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It’s been over a year since my Dad passed away. It has been the toughest yet conversely, the most life-affirming year of my life. To read the glowing obituary I wrote about him just a few blogs ago you’d think it was all done and dusted. Not so. I have come to a far more profound understanding of the fundamentals of my life. The power of the subconscious; the true nature of grief; the importance of respect for others but ultimately, just how lucky I am in my soul mate.
There were times when I certainly questioned my sanity; I know others did. There were times when the despair and the anger were overwhelming. There was never a time when Jen wasn’t beside me, holding, smiling and reassuring. Slowly gradually helping put me back together, stronger, happier; resolved in myself.
Put quite simply, she was my rock and my saviour. I’ve added diamond number seven to her wedding ring as it will be our seventh wedding anniversary tomorrow. We have given each other tickets to Paul Simon’s Graceland concert in Hyde Park. But I’d also like to give her this; a poem I wrote three weeks ago as I headed to the Alaskan gold fields. We are buying a new house together.
Alaskan Sky (For Jen)
Flying through clouds
Sun glint on fiord and peak
Searching for gold again
My father comfortably in me
I feel the great love
Of my life stronger
In the lonely sky
I fly north
To fly south
Adventure and invent
For a new home
For our hearts
A home for us
A place to be safe
For friends to love
We cross the lucky horizon
Where the sea meets the sky
At home in our
Recent pics from filming in -35C. Fun.
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.
It’s an odd old life at the moment that doesn’t lend itself to blogging, or much else outside of work or travel for that matter. My summer has consisted of long days and nights in the edits intercut with sharp sojourns to Alaska. Crazy commutes to location are part of the job but this one is a classic. It’s three flights and two days to get where I’m going in SE Alaska.
Also known as the Pan Handle of SE Alaska, is actually on the west coast of continental North America, (confused?) check it out here. Being on the west coast, the weather is unpredictable. After a flight north from cool Seattle, the final leg is up the coastal canal from Juneau to Haines, skirting glaciers and overflying whales.
The journey should be on a small single prop plane on ‘Wings of Alaska’. But often the weather is so changeable that I end up taking alternative methods of transport. I’ve taken a fast cat, cessna, chopper and slow boat so far. I head back to Alaska soon. Who knows, I may get to kayak home yet.
One recent diversion took me back through LA for the premiere of a show that’s part of ‘Locked Up Abroad‘ , a long running TV series that I look after at Raw TV. In this episdoe called ’The Real Midnight Express‘, Billy Hayes re-lives being incarcerated in a Turkish prison in the 1970s. His story inspired Alan Parker and Oliver Stone to make the film ‘Midnight Express’.
It took Billy an enormous amount of courage to take part in this film. He had to stand by his life-changing and costly mistakes in front of a theatre of TV critics, friends and subsequently a national TV audience. When it aired, it rated off the scale. I was delighted for Billy and the teams at Raw and National Geographic.
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.
At this time of year my thoughts turn towards the sea. I grew up in Greenock, a hardnosed shipbuilding port in Scotland. It was rowing that first channelled my energies away from the street. Then sailing and canoeing on the river Clyde meant that when I moved to the Outer Hebrides in my twenties, there was only one place to be, the sea. Whether it was sailing trips to St Kilda; canoeing around Orkney or screaming across Broadbay in a Sabbath-storm windsurf, being on the sea seemed fundamentally important to being me. I seriously harboured thoughts of becoming a professional sailor when I crewed a schooner around the Med for a summer. But I finally decided against it; instead I moved to London and immersed myself in film and TV again. Staying in London means I don’t often go down to the sea. I miss it, but nowhere as much as I thought, London rocks in ways I never expected.
Lifting my head and looking around me, the buzz of work has gone and I see art on every wall. Whether it’s tagging on the village streets, Picasso’s and Cezanne’s paintings or photo exhibitions galore, I’m electrified and inspired by how others see the world.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Recontres de la Photographie d’Arles – a major photographic event by any reckoning. Many great photographers have shown their pictures here. We braved the 40°C heat long enough to view just a few of the 60 exhibitions, but three bodies of work really struck me.
Without Sanctuary is a shamefully banal series of postcards taken and published by Southern photographers of lynched African Americans. The collection is from the Centre for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and shows just what an incredible leap forward has been made with the election of Barak Obama.
Eugene Richards‘ haunting images of deserted houses in America’s Mid West were shot just before ‘the crash’ and remind me of McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. Willy Ronis, is one of France’s great humanist photographers. He’s nearly a hundred years old and his work glows with life, wisdom and dignity.
Since starting my blog, I’ve been forced to reassess why I continue to take pictures and publish them. It’s years since I earned my living as a photographer, so why bother?
Seeing these walls around me, I’m inspired by insight and commitment. Looking at my blog afresh I realise I am enthralled. Photography is still my first language and my love. For better or for worse I have an passion for people, a desire for them to understand the world the way I see it, and the need for a wall to hang my pictures on.
I’m not going to write much as I’m getting to be a lazy, lazy man in the French sun but here are a few Provençal impressions from the last week or so.
Wrapping the edit up at the wonderful Envy after nine months and leaving everything shipshape was harder than I imagined. But in the end I was really pleased with the series. It’s been doing well in the US and is going to go out soon in the UK on five. The upshot of this final push was that I left the show more than a tad tired after some very late nights.
