One thing I always missed when I left working in special education was the kids. Specifically, my ASD students with whom I spent so much time. Anyone who has had the pleasure of working with autism will know the wonderful gifts these young minds can offer. They taught me the importance of facing your fears, the value of true honesty and perhaps the most valuable lesson of all; How absurd it is that we try so hard to fit in when anyone who ever did anything worthwhile, did so by being different.
It goes without saying then, that when I started my portraiture business I wanted to work once more with my young friends on the spectrum. I reached out to a few people and was really pleased that a lady called Jess (@part.of.teds.world) kindly agreed to meet me for a session to try it out. We met at the glorious Wendover Woods and I have to say despite the glorious weather the initial meeting was not as I had planned. A lady in need of "sausage roll" from the cafe of all things saddled me with her two dogs, so when the family arrived I was wrangling two anxious hounds looking for their mum. I have two dogs myself which added another layer of potential confusion but at least explaining the circumstance of these two random hounds was an icebreaker of sorts.
My young collaborator for the day was Ted (and Oakley). Ted is non-verbal and an absolutely delightful character who shared my enthusiasm for sticks and all things foresty so words weren't really needed. His young brother Oakley was a real adventurer too so there was always some great action to focus on in our little forest clearing.
Now there is always a part of me during these sessions (and in life generally), really hoping to make a good impression. I'm of the belief that kids are often the best judge of character so because there isn't always an abundance of time when doing a shoot I really hoped Ted didn't mind me hovering around with my camera. My concerns were totally alleviated however when I turned from focusing on a cool moment with Oakley to have Ted grab my finger and take me back to our awesome collection of sticks and bark. I think it was my discerning bark resourcing that might have swung it but in that moment this awesome little guy let me know I was on the right track both in this shoot and my choice of career. He even took some pics for me too.
Suffice to say it was an absolute privilege working with Jess, Oli, Ted and Oakley. Jess and Oli are the kind of parents you hope all kids could have and it showed in the images. Here's hoping all shoots are as rewarding as this :)
The Simple Things
When it comes to portraits, ones which are more than pixels on a screen or ink on paper there needs to be something meaningful. The problem is we often think to get more, you need to do more. For portraits that might be setting up an elaborate scenario or directing the subject to do what you're looking for. Genuine moments however are timid creatures, they don't do well in pushy environments. That's not to say they are rare because give them a chance they appear all over the show in even the most unelaborate of circumstances.
This was made joyfully clear when shooting with Jack and his dad Ben. We were just having an introductory cup of tea but of course, young Jack was just being his usual plucky self and going about his day with enthusiasm. I had to pick up my camera and capture it. Watching the simple interactions of a typical day between a boy and his dad made for some of my most favourite shots and showed me that sometimes the most simple moments can be the most meaningful.
The Little Vineyard
When I was visiting my mum in New Zealand a few years back we went to a local vineyard. It wasn't a large place just a little spot we noticed while driving across the country. I don't know anything about wine but somehow got chatting to the owner who, surprisingly inspired my photography more than nearly any other moment in my career, and I didn't have to mention woody finishes or berry notes once.
The man told me that being a small place with little resources they couldn't control the conditions like the larger vineyards. Due to their vast ability to control so many aspects of the process, they could produce consistently brilliant wine year on year and this little vineyard couldn't compete. What surprised me was that he actually seemed happy with this. This is what he said:
"There are many years we simply can't compete with the larger places, some years can be really tough. But sometimes, when the conditions are just right and everything aligns, they can only produce brilliant wine, when I can achieve perfection"
This is what photography means to me. Yes you can get great results controlling everything but life is far more interesting and complicated than that, so controlling all those elements simply limits the chance of that perfect moment. That honest glimmer that defines a person's character beyond just how they look. It's often harder, it's not as polished but it's always honest and that honesty is where perfection is nestled.
As with many photography careers, the beginnings are usually close to home. Maybe it's local landscape pics or helping photograph a friend's wedding. For me, my foray into children's documentary portraiture began with my family. My brother's kids to be exact.
I would always take my camera when we had a family getaway and the perfect light at our winter stay by the beach made for an ideal start to my candid children's portrait work.
Who knew photographing lively children in fading light would be such a tricky but joyous challenge. It definitely lit a fire of interest for natural, honest shots without any photographer direction.
My experience of children's portraiture up to that point was of shopping centre salespeople promoting awkward piggy-back "action" shots on sterile backgrounds. It always seemed strange to me why you would want to create a moment that sort of resembles a natural, happy child having fun when you can just as easily photograph that happy child actually having fun. It's true that photography is a creative process but no photographer's imagination can beat the honest expression of a child just living their life. For me, there's just no competition.
So when I realised I could shoot this kind of work I began building up my portfolio so that Nice Photography could become a reality.
In the early days of photography, I was working commercially as a music photographer. Although the rates magazines paid were pretty low I was lucky enough to travel across the world shooting events and portraits in some truly awesome places from Monaco, Singapore, Ukraine, Hawaii and Canada to name a few. What I lacked in finances however I gained in experience both in life and in photography. Saying that there's nothing more juxtaposing than getting an all-expenses-paid trip to Monaco but not having enough in your account to hold the charge on the minibar.
Humbling experiences aside, the biggest gift I gained from these trips was the knack for quick, candid portraits. Much of the time when I was photographing an artist or DJ we would meet at an unknown location and have maybe two minutes to gain a magazine quality image. That pressure quickly honed my skill towards the documentary portraiture I enjoy today. Using whatever the situation grants me and making it work to my advantage. Eventually, as my commercial work moved to different pastures that passion for unplanned, engaging portraits really stuck with me. Combined with the unexpected joy I got from my education work and I was soon heading towards a meeting of all these elements which would soon become Nice Photography.