I remember the first time we chatted and I was really overwhelmed by your decision to take a new direction and go for something that inspired you and was about adventure, film, photography, creativity and being outside. You seemed to really be taking charge of your destiny. Tell me a bit more about some of the challenges you've taken on in the last few years and why.....
Well I guess it was the convergence of a few things. I'd followed a corporate career-path for almost 15 years, albeit having taken a few self-driven sabbaticals to chase the snow in different parts of the world during that time, but I realised that professionally I'd reached a plateau. There is always more you can learn of course, but my desire to continue down that path was diminishing and my results were following suit. I felt that I had the ability within me to contribute something else, and got to a point where I knew that if I tried something new and it didn't work out, that I could always go back to the career path and get hired again. So it was then a case of - well what the hell do I do now? At school I was fine at all subjects - not great, not crap, just fine.. apart from Art - I was really good at art, but at the last minute chose to take a business degree in the pursuit of a 'real job' as art was just fun, a hobby with no sensible career options - or at least that's what I'd told myself.
So fast-forward 15 years, I decided to get back to what I knew I enjoyed. There was no point going down a new career path just to feel okay about the work, otherwise I may as well have stayed with what I was doing - at least I could get paid well doing that! So I bought a drone and a new camera and off I went to see what damage I could do with them. The challenges have been wide-ranging in the time since, from figuring out what I like, to what niche I want to work within, to paying the bills - all on top of re-learning what the hell I'm doing technically - on every single shoot. I still have all of these challenges and more, but they're worth the journey to achieve the feeling I get from trying something new.
I've been really enjoying coming to the Adventure Tales nights you put on with We Are Explorers, Bear Rentals & She Went Wild. How did that come about and what more do you and the team have in store for us this year? I know the last couple of events have sold out in hours!
Yeh can you believe it?! Adventure Tales is really starting to get some legs, and I can easily say that it's the most fun thing that I'm working on. So Henry (We Are Explorers), Brendan (Bear Rentals), Em (She Went Wild) and myself got together to talk about the outdoors industry, our individual ventures and see where there might be overlap or areas we could help each other. Brendan had also just rented a huge workshop and had extra desk space so wanted to see if we fancied sharing it. After a few meetings (in the ocean for a dip then the RSL) there were murmurings of an idea to essentially start a marketing agency for the Adventure / Outdoors space. We had the skills and contacts to give this a good go, but we were all so invested in our own businesses that none of us really had the time or focus required to turn it into what it could and should be, but we agreed we should do something! So Adventure Tales was born.
The idea was to get a load of like-minded fresh-air loving folk all in one room, throw in some free ales and listen to a lesser-known story-teller explain why they decided to take a step out of their comfort zone and into the void.
We wanted to create a really fun, comfortable space for people to get inspired, but also to meet others and get stoked about new outdoor ideas, trips, projects, businesses .. We really wanted to humanise our speakers. They're all awesome people, but the world is too full of flag waving. We aim to dig a little deeper and really show what goes into following a path less trodden, and the sacrifices or fears one must contend with. The feedback we get is brilliant, and it's led to a really authentic, collaborative, welcoming and fun vibe that we were after.
Upcoming this year we'll continue to host as usual at the Bear Cave (Bear Rentals, in Annandale) but we're going to introduce a couple of new formats. The first being a camp-out, where we'll of course have a speaker, but will also have a couple of workshops - perhaps a night photography lesson or bush-cooking! Also music, fires, film projection - who knows, but will be a lot of fun.
We've also been approached by a number of significant outdoors brands who've got wind of what we're doing, and are keen for 'involvement'. This is great, and we're excited to see where Adventure Tales naturally moves to though it's authentic roots are ones we're keen to keep well bedded.
Tell me more about your journey to learn and get into photography, You've got a really great style and obviously a natural. With so many photographers out there what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
Well I'd taken up photography in my early twenties as a creative outlet whilst I was forging my new shiny corporate career - in my new shiny suit !. It was pre-digital but I still enjoyed the ability to fire off a roll (they used to say things like that back in the day!) and get a relatively quick result, rather than drawing & painting which took up days. My photography wasn't bad, and before I knew it there was referral after referral for work, which I did and loved but still didn't take it seriously. I was on a path to corporate destiny! So it lay dormant for years. Over the following years good friends and family who knew about my photographic exploits would ask how my photography was going, and my answer went from 'yeh good thanks, haven't done much for a while but still enjoying it' to 'shit, I can't remember when I last picked up my camera...in fact, where the F is my camera??'