And then there was the actual last night itself when I should have done what any mature and sensible man would do and that is go home and fall into the arms of his neglected wife. But not Sammy, no, instead after a couple of pints at the Toucan we headed to Zoe Brewer’s 40th party.
Now anyone who knows the Brewers knows that a night there, never mind a night as big as a fortieth, is going to be (how should I put it?) an occasion for celebration. Consequently we lived up to our joint expectations, did our very merry duty by Colin and Zoe and returned home a little after 6am. Again, most sensible people would have spent the day in bed but I had to clean the flat before my grandaughter and her mum arrived off the train from Scotland for a week’s entertainment in London.
We had a brilliant time but the days were busy and the nights were late as we saw the sights and talked the talk into the wee sma hours. When Jen and I finally boarded the Eurostar for two weeks in the South of France the omens weren’t good either. The carriage suddenly filled with many uniformed red Americans ‘doing Europe’. They were all very excited about going under the English Channel and getting a good seat, (to view the darkness I presume).
However my fear of uniformity proved unfounded (I had a tough time in the Scouts); our American cousins were models of decorum. After arriving in Paris, yoga in the Jardin du Luxembourg, a pit-stop in our favourite Cafe Tournon (expensive, non? Charcuterie, fromage, pain and cafe creme – 50 euro/nearly quid – but well worth the experience), a mad dash across the city to Gare de Lyon, a whisk on the TGV and a thirty minute drive we found ourselves at the amazing Mas Dagan. It’s been a complete delight since then and exactly what a holiday should be, nothing and everything.
I’ve been writing this particular blog about my adventures with Mark and Olly for some time now. To see the rest of the blogs in sequence click here. But if you haven’t the time to read the backstory, here is the story so far. I produced a series of eight one hour documentaries for Travel Channel and Discovery in the remote rain forests of West Papua two years ago that was great adventure.
Along with explorers, Mark Anstice and Olly Steeds, a production crew from Cicada Films and many local ‘Yali’, porters we climbed into the mountains of West Papua in search of the ‘Mek’ people. This elusive tribe have had little contact with the outside world for thousands of years.
The previous year, Mark and Olly had lived in with the Kombai people in the swamps of West Papua. During their three months there, the two explorers became aware that things were changing fast for the native people of Papua. Money, religion, politics, education, logging, military action, disease, metal goods, converse sneakers, tee-shirts, cheap chinese lighters; all these things and many more were flooding into these remote and ancient cultures, altering them irrevocably.
Spurred on by this experience, Mark and Olly decided to go to West Papua again, but this time they were to go high into the montains to make a series of films see with the Mek people. It was a big ask. The territory was ferocious and there was little guarantee the tribe would allow them to stay for the four months the two explorers and our film crew needed to really get under the skin of village life.
The Mek tribe of around two thousand people had been known to the outside world for many years. But there were small villages on the edge of Mek territory that we hoped still stood on the cusp of modernity where we could still learn of the old ways while witnessing how the tribe adapted to the new.
The blog picks up after we’d been four days into the expedition and just spent an uncomfortable night in a village called ‘Tohamak’. Our guide, the ‘Legendary Bob Pelege’ had hoped the villagers might let us stay. But in the end it was a rather disappointing encounter. The villagers were Mek people but they had moved further into modernity than we’d hoped for. This was demonstrated when they asked us for $800 dollars to kill a pig for a feast of welcome.
Our porters were from the Yali tribe and the Mek are their traditional enemies. The tension in the village was palpable as we tried to sleep in a village where not so long ago we would have been killed and eaten for such a transgression. Come first light we head further into the mountains. Bob planned to take us to the village of Merengman. It was two days walk away through ever worsening territory but it was there that he believed we’d find what we were looking for. I was sick with nerves by now. Months and months planning were hanging in the balance.
Day five’s march was awful with leeches, vertical walls of vegetation, torrential rain and a gnawing uncertainty about whether I was leading the expedition towards disaster. A night camp made in the pitch black under what seemed like a waterfall didn’t help the mood either. But on day six when we encountered a staff of pigs jaws we knew we were nearing what we hoped would be our final destination. This frightening totem marked the territorial edges of Meregman. I felt exhausted, worried but elated mostly. All the hard work, all the blood sweat and tears had all lead to this point.
The following day, after little sleep, we edged closer to the village. Bob knew that by tradition, no stranger would be allowed to enter the village without a show of strength. Less than two hundred meters from the village a tribesman who turned out to be the chief himself, leapt from behind trees and challenged us to leave his territory. We spoke English, the porters spoke Yali and and Indonesian and a few words of Mek. Between, Bob, Olly, Mark and the porters, we managed to get the Chief, Markus, to allow us to enter the village.
It was an amazing sight. The villagers looked on with a mixture of anxiety and curiosity. Ed Kelly, the camerman and director allayed people’s fears by letting them see and hear what we were recording. We’d decided that if we found somewhere that would let us stay we would share our world with them as we hoped they would do with us.
Chief Markus called a meeting of the elders and after some debate they decided to let us stay and see what we were made of. Exhausted but elated we started to make camp and prepare ourselves for what we hoped would be the long haul. We were in.