PACKING IT ALL IN!

Before I continue from where I left off, I want to present a snippet of why I love this Island. Driving the children to school this morning, the sun is shining, but Charlie has just annoyed me to the point of shouting. As I drive I’m fuming, we sit silently in the car, the boys afraid to make noise for fear of re-awakening my wrath! We pass an elderly gentleman and with a piece of paper he flags me down. “Are you going to town” he asks, “yes, do you need a lift?” was my reply I have given more lifts to strangers in the past three years than the rest of my life put together. “No” he says, “but could you please deliver this letter to Sure (the Island’s telecom providers), it’s very important”. “Of course I can, no problem sir”, and with that a complete stranger trusts me with an important letter, and instantly lifts my moods and brightens my day.

I appologised to the boys for losing my temper, whilst re-iterating that they can’t leave their shoes in the rain all night, we cuddle, I tell them I love them and they walk into school happy, all friends again. Magic.

So back to the main story, after my last blog, things went from unusual (for St Helena) to damn right weird. An adventure cruise ship, fresh from taking bird watchers to the Antarctic is passing St Helena and agrees to call in to take approximately ten stranded, and urgent passengers to Ascension Island and beyond to Cape Verde, where they can then catch a flight to the UK. Crazy I know, but if you need to get off the Island, at this point in time, it’s your only option.

For me this was not a strait forward option, it gave me two days’ notice and may of cost a lot of money. After checking with my new boss, I decide to wait in hope the RMS is fixed, and I can travel on the 17th May, arriving just two weeks late for work. For friends of ours however this was not an option, with their passports expiring they were not able to travel through South Africa, and Ascension was their only option. But as I explained, Ascension Island runway is now also closed, so the MV Plancius, leaving in two days became their only option to get off the Island. With the ship boarding at 11am, Frankie and Dean Gonsalves were still rushing round town, trying to speak to one government official after another to get emergency documents sorted to allow them to travel. With the children in tow and the sun reaching its mid-day peak I offered my hand and took their children for toasties and slushes in the park, a welcome relief to the stressed parents.

Eventually the documents come through and, after a third goodbye I saw off some of my best friends on the Island, not sure when I would see them again. They travelled for two days before arriving on Ascension Island, and with a few hours stop over, headed to English Bay, a stunning white sand beach with clear blue waters. Now at this stage some of you probably know what’s coming next, yes that’s right, my friends were attacked by a shark. Are you f**king kidding me, you can’t make this up. As Bev and I are enjoying a wonderful wedding on the Island news comes through that our friend Frankie has been attacked by a shark, and although is alive and safe, will face months of surgery and rehabilitation as her Achilles tendon and other parts of her ankle have been torn to pieces. By all accounts Dean was something of a hero, punching said shark in the face repeatedly to get it to leave his wife alone, before fending it off from himself. Two other people worthy of a mention are Paul and Craig Scipio who selflessly ran to their aid pulling the couple from the water and administering essential initial first aid.

The children, thankfully not in the water, witnessed the whole thing and were understandably in pieces. The news left us all on the Island shocked and worried. With Frankie stable and in good care, she awaited an emergency flight to the UK (one way to get home quicker) whilst Dean and the children were dumped back on the Plancius to spend another ten nights at sea away from their injured wife and Mum.

Happily I can report that Frankie is doing well, operations have gone well and I’m sure she will be back with us before long, already able to laugh and joke about the events. The children and Dean remarkably got back in the sea at Cape Verde, something I think is pretty incredible. For us it was difficult, not only the trauma of getting trickles of information about friends in a very serious situation, but, having spent most of our lives as Marine Biologist peddling stories of how sharks are not dangerous and the oceans are safe and sharks should be protected, one of our closest friend’s bloody well gets attacked by one. It’s important to present some background though. For some time now Galapagos sharks have been encroaching on the island, encouraged by the discard’s of fishermen thrown freely into the shallow waters. These sharks have not only begun to relinquish their fear of man, but are actively seeking out shallow waters with people around, associating the situation with food. The Ascension Island government must make some changes. Although not a tourist destination, the two swimmable beaches on the Island are very very popular with the locals on the Island and those passing through, who now would risk swimming in their clear blue waters.

Back on St Helena the fall out for me was somewhat intense as the worlds media did their best to find out what is going on. A quick search on Frankie’s Facebook page reveals a photo of her swimming with a whale shark, taken of course by yours truly. This led to five national UK papers phoning me directly trying to get more information. Sticking to the facts as I knew them and correcting some inaccuracies it was a delicate situation. My friends still separated as Dean and the family travelled by sea, the extent of Frankie’s injuries not clearly known, and not wishing to upset anyone I told them as little as I could get away with and bided them a polite goodbye.

