Prior to moving to Wales, photographer Craig Kirkwood was the CEO of high-profile training company, Fearless Media, which he founded in 1999. At the time, Fearless was the largest organisation of its kind in Australia with offices and facilities throughout the country. He was also a regional manager of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School and founded the renowned Flickerfest International Film Festival on Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach which continues today in its 25th year.
It’s great to have you join us for this issue, Craig. Your professional experience spans technology, film and digital media sectors. Have you always been a photographer? And how is your expertise in these other areas brought to bear on your current creative projects?
I was interested in photography from a young age but by no means passionately. In my twenties I back-packed my way around Europe, India and Africa with an old, fully-manual, Olympus OM-1 film camera—something of a classic these days and I still have it. But despite the romance, film is a bit of a bore really. It’s so long between shooting and processing that I never seemed to improve my shots. I could never remember what settings I’d used to achieve a certain look and I always ended up making the same mistakes over and over again. And of course it was expensive!
I didn’t really pick it up again until much later when I bought a tiny Minolta D’image digital camera in the airport on a trip to Vietnam in 2003. I was so impressed with what this little toy could do that I fell in love all over again. And it took video!
A year or two later I bought a Nikon 50D—an ‘entry level’ DSLR but an excellent camera—and from there I was more or less hooked although I didn’t really take it too seriously until relatively recently.
In the mean time I’d taken a professional interest in Photoshop and graphic design. In fact, I spent more than a decade running a training company in Australia, teaching all the Adobe products along with film-making, editing and publishing. Out of necessity, I became a ‘certified expert’ in Photoshop and that was a big influence on how I later approached photography.
I love the diversity of images you have in the book—from landscapes and streetscapes to portraits and action shots—and I guess you’ve had a lot of adventures along the way. What’s one of the most memorable moments you had while you were out and about, shooting images?
As you know, the book is about the town of Aberystwyth in mid Wales, where we lived for three years. ‘Aber’, as it’s known to the locals, is living proof of rising sea levels. Almost every week the wild waves of the Irish Sea can be seen crashing over the town’s pedestrian promenade. On very high tides the little lighthouse at the end of the ‘stone pier’ is almost entirely obscured by spray as the waves tower above it. It’s an incredible sight and the local photographers can’t resist the temptation of getting as close as possible to the roaring surf.
Not long after we’d arrived, I was photographing the waves in a massive storm and somehow found myself trapped between the small open harbour and the brunt of the rising sea. At the peak of the high tide, a series of waves came in and through the lens I could see them getting closer but I couldn’t get back any further. They dumped right on top of me and both the camera and I were completely drenched. Fortunately, there was no lasting damage to either.
When did you first get the idea to put together the book?
I wanted to do something kind of … lasting, I guess. I’d been working with electronic publishing, websites and ebooks for some time in my professional life, and I still put my work up on any number of websites, but photographs online come and go and we barely notice them. We’re all spoilt by the number of images that are thrown at as every day on Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. But in such a short time, books—real, paper books—have become almost a romantic legacy, like vinyl records or film cameras! I think in our digital world (and that’s one I’ve been very much a part of), we’ve begun to crave things organic, tangible and hand made. It’s very satisfying.
I very much enjoyed the fact that you’ve included descriptions for some context about the book’s different sections in both English and Welsh. In what ways has living among different cultures and languages (Welsh and English dialects, as opposed to Australian) made a difference to the way you look a the world?
I absolutely love Wales. I think it’s a very special place and relatively unknown as a ‘destination’. I had visited once when I lived in London in the 1980s but I don’t think I would have come back had it not been for my wife’s work at Aberystwyth University. Aber in particular is very much the Welsh heartland and the Welsh language is spoken widely and defended ferociously. In Cardiff, where I now live, it isn’t anywhere near as widely spoken. Cardiff is more connected to Bristol, London and the rest of Britain by the railway and the great corridor of the M4 motorway but Aber is really quite isolated. It’s at the end of the line so there’s no ‘passing through’ and the nearest town big enough for a department store is over two hour’s drive.
As Aber is the main market for the book, it needed to be in both Welsh and English or I would have had little support for it from the local bookshops and community. But that was part of the fun for me. I didn’t even know the Welsh language was still spoken until I got here so it’s been fun discovering that and learning a little (although I’m afraid not much!).
I think as a photographer you have this window of opportunity when everything is new and exciting. The best time to capture a place is with the fresh vision of an outsider, before things become commonplace and you stop really seeing. When I first arrived there I think I had a sense of that and I wasn’t really working so it seemed the perfect time. I also thought it would be a good way to meet people and get to know the place—and indeed it was.
And finally, The Woolf special question: What is one of your favourite works of fiction, and why?
Over the past 5 or 6 years I’ve begun to listen to audio books. I now ‘read’ more books than ever before and I’m so delighted to have discovered this medium. I’ve just read Jonathan Franzen’s Purity which I loved—along with his earlier work, The Corrections and Freedom.
But I think my favourite author right now is Ian McEwan. I love everything he’s written but my favourite would be Solar. It didn’t receive as much as attention as his Booker Prize-winning Amsterdam, or Atonement which was made into a brilliant film, but I loved it more, perhaps because of the subject matter. It’s about a disillusioned, middle-aged academic and I was reading it while we lived on-campus, mixing with people just like that every day!
Aber, the book: colourshop.co/shop/the-book-of-aber