams, the way moving images and words come together in scenes, shows and series – was inevitable but there is nagging doubt that I have betrayed a true love.
As a storyteller I’ve talked to many people about how they see the world and what they see as being important. Clanging name-drop coming up: I interviewed David Byrne years ago who said that when he was making music with people from other countries it was cultural confusion and mistakes that added new dimensions.
The Soup: Condensed Soup Dec 17 (from 1.20)
And so it has been that cultural confusion around the concept of a ‘glory hole’ has added a further dimension to ‘Gold Rush Alaska’. In gold mining, a glory hole is a subterranean cache of gold nuggets. The Gold Rush miners spent an entire season desperately trying to uncover an elusive glory hole in Porcupine Creek.
The Soup: Glory Hole Glory Feb 11
Obviously, as worldly-wise producers, we were aware that the phrase glory hole had other connotations, however we didn’t realise using the term would lead to such creative outcomes.
Twitter erupted with every utterance of the phrase, and there were many, often associated with phrases like “I’ll take it wet or dry”. Our show was a gift to The Soup on E!, who clearly couldn’t believe their luck and returned to “Alaska: Gay Edition” no less than three times.
The Soup: Glory Hole “Gold” Feb 25
It also inspired mashups that moved from innuendo into the literal. SFW, but viewer beware.
My work life has always involved travel. The past year has been epic and the last month even more so. LA three weeks ago; Portland, Oregon two weeks ago and last week, filming in the far north in minus 35C. I’m not at liberty to say where we were but it was awe inspiring, savage and unbelievably beautiful.
Still, as I head into the dusk on my way to my Dad’s 91st birthday and I peer through rain-streaked train windows at black Scottish mountains, I am minded to hang up my cowboy boots for a while. Stationary living appeals, domestic experience to be embraced, a little inertia welcomed.
How weird my world is at the moment. Last weekend I flew back from LA after a few days at the TCA press tour. This is a conference of the USA’s top TV critics held in the stunning Langham Hotel in Pasadena. Twice a year the TV networks gather there to promote new shows. I was attending with Jack and Todd Hoffman, the two leading characters of Gold Rush Alaska, to give interviews and insight into the show. At present the series is the #1 show in America for men and Discovery Channel have really got behind it.
I saw Oprah Winfrey, who was launching her new network, OWN; Mike Tyson, who spoke about his love for pigeons; and Jennifer Aniston who walked by looking serene. I probably should have spotted a host of other stars that to my wife’s despair I didn’t recognize. The reception, hospitality and access that was laid on by Discovery was amazing. And to cap it, each night when I went back to back to my bedroom there would be a new surprise awaiting. One night a cool bloggers bag; the next, three ingots of Gold Rush Alaska chocolate and on the last night, a hand carved didgeridoo…a fitting end to a weird and wonderful adventure.
Tonight’s the night when Gold Rush Alaska premiers on Discovery Channel. It’s already causing a stir. The Washington Post said it is ‘ Almost Homerian‘ whilst the Wall Street Journal calls it ‘Jaw Dropping TV‘ but possibly not in the nicest of contexts.
I’ve spent the last week in edit struggling to tell a complicated story in a simple way. I have a maxim that I try to apply to all my TV work, which is ‘simple stories well told’; it’s difficult to achieve sometimes.
I’d always thought this motto applies more to producing and directing films, because the process of making a coherent, entertaining story that works for a broadcaster’s audience is inherently complex.
But when I looked at the still photograph of Drew and Tiree, I see the maxim at work again. I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures that are contre jour. When colour and texture are removed, the essential is isolated without the detail.
So this is what has been obsessing me for the last year and why most of my friends and family haven’t seen me for ages. I’ve been producing 10 x 1 hour documentaries for Discovery Channel in the US. The series is called Gold Rush Alaska. You can see the promo here . The show follows the fortune of a gang of unemployed men from Oregon who head north to Alaska in search of gold. It’s been a rock-n-roll shoot and edit but there’s a good buzz about the series. The subject has genuine and profound jeopardy and with gold prices going through the roof , unemployment rising and the recent swing to the right in the US it’s very current. I hope it does well not least as recognition for all those who went above and beyond to get it on the screen against all the odds. It premieres on Friday the 3rd of December at 10pm EST on Discovery in the US. It’s a Raw TV production of course.
I’ve been away from the blog for nearly two months now; consumed by another adventure. I’m making a new series for Discovery that I can’t write about; but I can write about Alaska. Last winter I visited for the first time and was blown away by the grandeur, scale and savage other-worldliness of the place.
This time we arrived mid April as the snow was melting and the greening had begun. Snowy peaks soar above fronds of silver rivers teaming with salmon that are preyed on by bear and eagle. Everywhere you look is drama. We hope to be here until the fall. What a privilege it will be to follow the seasons and cycles of this extraordinary world.
On a cold winter’s night in Stornoway, I waited outside the Caberfeidh Hotel, wondering what to do. I was working for the Stornoway Gazette, the ‘Only Newspaper Printed in the Outer Hebrides‘ according to its masthead, and I was the Island’s soul dedicated newspaper photographer. What’s more I was onto a scoop. I’d had a tip-off from the Manager of the hotel, that a, ‘big band from the south’ was staying with them.
He’d told me the band’s name as if it really should mean something to me. Oh ‘Ultravox‘ I said knowledgeably when he called with his hot scoop, wow. I think I’d heard of them, just, but I around that time I was a little in the musical wilderness. Anyway, I went into the bar to scope the place out and got into conversation with a cool looking leather jacketed Glaswegian. A few pints later, I confided my mission to him and asked if he knew the band?
I suppose I’d been expecting someone fairly outlandish and aloof to be the leader of this big band from ‘the south’ but when my new drinking buddy told me he thought I might be looking for him, I was chuffed. This was Midge Ure. I was even even more delighted when Midge asked us on the band’s video shoot the following day.
These pictures were taken at Callanish Stones the day after my meeting with the band. I can’t remember the date exactly but it was mid winter ’84 and bitterly cold. The band recorded the video for ‘One Small Day’ which was a single released from the album ‘Lament’.
The stones are called Tursachan Chalanais in their Gaelic name and are an ancient Megalithic site built around 3000 years BC. They lie on the west coast of the island of Lewis.