The photo itself though did appear in several national newspapers. One would never ever wish for anyone they care for to be injured in this way, but it’s a pretty cool photo and seeing it in the national press I must admit is exciting!Telegraph

Now, at two pages long already I should probably stop writing before boring you all to death, but if you’re with me so far I shall continue. Set as I was to leave on the 27th of April, our personal belongings were boxed and packed into shipping containers the week prior, on the 20th April ready for their long journey back to the UK on the MV Helena (the replacement cargo vessel commissioned to ensure supplies to the Island) . Now with over a month left on the Island, Bev and the boys even longer, we had no option but to move into someone else’s house. What we needed was a family, who were on leave and would be off the Island, whom perhaps had young children with toys for the boys. Whom could that be, yep, that’s right, Frankie and Deans house! And so it was that we left our lovely home in Alarm Forest and crossed the Island to Cleughs plain with just a suitcase each to last the next three months! The local news outlets were keeping us informed about how passengers, now stranded in Cape Town might get home and how in turn, those here might be able to leave. A plane, no plane, the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, no Queen Elizabeth Cruise ship, RMS on schedule, RMS needs more work, the stories and rumours went back and forth like a yo yo. Eventually confirmed, news from SHG that a plane had been commissioned to fly people now stuck in Cape Town for, in some cases 6 weeks, home to St Helena. So finally I had a confirmed route back to the UK that would get me to work on time.

I e-mailed the given address and was assured my name was on the list and more information would be provided when available. Waiting and waiting it was 2.30pm, the day before the flight before I phoned up Solomon’s Shipping office who were dealing with bookings. “Hi there, its Paul Tyson here, I think I’m on the flight, but Ive not heard anything more can you provide some information. What time will we depart, what time do we arrive, do I have a ticket, where do I get my ticket from, hat is the baggage allowance?” My questions went on and the response was a rather despondent “I’m sorry Sir, I don’t have any information to provide you, we haven’t been told anything yet”. I asked if I was still booked onto the 17th May RMS voyage, and had it confirmed I was. With that I asked them to call me as soon as any information is forthcoming. As I sit here now, the plane has been and gone and I still haven’t received that phone call. But never mind, my passage on the RMS is booked, the ship is repaired, has reached St Helena and is currently steaming towards Ascension Island.

I will arrive in the UK on the 24th May, ready to start work on the 29th. My sixth and final voyage on the RMS, a small piece of history of my own. In the meantime St Helena made its own history once more as, only 12 months late, the first commercial passenger plane landed and departed on St Helena. The boys and I went to watch this historic event. For most parts of the world, a plane with 60 passengers landing is not big news, but for the Island this is massive. The airport heaved with people, family and friends and curious onlookers like myself. The airport, baggage handling and oversubscribed restaurant all ran perfectly, and for the first time the airport operated as it was intended. The excitement was palpable, and I am thrilled for all the staff and people involved in the project. We are still some months away from the airport operating properly, but at least we now know it can. Will we ever get to the bottom on who cocked up along the way, I doubt it, and does it matter? Well yes it does, but we can move on and the successful landing of RJ85 Avro flight takes everyone a step closer.

Crowds gather waiting for the plane to arrive.

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The airport seen from Millenium Forest
_MG_8715-Pano_MG_8697-Pano_MG_8705The airport was heaving with excited friends and family.

Anyone wishing to read more about the airport and this historic day should take a look at Darrin and Sharon Henry’s terrific blog, What the Saints Did Next. Fantastic photography and writing.

So what’s with the title, “Packing it in”, obviously I have eluded to our personal belongings being packed away, but, set as I was to leave on the 27th April, the past three weeks have truly allowed me to pack it in, and my weeks have been nonstop fun. People are now asking me, “how many leaving do’s have you had? Six!!” The undoubted highlight of which was an awesome party with our neighbours who put on a mini festival involving a swimming pool and bouncy castle, barbecue and cooking on a fire pit, lots of beer, a live band and a stunning sunset to boot. Oh what a night. A huge thanks to Hayley and Jamie Bridgewater for a memory lasting night.

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Aside from hangovers I have also managed to start, at long last, playing golf. My game is not good, but improving, and with that I played my first (and last) Texas Scramble tournament, a doubles game where the use of whichever ball is hit best, allows for my way wood shots to be discounted! Alas my teammate Tina Johnson and I came last, or joint third as I prefer to call it, but it was a great day and was followed up with another barbecue and more drinking. There is a solid theme of the past few weeks and beer has been central to that theme, I shall have to re-asses my habits wen I’m back in the UK, but for now I’m on holiday and shall enjoy it!18275118_10156089632834829_1014096313409788607_n.jpg

I have also fitted in three post box walks. Post box walks are  list of 21 walks, of varying difficulty across the Island that, at the end of the walk, have a post, containing a stamp for you to mark ones guide book at the completion of each walk.

