The complete contrast to my travel work, photojournalism opened my eyes to a phenomenally challenging world.
From the first day I picked up a camera I was convinced I’d be off trekking around the world as part of the new breed of National Geographic photographers but the reality was that I was growing up witnessing the extinction of the same species I had admired. While they’re not all gone yet they are a rare breed now and aspiring to those lofty heights still seems fairly unlikely. Instead I began to dip my toes into other types of photography and like many others I tried a bunch. Weddings, events, portraits and sport were several that I enjoyed at times but never really felt challenged or satisfied.
I got the chance to begin working for the U.S. Embassy in Canberra and my days of family portraits were but a distant memory. In the beginning it wasn’t pushing my boundaries but I certainly got the chance to learn from some really great mentors and begin a path that ultimately enabled me to photography President Obama twice, Hillary Clinton, Secretary John Kerry, all 5 of Australia’s Prime Ministers during that time, The Wiggles, Buzz Aldrin, the head of NASA, my football heroes and many many others.
I read once that covering a U.S. Presidential visit was one of the most challenging gigs going around and I was lucky enough to do it twice. And both times as the official photographer. Now I’m no Pete Souza but I was allowed to roam into places other members of the press didn’t get to go so I took particular time to get images I hoped would last a lifetime. I didn’t take the opportunities for granted and ended up spending 6 years building skills and friendships I hadn’t anticipated at all.
In a strange way it built photographic techniques I would never have bothered with had I just stuck with tourism and travel work and it opened my eyes up to visual storytelling in a way I was honestly naive to previously. It was eye opening, challenging but so rewarding. I won’t ever stop doing this documentary style work and I’d love one day to cover another sitting U.S. President but for now I’ll make do with the memories.
By this stage you’re probably well within your rights to think this particular man would be Barack Obama but that’s not the case. The most impressive person I met during my time in Canberra was comfortably Jeffrey Bleich, the U.S. Ambassador. Anyone that had any contact with him understood what an incredible person he was and the impact he had on my professional and personal career I could never describe. So many times I felt like I was just along for the ride as he showed Australia what a great leader should look like. The ride was a damn good one too considering who he allowed me to photograph, meet and make friends with.
Now there’s obviously incredible respect for Jeff and his family, but his work ethic was second to none. On any occasion I thought I’d worked a long day he’d inevitably greet me on the way out the door to wish me well. What’s all this got to do with my photography you may ask. I’m convinced without the influence of him (and many others during my time mind you!) during those years I would never have pursued the things I love as much as I have. I look back and think of all the times I thought I was working hard or put in the hard yards and realise now I wasn’t even close. It made me search for better shots and work harder to get interesting angles and photos that would last and make an impact. That never resonated so much as the day I looked down after climbing a tree on the U.S. Embassy compound and realised I was actually installing one of my cameras to get a unique angle.
These were also the years I learnt what it meant to be a fly on the wall. How important it was to capture the moment but not overstay your welcome and to realise the power of what I got to do. I wasn’t the one in any of the meetings or making the decisions but I got the chance to document many of them. I got to literally (well not literally but you know what I mean) be a fly on the wall to some incredible moments. My photos during those years have been in newspapers around the world and there’s nothing quite as special as having your mum tell you about seeing your name in the New York Times or the Herald. Out of all the moments I’ve had so far the one I think that sticks with me the most was when I sat down to talk with an American who’d come to Australia to help on a visit by the Secretary of State, John Kerry. After a few minutes he finally turned to me and said “Oh! I know where I recognise your name from! In our office back home we have a picture of President Obama on our wall and it’s one of yours.”