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.

 

 

 

 

Its all about the Coffee

 

“It’s all about the coffee” or so Jill Bolton told me twelve months ago when I was doing some work for the tourist office. Twelve months on and I had the pleasure of photographing the coffee plantation and the various stages of production that turns a red berry into one of the most expensive and exclusive coffee’s in the World. The Rosemary Gate estate is one of two plantations on St Helena, the other, ran by Solomon’s produces larger quantities for export, Rosemary gate however produced hand crafted coffee for the local market and exports only to Harrods, London where it sells for around £60 for 100g. Thankfully it’s much cheaper on island and I have become quite a fan of a coffee and cake at the St Helena Coffee shop._MG_0020_MG_0003_MG_0017_MG_0024-2

The coffee is highly prized because of its purity, a Green Tipped Bourbon Arabica bean introduced to St Helena in 1732 and completely pure and unchanged since. Unlike most coffee growing regions of the World, St Helena’s isolation ensures the coffee plant does not cross or fertilise with any other varieties maintaining its original gene line.

I was asked to produce some photos of the process by Jill for some point of sale marketing in Harrods, London, the thought that my work may be on display in this prestigious London store is very exciting.

I met with Jill and photographed the pickers, the first stage in the annual crop and coffee production. Although it might be the first stage this year, the process of picking these plants started 20 years ago when Jill and husband Bill started the Rosemary Gate Planation. Coffee was produced on St Helena hundreds of years ago, indeed Napoleon himself is once said to exclaim that “The only good things about St Helena is the coffee”. Such high praise brought a surge in demand and in 1839 it was described as being of very superior quality and flavour and sold my merchants Wm Burnie and Co for 1d per lb making it the most expensive coffee in the World at the time. In high demand in 1851 at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, coffee grown at the Bamboo Hedge estate in Sandy Bay (still an active coffee plantation) won a Premier Award but despite this in later years production slowed and eventually ceased altogether, plants were neglected and the industry collapsed._MG_2429-Edit

In 1994 however it was revived and Jill and Bill have now been growing coffee for twenty years. It was however, seven years after the first plants were sown on the estate that the first berries were ready for picking and an annual production could be made. The picking itself is done, like every step o0f the process, by hand. Locals, expats and holiday makers enjoy spending time picking the berries under the strict supervision and quality control of Jill. The berries must be exactly right in colour, a stunning crimson red, anything more or less and they won’t be right. The berry has taken eight months to get to this stage and picking takes place between December and February in a frantic race against time to collect the crop before they over ripen.

Once picked, the berries must be pulled, again this is done by hand as the red berries are poured through a beautiful and rather old looking pulping machine. Turned by hand with a constant supply of water the fleshy part of the fruit is removed and the hard seed, or parchment is separated out. Nothing goes to waste, the discarded pulp is composted and used back on the plantation. The parchment is the washed and left in buckets of water to ferment. Natural sugars and yeasts remove the outer sticky layer on the beans and they are then rinsed and left to dry.

Bill takes over from here, he meticulously checks the moisture content of the beans, getting it down from 50% to 11%. It’s not strait forward as Bill is constantly checking humidity in the air. I hear him shout, “is that rain, can you feel rain” as he rushes over to the drying beans ready to pull them inside. “If they get wet it puts us back several hours or days” he tells me. Cheap, mass produced coffees are artificially dried, but the traditional way of drying in St Helena sun ensure a better quality product at the end, and it’s worth the extra time and effort.

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One Bill is happy with the moisture content the parchment is hulled, removing the silver skin from the coffee and leaving behind what is known as the green bean. The green bean is size sorted to remove any defective beans and is ready for roasting, and is also the form it is exported in._MG_2458

Bill has some roasting as we speak, the smell wafting from the small shed is magical, a sweet, almost chocolate smell that as Bill says, drifts down through the plantation and has passers-by stop and sniff the air.  Talking to Bill is an education, his enthusiasm for the process and the care and craft is infectious, “I could talk about it all day”, and Im sure he could. This is what makes the product so special, not just the isolation and special beans, but the attention to detail, the love that goes into it, and the steadfast refusal to step away from a traditional process that has been in use for hundreds of years.

