Pain in the Swimming Pool

Behind the Lens


I was born and bred in Zimbabwe and am a Zimbo at heart, but have spent much of my short life on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. During my school and varsity years I was a jack of all trades, but there was never really any mastery. I participated in swimming, canoeing, cross-country (now known as trail running), triathlon, squash, hockey and cricket. I didn’t always know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was fortunate enough to have the time and freedom to discover what it was.

I love being outdoors, I love adventure and I love people. So I needed to find a job that ticked all those boxes. I ploughed through a four-year natural sciences degree, thinking science would be my ticket to bush adventures, foreign languages and starry skies. But it wasn’t. In need of a holiday and some perspective, I went yacht racing around the world for four years. The ocean, it turns out, is just about the best place for anyone to get big world perspective. There was plenty time to get introspective, and I soon learnt what my real strengths and passions were. Photography, which had long been a hobby, stood out. I conjured up a plan, focused on exploiting my strengths and put my head down.

Without much guidance or planning, I started taking photos at adventure sports events. I did it simply because it was a subject I knew. I got to take photographs almost every weekend, honed newfound skills, rapidly built my portfolio, and met and learnt from fellow sport creatives. Everything snowballed and evolved from there. This is not to say it was easy. I can clearly remember the first adventure event I covered, mainly because it also doubled as the first marathon I’d ever done. The event is known as the Mweni Marathon and takes place in probably the least visited, but most spectacular part of the Drakensberg. When I pitched the idea of photographing the event to the organisers, they said the route is completely inaccessible and the only way to cover the race would be to run it myself. I was stoked. I love running and now someone just made it part of my job!

Undaunted, and blissfully unaware of the rigours of trail running with a camera bag, I set off on the 42km high altitude, mountain run with everything I thought I needed. By kilometre 10, it was clear I had brought too much equipment. I was battling to keep up with the majority of the field, let alone finding the time or energy to take pics of the race. I ditched all my food to lighten my backpack, but it didn’t help. At halfway I was close to last. I eventually latched on to a couple runners going my pace, and on the way back to the finish I had to make peace with the fact that most of my photos were only going to feature two people. After eight hours, my loyal subjects and I crossed the finished line – exhausted. I later jotted down the lessons I learnt from the race, and reading them now, it’s amazing how insightful they proved to be in terms of what the future held.

One of my fondest photographic memories has to be the TransAlps Run 2010. It was my first overseas assignment and I remember sitting on the train with my pelican case, camera bag and running shoes, staring out the window, watching the big German Alps whiz by, and thinking: “Somebody is actually paying me to do something to be here.” Everything about the event was world class and we were a crack team of photographers consisting of two Germans and myself. I had the enviable job of running, camera in tow, for two thirds of each race day. Each of us had to present a photographic slideshow every night and it turned out to be a full-on photographic war. Each photographer tried to outdo the other, the slideshow winner being the one with the most oooohh’s and aaaahh’s from the audience. It was great. The working environment was super-charged and pressure-filled, and I learnt stacks because of it.

I maintain that the best way to capture what is in front of your camera, is to be a part of it. I hate sitting on the sidelines documenting an event. If people are running, I like to be running with them. I always try to put myself in my subjects’ shoes. Understanding what your subject is feeling really helps you portray the emotions and sights. It’s this participatory style of photography that I think separates my images from the rest, but really it’s an excuse to justify doing the sports I love whilst working!

All events are different, and all need a specific strategy or pre-planning. The more you know about your subject and surroundings, the better your photos. I come from a multi-sport background, and those early experiences taught me that capturing and documenting the essence of multi-sports, requires not only a technical appreciation for film, but also a unique blend of creative agility and sporting knowledge, and of course, the ability to combat an often unforgiving shooting environment.

It’s now been three-and-a-half years of professional photography, and I’ve been on more bush adventures, listened to more foreign languages and seen more starry skies than I could have ever dreamed of. But like anything in life, it’s all about finding a balance.

For the first two years of my professional camera-wielding career, I was so set on growing the business that I’d go from one job to the next, always rushing, always looking for the next best assignment. It was only until recently that I found some sort of inner peace. It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, especially when you see everything from a photo or creative perspective. The world kind of passes you by at face value only, nothing deeper. It’s only when you stop and reflect that you begin to appreciate all the places you’ve seen and people you’ve met. You are continually forced to engage and interact and learn, and the more you do that, the better the pics are. It’s a win-win situation. And I love it.