The first was a walk to Great Stone top, with friend Gordon Brodie. Gordon has not yet featured in my blog, which is strange as he has been something of an ever present. Cards, Golf, Snooker, drinking and barbecues all, inevitably are shared with my unique and characterful friend. Some (well he) would call him powerful, his friends affectionately tend to call him Gordie Bollocks. I could tell you a hundred stories from our time here together, most of which involved beer and often the breaking of something or someone, or other inappropriate behaviours. But for now I’ll leave the stories to his company as a walking companion for the week!

Leaving the Bell Stone (an ancient phonolithic volcanic rock that rings like a bell when struck) we started out through forests of pine before the path opens out with spectacular views across Prosperous Bay and the airport. With another drinking engagement in the afternoon we soon made the decision to forego the full walk to Great Stone top and instead settled for its little brother, Little Stone Top! A pleasant walk with enough out of breath moments to make one feel as though they have done some work, but short enough to get back in time for a party . We all enjoyed the views, the climbing and the company.

Gordon and his son William also joined us a few days later as we tackled Sharks Valley. A longer walk through a steep sided Gorge that falls deep into a ravine and opens out onto the rugged rocky coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. This was something more of a challenge as much of the walk traverses along very narrow loose paths across the steep sided rock face of the gorge, with a precipitous drop below. Oliver in particular struggles with this, the combination of exposure and loose grit below his feet, understandably unnerving him. We edged along, hand in hand, for what felt like an eternity as his nerves undoubtedly rubbed off on me. But we made it, down to the sea where we were faced with what I personally can only describe as a shocking scene. Here we are, 800 miles from the nearest other land, 1400 miles from the nearest continent, on a rocky beach simply covered in the world trash. Rubbish, carried on the current for hundreds or thousands of miles and washed up on our isolated Island. You would struggle to find somewhere more remote than this beach, and yet Mans’ mark has been left. Humanities collective contempt for our planet never ceases to amaze me, and here it was laid out before me in the form of bottles, sandals, ropes, nets and trash.

Next up was a tour with a difference as Arran Legg, of Arran 4×4 tours met us in the morning for an off road drive through the Islands off beaten tracks. We spent six enjoyable hours in the company of the very knowledgeable, and thankfully skilled Arran as we wound through hill and dale, across lush pasture land to dry deserts. The highlight of which for me was a lengthy, often unnerving, drive through Fishers Valley and to our picnic sight overlooking the airport.

This spot and track (if you can call it that) are only used by Arran himself, and the National Trust when monitoring the Islands endemic Wirebird population. It was as remote as it was stunningly beautiful. The recent rains have brought colour to this arid landscape. The feeling of isolation and privilege was wonderful. My mind wandered as I contemplated the huge amount of change this apparently static landscape has seen. Once the location of a huge woodland of endemic Gumwood trees (large Daisies that grow as trees!!) the landscape has been eaten bare by centuries of wild goats, brought to the Island by successive Portuguese ships as a food source for their long journey on the Indian trade routes. More recently of course, a valley has been filled in, and an airport has been built. The site of which will soon become normal, but at this stage still presents a somewhat surprising image of this concrete strip perched perilously on a bizarre, remote rock plateau miles from any other human habitation!

One of the most challenging Post Box walks”. “Walking on St Helena is different and challenging…..confident and regular walkers from elsewhere in the world have found that they are not able to cope with the local terrain”. “For walks rated 5/10 and above it is important for walkers safety that they are accompanied by a knowledgeable guide”. Are the words I read once safely back in my car, AFTER, taking on the infamously named “The Barn”. I should of read that earlier!!

Perhaps the most notorious of walks on the Island with difficult path finding, vertiginous (I love that word, it means vertigo inducing) drops and exposure, shear cliffs and 300ft drops. No problem I thought, Ive spent many years scaling Peaks in Snowdonia, this will be fine, besides, Bev has done it before!!

As I crossed the first few fields and the sight of the Barn presented itself it crossed my mind that maybe, I shouldn’t of gone alone. But my ego, which has led me into many silly situations before, would not let me turn back and leave the Island having not “done the Barn”._MG_8751

It stood out ahead of me, a massive dark formation of hard rock, eroded on all sides as the softer landscape around it has dropped into the sea after millions of years of South Atlantic winds batter the cliffs. The guidebook suggests that paths may be difficult to follow following heavy rains, “we’ve had a lot of that” I thought. But the start of the path was easy to find and I followed into onto the first early challenges, traversing a grey mud cliff and gorge where the 6 inch wide path had been often filled in with an angle of mud, or obscured by sharp gorse bushes, all the while accompanied by what turned out to be an almost ever present feeling of impending doom.

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Looking back towards the crazy mud “path” that crossed the steep slope of mud!

One false step and you’re in serious trouble here mate. After crossing this first challenge the path reaches a wide broad ridge, welcome relief and impressive in its beauty, sharp edges eroded and crumbling in the wind with sands of orange, red and purple. The view stretched across Flagstaff Bay, looking towards Prosperous bay in all its glory.