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Life

So we are now exactly 17 months into our journey and we have most definitely passed into a place where St Helena feels like home, and this feels like normal life. This time last year we had just experienced six months of whale watching, exploring our new home, walking, swimming diving and snorkelling with whale Sharks, in what felt like a working holiday, one of those volunteer type placements that students do in their gap year! But this year things are distinctly different, but no less brilliant. Life is more “normal” this summer. In fact we are still waiting for summer to arrive, it has been a very long and slow burn with St Helena’s wet, misty mild winter clinging on well past Christmas and into the New Year. The odd day of glorious sunshine arrives, heralding the start of months of sun, only to be wiped out by the evening by the next wave of fog rolling in from the Atlantic.

This has had its effect on our leisure activities, the usual snorkelling and sea swimming has been reduced, and I didn’t start diving until well into December this year as sea temperatures have been slow to rise apparently a result of the large El Nino effect this year. This has also had an effect on the Whale Sharks this year as we await our first swim with them. They have been around St Helena for some time, but only recently have they moved to the North Western, leeward side of the Island where swimming is safe.

Despite the weather we did manage a walk to Cox’s Battery under the magnificent gaze of the Barn.

This has all led us to think and appreciate the other elements to our life here, the general day to day living, the friendly meet and greet in the street and work, which, as far as work can ever be, is pretty great.

Bev introduced a new Marine O’level qualification ten months ago, not only was this a first for St Helena, it’s such a new qualification that it’s only the second year it’s been available anywhere in the World. It is great testament to Bev, and the students therefore that the recently released results read 100% pass, with 1 A*, 1B and 4 C’s. Fantastic result and if teachers are to be blamed when things go bad, there should damn well be some credit when things go well. Im so very proud of the positive impact Bev has made and continues to make on the Island and at Prince Andrew School.

As for me, my working days continue to be varied and interesting. Take last Friday, my day started with two hours of preparation for an online Air Traffic Control exam, the first step in a long process of my next potential dream career. My current dream career of professional photographer was next on the list as I spent a very enjoyable few hours at Rosemary Plain Coffee Plantation where one of the World’s rarest, best and most expensive coffees are grown. I have a new job toSt Helena Coffee produce photos that will potentially be used for point of sale imagery in Harrods, London! I then came home and did further work on some tourist interpretive signage that will soon be erected around the Island. This has been a fantastic job incorporating my photography, my design and much of my text and research that will hopefully be enjoyed by tourists long after I have left St Helena.

Next up was domestic duties as I prepared home-made Carrot and Coriander soup for Bev, nothing better than home cooked dinner when you get home from work as I do my best to juggle my almost full time work with being domestic Dad. This was followed by building another den for the boys who were looking forward to having a friend for a sleep over that night. I feel generally quite proud with how I balance things, there is no doubt that since I have picked up more and more work, the house is less and less clean and tidy, and granted I still struggle with the children and finding enough time for them, but overall Im doing ok at it all.

 

We were very proud of Oliver last weekend as he embarked on his first camping trip with the Local Beavers and Scouts. And what a weekend it was, as we drove to the campsite across the Islands central ridge, the journey to the end of the World sprang to mind as we drive through fog so thick I could barely see the end of the car, never mind the road. As we descended from the ridge the fog thinned and visibility increased to a positively clear 20m or so. We arrived at the camp site, an area called Thompson wood, which, under different circumstances I imagine very beautiful, but today it reminded me of summer holidays in the Lake District. Wet, cold muddy and really not inviting. Oliver was undeterred and although nervous he ran off with his friends, leaving me and Charlie to try and get the car out of the quagmire! Oliver spent two nights on camp, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor, eating food they had made and cooked on a log fire, running around a muddy field and playing with friends. He came home in the same clothes I left him in, having not changed out of them even once, he smelt bad and his hair was disgusting, but he absolutely loved it! Considering we were over four thousand miles from the UK, this was camping UK style, in a way that only Brits can, or would even consider doing!

This last weekend has seen a return to the life we remembered from last summer on St Helena. On Saturday we celebrated Charlie’s 5th Birthday with a barbeque, swimming and water sports fun in Ruperts Valley. Charlie, having had his first taste on Jet Ski’s a few weeks ago at Lemon Valley was desperate for another go, so we agreed to hire one of the local providers, Oceano Extreme. Jet Ski’s, knee boarding, banana boat rides and speed boats were the order of the day and fun was had by all. Back in the UK I’ve no doubt that Charlies 5th birthday would have been a party at soft play, or maybe at home with a bouncy castle, the fact that we can have a barbeque by the sea, swim and enjoy jet skis is just one of the normalities, and huge bonuses of life here.