When I left the UK for my mini snow breaks I'd naturally be drawn back to it though. I managed a team of photographers in Queenstown NZ where I lived for the best part of a year back in 2005/6. That was a lot of fun, and shooting hundreds of frames everyday in ever-changing mountain conditions really ramped up the learning curve.
I think stylistically I can get influenced by all-sorts, so have played around with so many genres, but I'll always get my best results when life simply needs capturing. I'm not that technical and as much as I've tried, I just don't care much for gear or the 'right' tools for the job. I switch off in such discussions and have no idea what my cameras are capable of, or what many of the settings mean.
To stand out from the crowd, I don't really work to compete with other photographers. I realise that I'm at the start of a very long curve! I therefore have to play to my strengths, but also stay true to what I really enjoy. I'm seriously enthusiastic when I'm behind the camera. I get excited about being in the outdoors but also from capturing real human feeling, so for me it's extremely important that I've cultivated a comfortable and fun environment to allow the people to be themselves and feel good about taking direction. I believe that doing this well starts right at the beginning, from when the first call comes in for the job. I'm very careful about working with good people who are interested in the outcome and who are hopefully feeling more and more comfortable with me being part of the team before I've even touched my camera.
It's also important that I'm traveling light, with less gear! It plays to my strengths in that too much tech just gets on my nerves, but secondly, in that I don't want to be shoving huge pieces of equipment in peoples faces when a natural look is what I'm after.
You've recently bought an ethical apparel company can you tell me a bit the company and your plans here.
It's called FAIRTEES offering Fairtrade and organic cotton basics to consumers and businesses. The online store has beautifully designed, plain, simple apparel for those becoming more conscious about their impact on the environment. The other side of the business helps organisations with an ethical agenda of any kind (which every business should have by now!) by offering water-based screen-printed tees & hoodies for their teams, customers, events etc. So many companies fight to spend the least they can on a poor quality Tee that then gets worn once. We want to offer a better product that their people can be proud to wear again and again, feeling better that their group or employer believes in it's own ethical story.
I was inspired by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia who said 'the more you know, the less you need' - which happens to be the slogan on our staff tees. He has built a powerhouse of a business that happily stands up and asks better questions about the future and our responsibility to the planet. Patagonia wants to inspire other businesses to follow suit, so that's exactly what I decided to do.
FAIRTEES has SO much room for improvement and for innovation and I have a long list of projects that require a lot of work over the coming months and years, but it's something that only ever gets more interesting to me. Through having the business we meet great people and companies who want to either collaborate or share knowledge. We also get heaps of people who want to be involved in any way they can. It offers a purposeful outlet which is great. Selfishly it also means that I now have a never-ending list of great stories to tell via my photography & filming that will serve as great content for Fairtees.
Obviously, at Word of Mouth Guide we're all about travel in NSW and inspiring our community on where to go, so what are some of your top tips and favorite trips you've done and hang-outs you can recommend?
Well my better half Nina and I are big fans of the South Coast. For the last couple of years she's been working like crazy and only gets one day off at a time, so we often head out on an early ride through the Royal National Park then brekky at Finbox or Earth Walker & Co, then to a beach or a hike through the Park. Makes for a really easy and fun day-trip that requires no planning. Further afield, there are some brilliant camping spots in the Southern Highlands. We've spent a lot of time here over the years. There's something about it for me that reminds me of Englands countryside which is really appealing. Further-still and back to the coast, Depot Beach and Tranquility Bay are stand-out spots. Oh and I can't forget The Farm - Killalea State Park where we've been surfing for years, and more recently they've introduced an awesome market every first weekend of the month with live music and an 80's inspired beer caravan...there is really nothing else one needs for a happy life!
What are some good tips you can share about photography and film outside and in adventure settings?
This is a tricky one for me to answer as I'm not the best landscape photographer by any means. A couple of friends like Mitch Cox & Rob Mulally are the guys to speak to though. We met on a 5-day campaign in Shoalhaven for We Are Explorers last year. I was directing and shooting a handful of videos while they were tasked with getting some killer stills. Watching them work was amazing. Firstly, they pretty much have no care for the daylight hours. It's ALL about dawn and dusk, being able to dance with and manipulate the light to their every whim. Mitch & his girlfriend Cleo live out of their van, so if you get to sleep anywhere why wouldn't you sleep at the beach? His knowledge of the coast is therefore amazing. By this I mean the angles of sunrise/sunset and what will happen considering the landmasses and cloud structures in the way. He guided us to really non-obvious spots at the perfect time that we would never have thought to hit.