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“Maybe that’s the difficult bit over with” I thought but before long the knife edge “Knotty Ridge” was before me and a challenging scramble down to meet it ensured. Now I felt like Oliver as I tiptoed steadily down the slope, aware of the looseness of volcanic ash and gravel below my feet.

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The guide book became a little unclear, do I follow the ridge, or traverse across its flank following the very obvious scar to the base of the Barn itself. “Follow the path Paul” were my reassuring words to myself. It wasn’t long before I thought I had made a mistake as in places the path was not a path, but a slope, upon which I gripped the mud above as I dug my toes in and edged across, foolishly looking between my legs to see the 300ft drop below me!! Others have done this walk with no problem, Bev included. Either I am not the mountain man I thought I was, or the paths have become seriously degraded and filled in as the regular rains have washed sand and mud down the slopes to smooth out contours.

After what felt like a very long time my drained and tense body found flatter ground on which to rest, take a sip of water and re-group. From a distance the next challenge looked to be the worst, but I now saw ahead of me some familiar territory. With renewed confidence I climbed upwards, with good hand holds and solid rock below my feet. I was now on the Barn itself and the loose gravel and sand that led me here has given way to solid volcanic rock, both secure and grippy. The narrow path, or complete absence of path no longer bothers me. This is proper climbing, this is my world.

As I topped out I expected to be nearing the top of the Barn and some flat ground, instead what greeted me took me aback. From a distance I have looked at the Barn and dismissed its scale, unaware of where the path goes and thinking much of the walk would be across its flat barren summit. What greeted me however was the enormous Eastern flank of the Barn and a small narrow path proceeding steadily and endlessly upwards. This was not a challenge of vertigo, or tip toeing, it was simply exhausting. After a leg draining time I reached the plateau of the Barn. Empty, beautiful, barren and yet full of life. Recent rains whilst eroding paths have enabled small plants such as the colourful Ice plant to thrive. Lichens and mosses, some of which are hundreds of years old cling to rocks and give away the secrets of some of the cleanest air in the World.

As I turn to the East, I am one of the first persons on the Island to witness the joyous return of the RMS St Helena, as she steamed past the airport. A poignant image of an old ship, the life line of the Island for some many years still pushing on (just) against the empty sad face of a false dawn. In a few days I shall be on the ship once more, I’m glad that I will leave the Island that way, its just somehow more fitting.

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_MG_8782After stamping my book, eating a sandwich and having a drink I turned to face my return journey, quickly arriving at my nemesis, the traverse. I decide that this time I simply don’t want to try that again and instead, I look upwards and decide a risky scramble to the ridge is a better option. Again I was soon doubting my judgement as I took one slip backwards for every two steps forward. But I reached the ridge and scrambled for what I hoped would be solid rock. To my dismay, the first part of this knife edge ridge was crumbling, and it wasn’t long before I was once again clinging and edging inelegantly along. A rock gave way beneath my foot as I scrapped my arm and grabbed a very well placed Wild Mango tree to arrest my fall.

After a short while the ridge widened slightly, and more importantly became solid, I could stand up on it, arms out and balance along its top. A friendly Fairy Tern came to look at this strange creature that looked as though he wanted to fly, but who’s feet were firmly planted on the ground.

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A scramble uphill, and an easier uphill traverse (uphill is always easier on dodgy ground) across those same muddy slopes led me back to my car, and to my relief I was able to sit down and read the pages I should of done earlier. “Walking on St Helena is dangerous and challenging…ignoring advice and attempting the more difficult walks (without a guide) is likely to result in unpleasant experiences and is dangerous” I should bloody say so!!!

Weddings, who’d of though it

We left the UK on a new adventure just over two years and four months ago. Although Bev had work and would be teaching (albeit in very different circumstance), I was stepping into the complete unknown, no job, no plan, no clue. I knew I would have some time on the Island, and I had always wanted to take up photography as a hobby, so, equipped with an amazon kindle book, and a £500 second hand canon with kit lens I started learning what all the buttons did.

Some of my earliest shots before I left the UK

I had no idea that it would take me anywhere. Shortly after we arrived on the Island I secured my first job with the tourism office, taking photos of the local restaurants and B&Bs etc. I had to get a work permit and register my business, Paul Tyson Photography (creative eh!?!) .

Photos of mixed standards of tourism establishments required creative thinking when it came to angles and lighting. Now I know why those glossy hotel brochures always look better than the real thing!

My landscape work was already quite well known and established by then, it seems I arrived at a  good time when excellent professional photographer Darrin Henry was busy travelling the world, and there were no other commercial photographers on the Island. Realising there was a gap in the market I promoted my new business, I remember Bev telling me, that “Any money I made from photography, I could spend on photography, but “(quite understandably) I wasn’t to spend any of the money she was earning!