Sunday started as a beautiful sunny day, and despite all being tired and feeling rather lazy we decided to clear off the hangover with a swim and snorkel in James Bay. As the waters have now warmed up a bit we plunged in and enjoyed the site of hundreds of butterfly fish, curious puffers and the ever present five fingers!

 

Despite all the positives, life on St Helena was brought into stark reality last week, as a baby, born prematurely needed to be medevacked off the Island. An incredible joint effort and community driven machine suddenly rolled into action. The RMS, on its way back from Ascension Island was hurried to arrive in port some 12 hours early. Containers were unloaded and loaded through the night, and travellers, due to depart on the 17th January were contacted and rushed to prepare for departure a full 24 hours early.  Tourists cut short their holidays, crew cut short their shore leave and volunteers and staff at the hospital worked tirelessly through the night and early morning to ensure that the young child was on board with all the necessary life support equipment for the journey.

It is with huge sadness that I tell you the poor boy did not make the journey and passed away on route to Walvis Bay, Namibia. I cannot begin to imagine the suffering of the poor parents, one of whom travelled whilst the other waited anxiously at home. There are many sides to the airport story on St Helena and whether it will bring improvements, and prosperity to the Island, or destroy a way of life and community, but I feel the community on St Helena is more than strong enough to survive a few more tourists and when events occur as they did last week it highlights the desperate need to be able to get patients to medical care quicker than is currently possible. The hospital here is undergoing a multi-million pound upgrade, the staff are nothing short of incredible, but it is a stark reality that a population of four thousand people can never have all of the specialist care and experience that a medical team in a major city hospital will have, and there will always be a need to get people to that care as quickly as possible. We wait with bated breath to hear when indeed that airport will be open and quicker passage is possible.

I leave today’s blog with the words of Lisa Rhodes, Hospital Senior Nursing Officer, all round incredible woman, and Im proud to say good friend. I recall a message from Lisa before she arrived here, the strictly London City girl incredibly nervous about how she would cope on such a small Island and close community, everyone knowing each other’s business. Lisa travelled with the patient to Walvis bay and was integral in the effort to get him there, she wrote to the local paper whilst on route to Walvis bay and here is what she had to say. For all the ups and downs on St Helena, the problems people face and the wonderful experiences we have had, this is what St Helena is all about, and anyone who has had the privilege of living and working here, experiencing life here will know this all too well.

“ I am sitting on the RMS at a bit of a loss for words with the events of the last week. Everyone involved in this situation is truly devastated and our hearts are breaking for two wonderful parents and their beautiful brave little boy.

In the midst of all this I feel I have a need to say thank you.

Thank you to all of the staff in the hospital, who, when faced with an emergency ensured that everything kept running smoothly. It is a testament to your knowledge and skill. This allowed those who were needed to be able to focus on the job in hand. I am so very proud of the amazing team we have become; Cleaners, Nursing Assistants, Nurses, Doctors, Kitchen staff, Admin staff, Pharmacy, Laboratory,…..the list goes on. We were faced with a situation that no one wanted to be in, but together we dealt with it. In a time of negativity and bad press towards the services, it needed to be highlighted that an outstanding job was done by all.

I need to thank all of those who stayed late and came in early to help organise the medivac effort. We could not have done this without the hard work and support of our Director and Assistant Director. A huge number of hours were put in across SHG to try and get a solution. To the guys who were at the hospital at 5am to help us move the huge amount of equipment needed for our journey, thank you for your patience and care with our equipment and our very precious cargo.

To the RMS and shipping for their help in getting into St Helena early, and allowing us to leave earlier than scheduled. The Captain and crew have been no less than outstanding throughout. To all the passengers who had to leave a day early, thank you. Thank you for accepting this change of plan with such grace and compassion and for being so supportive towards us all on this trip. To the staff on the wharf loading and unloading passengers at unusual hours so we could get away early….thank you.

It is once again a testament to the Island that in times of crisis and need, everyone steps up and stands together regardless of whether they are Saint, British, South African or from elsewhere on the globe. The team work that I witnessed throughout could not be matched anywhere in the World and I am so privileged to be part of this team and this Island.

No number of thank you’s will ever be enough to convey my gratitude”.

Lisa Rhodes. Hospital Nursing Officer.