Rob, on the other hand, is insatiable when it comes to getting the shot. He goes through a full body workout just moving around to find the best of the situation. You can see the battle going on in his head as he works tirelessly in that golden hour to better himself. He's a talented guy for sure, but his work ethic when it matters really makes him stand out.
In terms of other tips? If I see another aerial picture of the Sea-cliff bridge I'm gonna fly my drone into the ocean! I do a fair bit of motorcycle & car work, and the same places crop up again and again. Being original is a hard ask especially when you see other people get great shots of places on your doorstep, however, we live in a big country with options everywhere. I use downtime to jump on the bike and ride to lesser-known areas. Once you're seeing things for the first time, you go on autopilot scanning the environment for great angles. I have a bank of amazing twisty roads in my head from all over NSW, ready for the next client who dares to trust my opinion.
Who are the photographers, filmmakers, books or podcasts that are really inspiring you right now?
I think the bar is so high in terms of quality of work out there that there are just so many people to point to who know how to frame a great shot. It's therefore easy to get inspired by great looking images, but for me true inspiration comes from the people behind the lens and the story that enables them to do what they do. I have some amazing friends whose story I obviously know well, and therefore resonate with.
I met Andy Roberts a few years back when I was still in corporate. We were at a little motorbike show probably salivating over chopped metal and bloody a well-upholstered seat most likely. After probing about his photography, I'd realised he had only recently jumped into it full-time - in his mid-thirties which gave me a huge boost of confidence to say, well it's never too late to follow something you love. His work is wide-ranging, but I love his professionalism, and attention to detail. No matter the client, he puts the same level of work into everything he does, however, you can just tell when he's working on something he loves, as a spark ignites and the vibe in the room / on the road totally changes.
Another friend and inspiration is Franck Gazzola. I invited him to come and speak at Adventure Tales, a total sellout evening (with a huge number of disappointed people who couldn't get a ticket). His work is beautiful but more that this he's just a really good dude - and he's French! Why are French people automatically just cooler? Franck walked the corporate path as well but decided to step out and make photography his thing. In two years he's become a Nikon photographer, owns a successful online gallery and is on a 3 year scientific expedition 'Under The Pole' - a once in a lifetime experience. This is achievement enough, but the real gold is his upbeat, helpful and collaborative attitude that makes him stand out, especially through the huge sacrifices he has to make in order to chase the dream.
In terms of film-makers - Cam Elkins from Stories of Bike. There's a pattern emerging here, but Cam also left his career with a wife and three kids to pursue film-making, self-funding and working tirelessly to create a beautiful series of motorcycle riders, and the realness of the people behind the helmets. He now gets flown all over the world to shoot for a variety of clients yet still makes time for Stories of Bike - his passion project. Cam is an absolute gent, just like everyone I've mentioned so far. Making great images is one thing, but having generous, interested, driven and reliable people by your side for a project is worth it's weight in gold in my view. It means everyone gets to walk out the back of a shoot saying 'that was fun, when can we do that again?!'.
I listen to an unhealthy amount of podcasts - probably due to trying to figure out my path a little over the last few years. Plus I'm always thinking of new ideas, and I love to learn from others about the way they view the world. It gives me insight as to how I can think of a problem differently or approach something in a way that I hadn't thought of before. The subjects can be really wide-ranging for me, but some recent stand-outs are Looking Sideways - predominantly snowboarders, surfers, climbers - and other related people in the action sports world. Visual Revolutionary - long-form interviews with photographers & directors from all over the world, and Akimbo - by Seth Godin. This is a short-form podcast where Seth riffs on socio-economic ideas, pulling out fascinating aspects of human behavior on a macro and micro scale and makes these observations relate to everyday business situations. In fact, if you want a book to help change your impact, he wrote Linchpin amongst many others but this is a game-changer for how you could exist in the world if you choose to take responsibility, be brave and lead.
Where can we find you on social media?
My website for all things filming and Adventure Tales is www.weareborja.com/@weareborja
You can head to FAIRTEES.com.au for ethical apparel.
Otherwise, my personal Instagram @olliekhe is where I am mostly, although - every time I post what I think is a solid shot I gain about 4 followers and lose about 8. The maths really aren't in my favour, but I guess it depends how you frame success.
What do you like about WOM book?
Well, my Mum is coming over later this year for a visit. I've sent her a copy in the meantime and she loves it! She get's to learn about the lesser known areas that regular tourists won't generally find, plus it gives her a better picture of where I spend my favourite times.