Early St Helena Landscapes

Fair enough, but this provided me all the motivation I needed, the more money I make, the more toys I can buy. Inspired, and slightly jealous of friend David Higgins and his big lens for photographing St Helena’s wildlife, I bought a 120 – 300mm f2.8 Sigma lens. It was one of those ones that people look at and think “he must be making up for something” or simply, “what a tosser”!

My new f2.8 300mm lens allowed me to take these shots.

But I loved it and I could afford it, largely because of a new contract, and one I was most proud of, a commission from French Consul to St Helena to take exclusive photographs for a new guide book to Napoleonic sites on St Helena.

Photos and book cover from “On the Tracks of Napoleon” my first published images.

Next came night skies, we finally started to see the odd clear night sky and it was breathtaking, I simply had to get the gear to capture it on camera, another lens beckoned.

Some of my first Milky Way shots over our house in Half Tree Hollow.

In the mean time I was getting enquiries for studio type photo shoots, so thought I should pursue this and get some more gear. Backdrops, flash stands, wireless triggers and shoot through umbrellas followed. I think by now Bev may of been starting to regret telling me  I could spend anything I earnt on photography!!

The studio work didn’t automatically follow though, the requests continued, but, having set what I considered to be very reasonable prices given the outlay I had made, bookings did not come my way. My first studio shoot eventually came at the end of November 2015, it went well, very well, largely because of the gorgeous little girl I was photographing, and once the photos hit facebook the bookings came in.

My first studio shoot with the most gorgeous, smiling, happy young baby ever!

I soon began to realise that studio photo shoots, and portraits was a whole new ball game, not only did I have to know how to work a camera, and lighting, I had to know how to work a person! When amateurs come to you expecting to look like a super model you need to learn how to position and pose them, how to make them feel comfortable and relaxed with you, as a male photographer I think this is particularly challenging! Once again I took to you tube, and added to my 120GB of photography tutorials!

I started to feel the need to buy more gear. This time, it was a brand new camera, my first full frame, entry level professional camera. Wow what a difference, it allowed me to push the boundaries of what I could do, particularly in low light photography. Following on from basic studio work I was asked for more complex fashion type shoots, and my first real maternity shoot.

Some of my more accomplished studio work. Many were no where like this, over processed and overdone in many cases, but all part of the learning curve.

Again it was a new commission that helped pay for the new camera. I was commissioned to photograph all of the work that falls under St Helena Government’s Environment and Natural Resources directorate. This was a fantastic job, allowing me to see the workings of everything from the forestry team to the abattoir, from renewable energy to waste management. It was a mammoth job but again thoroughly enjoyable as I got to meet Saints from all walks of life.

From pigs in the butchery to people planting endemic seedlings, ENRD does it all.

In September 2015 the airport project started to hot up, as first flight after first flight landed in succession. First ever plane to land, first jet powered plane, first airliner. By now I had grown in confidence as a photographer and on the Island in general and I was pushy enough to speak to the important people and get myself runway access alongside the Islands media representatives. The results of this have been amazing, and my airport photographs can now been seen around the World as St Helena became the new hot tourism destination. My shots our the Islands wonderful landscapes started to appear in prestigious travel sites such as Conde Nast.  Of course we all know that the airport did not open, but in terms of World media, the wind sheer disaster was now an even bigger story and I had contacts from major newspapers and media outlets around the world. My photos of the airport and various planes landing can now been seen globally on sites ranging from the Times, the Independent and the BBC in the UK to USA today. Shots of the first commercial plane to land were quickly put on my facebook page and received over 100,000 views, astounding!

The first landing and first commercial jet liner to land on St Helena

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One of my images as it appeared in the Time Newspaper.

Not only were my photos appearing in media outlets, I was now to be featured in World famous London store Harrods, as I was commissioned to produce point of sale images for St Helena coffee!_mg_2620-edit

Fancy a coffee? I have to admit this is one of my favorite photos, taken on a log in my lounge! The steam isn’t even real!

Photo shoots became a mainstay but a new and interesting job came up with Enterprise St Helena to produce interpretation panels for tourist spots around the Island. This was a brilliant new challenge, combining photography with graphic design and writing, as well as proving a fascinating journey through St Helena historical archives and old photos. Learning more about the history of the Island and getting paid was great, but more importantly its wonderful to know that when I leave St Helena there will be something I produced, left behind for others to enjoy.

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One of 14 interpretation panels soon to be erected across St Helena.

As an aside I was also able to use my graphic skills when I was commissioned to produce the Governors official Christmas card. This was a test in itself, as the request was for a card featuring Lisa Phillips, her lovely black Labrador, dusty, and all twelve of Dusty’s new puppies!! Over 140 photos were taken to produce this card, mostly consisting of dogs bums and tails. But it was a huge pleasure, and the puppies were just lovely.

Colourful bokeh of Christmas lights with a bauble

Governor Lisa Phillips and her adorable Labrador pups. As a thank you for this job the boys were able to go and meet the puppies and spent over an hour cuddling and playing with them. They are fabulous.

