I think I always knew at some point in my life I would travel – what I didn’t know was how to realise that ambition. At 18, earning £25 a week meant I’d likely be in my thirties before I could afford anything significant. So, as I saw it, someone was going to have to damn well pay me to do it. This philosophy served me well for many years.
So it was then that over dinner one day I calmly announced to my parents that I was going to leave my job and go and work as a cruise ship photographer. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I might not actually be good enough or be qualified to get such a job. Such was the confidence of my eighteen year old self.
Thankfully, I was granted an interview with one of the photography concession companies and I trundled off to London for my interview. They studied my colourfully card mounted, portfolio images with amusement, a little confusion and some derision. At the time I thought my portfolio showed a great variety of work – I now see what they saw. A mishmash of portraits, wedding cakes, meat, a glamour model, a few landscapes, some pictures of a dog and one of a computer, all held together with yellow ribbon presented by a naive teenager who thought he knew the world.
A week later, calling them from the telephone box in my lunch hour I wasn’t surprised to be offered the job. I was surprised that I was only being offered the position of trainee. Nonetheless it meant my 100% interview record was intact!
And so it was that within a couple of weeks I was travelling half way around the world to begin my new life aboard cruise liners. More or less two years flew by with each and every single day bringing me closer to adulthood and making me more and more streetwise than I ever knew possible. The stories of those years could so easily fill a book but suffice to say for now that most of those two years were spent either drunk, hungover or asleep. In my very first week I almost, albeit unknowingly, successfully chatted up a prostitute, got urinated on by a large Grenadian hash dealer and destroyed thirty rolls of exposed film from the Captains cocktail party! Fortunately things got better and I stuck out my contract and kept going back for more. I “retired” from ship life with a short stint aboard the QE2, a fine and fitting way to end my ship life.
Returning to England it rapidly became clear that ex cruise ship photographers were not in demand so my only option was to go freelance. But with no clients, no money and still not a lot of experience of “real” photography I turned back to the family business I had left two years earlier. This was one of my better decisions as before I knew it I was back into travel mode once again and was being whisked off to Turkey, France, and Spain…for month here, a week there. It was fun and exciting but guess what? I still wasn’t taking many pictures. I was basically a sherpa for the video production side of the business and doubling up as sound engineer and stills photographer. It all sounds quite grand I suppose but these were essentially low budget, corporate holiday videos. We were filming camping sites, toilet blocks, hotel rooms with the odd beach here and there to pretty it up! Fun, sure, but not a career. I gradually distanced myself from the business, particularly as I was now beginning to land a few clients for myself – weddings, a few portrait commissions and the odd commercial shoot. I even took on a small shop so I could take on peoples films for processing and printing – when I say it small, it was tiny! It was here though that things started to change for me. Firstly, the teaming up with a video editor from the aforementioned production company. He had also left them and had been on a rollercoaster ride to not very far. He did however have a creative mind, and a fair bit more experience than me. Between us, and I’m still not sure to this day how we did it, we managed to convince Thomas Cook Holidays to send us off to the Caribbean for a month to shoot a creative video on the their high end resorts. We had no showreel and nothing more than a passionate idea about what we wanted to shoot for them but they bit! They gave a us a good budget (which excluded alcohol) and a lot of trust. Once again chapters of a book could be devoted to this trip alone – airlines losing luggage and equipment, sickness, breakages, missed flights, it’s all there. Suffice to say we completed the job so successfully that this was followed by a month in Canada doing the same thing. Life it seemed was on the up! To be continued further…