On the beach in Durban, a street child given permission to play in a safe place is loosed from the grim reality that grounds him. An unbelievably powerful moment quite apart from street tough survival which betrays secret longings – simply, to be a child. A lot of joy. A lot of it.
After finishing one really important work chapter recently—Alnwick Castle and the Zoology film projects—I've been reflecting back on previous significant chapters too, specifically, the years I spent devoted to documentary photography. I left a BBC Graphics position to go in pursuit of story-telling with my camera for a number of years and these travels took me—via Magnum Photos—to shoot street kids in South Africa (where the above photograph was taken), trafficked humans in Cambodia and Thailand, and communities in Peru healing from the harmful legacies of relatively recent civil war. My work was in support of charities on the ground in those places.
For various reasons, it's been difficult to see how I might include this particular story in the evolutionary mix of my developing practice. I sit in a beautiful studio in central Bristol, still telling great stories but generally uplifting and not really anything to do with poverty or social injustice ... then I realise, images like the one above have probably done more to crystallise my approach to communication than any other experience in my career.
It always comes back to motivation for me – why a person behaved a certain way in a certain situation, and why we should care about that. What we can learn from it. How we can be inspired to live our best lives.
The story of this boy leaping chokes me up even while I type this, and its over a decade since I shot that story. It probably would you too if I shared the full encounter, but that will have to be for another time.
Looking at the chinagraph marks around this particular frame, I am glad that a physical thing still exists and bears my marks on it, in tribute to the spirit of a stranger I came across one day far from home, and who has completely unwittingly motivated me to positive action for years now.
Work like this doesn't leave a person without scars, but looking back from a new space, I think it's high time I worked out how to acknowledge all this once again. More thanks than I realised are due to the people and places I found during these years.