Another “first” hit St Helena in October 2016 as an electrical storm shot lightening bolt after lightening bolt down upon us. thunder and lightening is a rare occurrence on St Helena, with some reports stating its over twenty years since the last one, making this storm the first ever to be photographed and shared around the World from St Helena.

These shots received over 20,000 views on facebook!

And so in December and January 2016/17 I find myself as a wedding photographer, with four bookings in as many weeks. Not my first I have done a few here and there, but as I have improved along with my gear these have been the first that I have charged sensibly for (relative to the amount of work) and that I feel accomplished in my work. I am enormously proud of the photos I have taken during wedding season. It is certainly a challenge, working fast, adjusting to rapidly changing light conditions, the photography is a challenge in itself, but its only now that I realise a wedding photographer is also the wedding director, and is looked upon to direct people from venue to venue, into groups, and to help ensure the day runs smoothly. It is daunting, hard work, but immensely rewarding.

If you’d of told me back in July 2014, as we packed our bags for the unknown that I would be a professional wedding photographer before I left St Helena Id of laughed at you, but as the New Year arrives and I look back on my time here I have come a long way. I am building both experience and a portfolio, and who knows where this may take me.

My readers can help me out here, have you recently got married in the UK, or been a close part of a wedding? How much did you pay the photographer, and please, how do my images compare to this. Id love to hear some open honest critique so I can better gauge exactly where I am.

 

 

 

 

Onwards and Upwards

Since my last post things have certainly returned to some sense of normality, at least, normal for us on St Helena. Out of no-where I am extremely busy again, and all of those little jobs that I really should of done when I had nothing to do, and didn’t, are now staring me in the face making me wonder when indeed I am going to do them!

Photos of the Jamesbay Waves I promised in the last blog.

The response to my last blog entry has been somewhat overwhelming. It seems I am not alone in my feelings of self-doubt and miss-direction and that many people have appreciated what I wrote, whilst others have offered sympathy and support. It is an odd thing barring your heart to the world, particularly to those who are in your day to day life, who then know how your feeling and, understandably want to help. But it turns out writing is easier than speaking, and my usual response has been “I’m fine” when someone asks if I’m ok. In reality I am a lot better than I was. I don’t suppose to think I have suddenly gotten over everything, but being busy helps immensely, as does having supportive family, good friends and good times. There is also a real therapy to writing down your thoughts. Confronting yourself and feelings, and attempting to apply a logic to them so that others can read and understand, helps to box them up and rationalise your feelings, you can then start to break down the problems and fix them.

The first thing I have to do in future is to recognise when I have less work on, and do productive things with the time that is freed up, for now however that is not a problem.

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Sunset Behind High Knoll Fort viewed from our garden!

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Sunset over JamesBay, Stunning.

 

In terms of photography out of the blue I had numerous photoshoots, I am resuming some product photography for a local jewellery designer and I finished editing the shots from my first wedding shoot. The wedding took place a few weeks ago. I was incredibly nervous, after all, when the day is over all that is left are the photos and memories, and I didn’t want to screw this up. I am thrilled with the results and the feedback has been fantastic. You can see for yourself here, and here. It was a wonderful experience, to be invited in to someone else’s special day, strangers to all intense and purpose is a true privilege. As the photographer you spend the whole day with the couple, you are the only one who does, you build a relationship with them and in many ways direct many elements of the day. I have a new found respect for wedding photographers, next time you see the cost of a wedding photographer, give some thought to the responsibility that lies on their shoulders. Plus the hours of work that will go into editing the shots once everyone else on the day has finished their work, I know I will never look at them in the same light again.

I have also been helping out on the Enchanted Isle, the stellar sightseeing boat on the Island, helping primary school groups on a dolphin watching trip, and with Bev’s Marine Biology A level class. Bev has signed up for a global project to test for plastics in the worlds oceans, taking water samples at depth with a special piece of kit called a niskin bottle. Great fun was had and the day was followed up with more swimming in the sea at Lemon Valley. This gave ma great opportunity to test my new underwater camera kit. Unfortunately the underwater flash (strobe) that I had purchased second hand showed its value in the bath the night before by leaking and breaking on me, but the camera is great and in better conditions and with some practice I’m hoping to get some good shots with it during dives around the Island.

The family and I have also enjoyed our first night at Banyan Cottage. Nestled in the bottom of the Valley of Sandy Bay, this 100 year plus cottage can be hired out for the princely sum of £20 for three nights. Those of you who have followed from the begging may remember a birthday party we attended there some 12 months or more ago, this time we were there for the night, and I don’t mind saying we were in fact dreading it. A stone cottage equipped with the basics, a few beds, pots and pans, running water and lots of nearby wood for fuel. With no electricity fire and candles are the order of the day. The children loved it, what an adventure and experience for them and despite our worries, Bev and I had the most wonderful night with great company and many laughs. Banyan cottage shows the diversity that exists on St Helena. Here I am on my computer typing away, editing photos and uploading my blog to the world on St Helena, whilst in other parts of this tiny Island, less than a few miles away, people still live in this subsistence manor. There are not many in 2016 without electricity, but I have no doubt there are some, and many more without electric ovens who rely on fire wood for cooking and heating and who’s way of life is from a simple, some would argue, nicer time.

Whatever the pros and cons of modern life, to escape from it entirely for a night is wonderful. We cooked food on a fire, roasted marshmallows and drank beer until the early hours of the morning. 3am to be precise, and with the sun waking us up before 7am there was little sleep to be had.

And so it was that I rushed off the next morning, barely awake to ensure that I arrived on time for another huge milestone in the life of St Helena, the first Jet Engine Airplane to Land here. Following a wonderful piece by fellow blogger, what the Saints did Next, I was inspired to contact Air Access to see if it were possible for me to gain access to the newly finished terminal building to take some shots to show you all. Unfortunately that request has been temporarily turned down I was invited to be part of a small group of media representatives to photograph the arrival of the Bombardier Challenger 300 as it arrived to complete further tests for the airport. With it arrived members of ASSI, the Air Safety Support International personal who are here to conduct final audits on the airport, and, with fingers crossed, give it the all clear for the commencement of commercial flights. Just saying that in quite extraordinary. I don’t wish to out a jinx on things, but we are so close now, within a few weeks people will be able to fly here. I will save my feelings on this until it happens, but to take a quick look at what has been achieved is valid right now.

In 2011 permission and funds from the UK government were provided to enable St Helena to build an airport, to open the Island up to tourism and to reduce its dependency on overseas aid. With that in mind, Basil Read, a South African company were announced as the successful bidders. £210 million was granted for construction. But there was a problem, there was no flat land, solution, dynamite a mountain and use the rock to fill in a valley to create the flat land, simples. But wait, the area ear-marked for this airport had no road, ok, so they built a road, up some of the most difficult and steepest terrain you can imagine. But before they could build a road, they needed to get equipment, supplies and the like onto the island, and there is nowhere for a ship to dock. No problem they said we will build a temporary wharf, allowing the first ship to actually dock on the island in its 500 years history, and eventually replace it with a permanent wharf to provide access for container shipping once the RMS is de-commissioned. And so they did, apparently on budget and on time, to the very day if the last tests are successful. For £210 million pound Basil Read have achieved the impossible, they have built a wharf (having never built one before) built an access road, built bulk fuel installations to supply the airport, built infrastructure to support the build (such as a garage, and workers accommodation), flattened a mountain and filled in a valley, built a runway, terminal building control tower and all navigation equipment ( all of which they hadn’t done before), they have built an airport on one of the most remote and challenging places on earth. They have done all this on time, on budget and with an Island full of cynicism and lack of belief behind them. Having been let down with many false dawns before few on the Island really ever thought they could do it, that this day would come, and no one thought it would be ready on time. By all accounts it will be, and we are now a tiny step away from something incredible, everyone involved should be incredibly proud regardless of the outcome of the tests this week.

We have witnessed so many firsts in our time here, first docking of a ship, first mobile phone service, first airplane to land, first jet plane to land, and before long first commercial flights to land. The rest of the World may take these things for granted, but being here makes you realise what an incredible thing it is, maybe it is good, maybe not, only time will tell. One thing is for sure, there is no going back, the Island is about to change forever, and it’s almost frighteningly close now.

 

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A Random Rainbow outside our house, stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onwards and

 

 

 

I Was There

I was there, I can tell my Grandchildren that on the 15th September, 2015 I shared in a piece of history. It is a remarkable co-incidence that on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, one of the most important days in aviation history of the British Empire, that another, far flung out post of the Empire should join the rest of the World and take its first step in its own aviation history.

At 13:47 GMT (according to my watch) a small, Beachcraft King Air 200 aircraft touched down on St Helena. Years of planning, and thousands of man hours have brought us to this point where St Helena is no-longer one of the most isolated places on earth. And as the plane touched down I was there, stood alongside other members of St Helena’s photography and media community, just 100yrds from the runway.

There is much written about the airport, its construction, and planning, incredible feats of engineering so I will not go into it here, but instead hope to convey what it feels like to be here during this momentous and historic occasion. I am of course incredibly fortunate, not only to of been granted ringside seats today, but to even be here on this little Island in the first place. From my initial few months of self-doubt and worry, I have worked very hard to establish myself here, an ex-pat without a contract, trying to gain peoples trust and confidence in my work and to spread the word of what I hope I can deliver for the Island and its people. It was therefore incredibly disappointing when I was, at first, turned down from my opportunity to photograph this great event. But, as a testament to, “if you don’t ask you don’t get” I contacted Basil Read directly and to my great surprise I was granted access, alongside the Islands media photographers, to get within touching distance of the runway.

With insider information on the exact time of arrival I met the others at Basil Reads offices in Longwood and found a busy gathering of media, Island dignitaries, Councillors and others who, like me, had convinced someone to allow them special access. I was, to say the least, feeling a little over whelmed and perhaps out of place, after all why did I deserve to be here amongst such company when many many hundreds of others, some would argue more deserving than myself, were left to watch from distant vantage points across the South East corner of the Island.

The media and photographers were ferried by shuttle bus to three pre-designated sites along the runway. Having been myself for a preview of the sites I knew the location I wanted to be at, but had no idea if I would get my choice. As chance happened I did, and by just after 12.30 myself, representatives from South Atlantic Media Services and the Independent, Basil Reads HR officer and his daughter (a photographer) were each selecting our own little spot on our vantage point and chattering away about what would happen next, which direction the plane would come from, who would get the best photo etc.

With radio communication we knew that touch down would be very close to 13:35 so with an hour to go we settled down to wait. Prosperous Bay plain, the site of the airport is an incredible landscape, moon like sands and rocks of purple and red dominate, the desert landscape now punctuated by the pale concrete runway and rather Isolated and lonely looking terminal building. The wind, though light by St Helena standards, whipped up the occasional swirl of dust, and I sat watching the run way wind sock anxious that the weather didn’t deteriorate.

Having ignored the advice I give my children on going to the toilet before leaving the house, I became increasingly desperate to relieve myself. As time ticked by I knew that holding on could result in me missing the big event, and so I wandered off to find myself a little boys room behind a rock. As time went by I noticed that at least two others in our party did the same and I began to realise the nerves that we all felt. Was it nerves that we would miss the big photo, that something would go wrong, of the enormous change that the next ten minutes would signify, I don’t know, but we were definitely nervous.

We had a radio call stating that the Beachcraft was now just 100 nautical miles away, approximately 20 minutes by our calculations, and would approach from the North East, right over the imposing black rocks of the Barn, dominating our view. Silence fell upon us, we sat listening for the sound of propellers, the silence broken only by the odd nervous joke about shooting right past and missing the Island altogether.

And then, in the distance, a flash of sunlight on metal first caught my eye and then a black dot appeared. Very shortly after we could hear crowds on the distance slopes, the many hundreds of people watching shouting cries of “there it is” in unison. The airport brings about mixed feelings and emotions for the locals here, but undoubtedly today has shown me that along with concerns there is huge excitement and support for the airport and the changes it may bring.

The plane moved in closer, following the line of the runway as it made its first fly past. A twin engine propeller plane, it was larger than I expected and I found that even at normal flying speed I was able to pan and follow the flight path with my camera, much to everyone’s relief.

The first fly past with the Barn on the Right and Flagstaff protruding to the left.

The first fly past with the Barn on the Right and Flagstaff protruding to the left.

Another fly past and finally, the moment of truth, from past the Barn to my right I followed the plane in as it dropped and glided along the runway, touching down several hundred yards from where we had expected. I had picked the wrong spot and new instantly that the money shot of tyres screeching belonged to someone else.

Beach King Air 200 comes in to Land at St Helena Airport.

Beach King Air 200 comes in to Land at St Helena Airport.

And then it was done, a moment of silence returned as we all looked at each other, as if it were important to remember who we were stood with at that moment in time. The airport was interesting but insignificant to me just thirteen months ago, now, as I stood looking around it brings about all sorts of emotions and feelings. It is different here now, and there is no going back.

Sequence shot of the final touch down showing the moon like setting and terminal building still under construction.

Sequence shot of the final touch down showing the moon like setting and terminal building still under construction.

We waited to be collected by our shuttle bus and we bemoaned our choice of positioning, cursing those who had taken the “secondary” spots and joked that the pilots should have known better and perhaps could even do the whole thing again.

Before long we were ferried off to the parking area and had our opportunity to photograph the plane up close, its crew, and even have our own photographs next to the first airplane ever to land on St Helena. A joyous occasion it was also a little chaotic, reporters, photographers, staff and dignitaries all wanting their own photos, interviews, their own moments of history. A few quick photos and I stood back to allow the “more important” people to get on with things.

Since returning home I have felt something of a come down, strange given that I didn’t know I was on an “up”. But being part of something so huge gives you a high. Social media has gone crazy this afternoon as everyone rushed to get the first or best photos out there for the world to see. As I speak my own photos on facebook have just hit 20,000 views, in seven hours!!! Collectively between the different sources and social media avenues I guess that photos of this Beechcraft King Air 200 landing on St Helena have probably been viewed around 100,000 times since touch down.

What the future holds now we don’t know, in many respects that is up to the Saints and whether they embrace the changes that are about to occur. Time will tell, but for now, today history was made, and I was there.