Rainbow Hippyvan

Let’s get out of here, you and I.
Grab a hippyvan and surf the coast.
Doesn’t matter how far we run;
just carry on towards that rainbow connecting heaven to earth…
the promise of a more vibrant tomorrow.

Photo taken on the Hume Hwy, NSW

Lake George, NSW

Strange how history repeats itself. I just realised that exactly one year ago, at this exact time, I was standing in this spot at Lake George, NSW. I’d just flown back from the US for Christmas, and was driving from Sydney to Canberra when I stopped by the darkness of the lake to show Megan the southern hemisphere stars away from the city’s light pollution. Tonight had the same fresh smell of dry grass on the flat, waterless lakebed and the soft buzz of thousands of crickets, except this time with bright moonlight that would make Middle-earth proud. Happy one-year Aussie Anniversary!

This photo was taken on a 30-sec exposure at Lake George, NSW

Ava DuVernay: What do you want?

I love this advice from filmmaker Ava DuVernay at the 2013 Film Independent Forum. The last question put to her was: “Should we keep making 50K films, even if they don’t launch us to Sundance?” To which Ava replies, “the question is, what do you want?”

Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do you make films? What does success in filmmaking look like to you?

Telescope Timelapse for Daft Punk’s Album Launch

I’ve been babysitting the giant dishes at Australia Telescope today, in preparation for Daft Punk’s album launch. How are the two related you ask? Good question. Sony is keeping quiet on that one.

I sat in the dry grass with my calculator computing how many rotations we could get the telescope to make over 300 x 4-second intervals. Three and a bit, it turns out. The dish takes about 9 minutes to make a full rotation, and it takes me about 20 minutes to create a 12 second shot.

Australia_TelescopeSurrounded by kangaroos and hares, I thought how lucky we are in Australia to have such a beautiful landscape and fresh air (and how lucky I was to have access to a piece of machinery the weight of 1.5 jumbo jets). Six telescopes line the 3km railway track with a fibre optic cable sending enormous amounts of data back to the server in a room insulated to prevent radio interference. Even mobile phones have to be switched off at the entrance to the property.

I’m also filming night time-lapse, but at 40 second intervals, will generate only 3.5 seconds of film every hour. Slow going. However, the star trails look astonishing with the milky way rotating past the dish’s upturned nose! I’m working at the end of the track, and it feels very remote. There’s no moon, no ambient light, just a countless array of stars above this enormous machine. Its motors grind away in the otherwise silent landscape. It slowly turns its face towards me and I can’t help feeling like it has a personality of its own.

The staff at the CSIRO have been great sports with all the filming and interviews.

During Daft Punk’s show, I went up in a light aircraft to shoot aerial shots of the dance floor. This was the best angle to see its design: a spinning record. However, looking through a lens with a moving horizon while doing constant 2g turns did make me chuck twice!

Alleppey Houseboats

After the absolute insanity that is Delhi, Kerala held some of my more relaxing experiences in India, albeit still full of surprises.

After haggling at the dock in Alleppey, we rented a private houseboat overnight on the backwaters with a crew of three. The two-story residence featured a dining area on the upper deck and striped cushions we aptly named the “tiger bed”. Lying there in the sun, isolated from the grind of the motor at the back of the boat, we floated tranquilly through the trees and out on to the lake (just check your head when you stand up, or you’ll get pole-axed by live electrical wires running the breadth of the river).

It was dubbed a “luxury” boat, but easter eggs included: the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in the bathroom, no toilet seat or paper, and a twin bed with a very generous tilt towards the edge of the boat. And the motor broke down.

Our cook went renegade too, demanding money, changing his mind that we couldn’t fish, said we weren’t allowed to watch TV after 8:30pm, and pushed again and again to drink our beer. When we docked and he demanded a tip, I shot my mouth off at him and the tour owner.

It did make the experience stressful, but that aside, as was often the contradiction in India, it was a very replenishing experience, largely because of the privacy of having our own boat, and not having to move bags around throughout the day. The food was spectacular (I just assumed the cook added his special sauce at some stage).

It was wonderful to wake up in the morning and watch people’s lives unfold around the river. Everything happens along its banks – washing clothes, brushing teeth, merchants selling food from boats, even hunting fish with a crossbow!

After our stay in Alleppey, we moved on to Verkala – a touristy beach town on India’s south-western coastline (we didn’t have time to make it north to Goa). The restaurants along its cliff walk were brimming with fresh fish each night at great prices.

I remember Verkala as the most relaxing place I traveled in India, so much so I don’t have any pictures to show you! So, instead take a look at life on the backwaters of Alleppey.

Munar Tea Plantations, India

During the month of May I will revisit the photographs from my trip to India. I took over 3,000 photographs on my month-long trip in December 2012, and finally I am getting around to posting some of them!

First stop is Munar, the beautiful and shapely hills of tea plantations in the south of India. I rented a motorbike with my girlfriend (she took a little convincing) and alongside some newly made friends from Germany, braved both the heat and cold of the mountains.

Munar tea pantations, Kerala, IndiaOnce outside the busy streets of the town of Munar itself, traffic was more relaxed, and the view spectacular! Tea bushes are pruned to English garden perfection, their cell-like structures coiling through gullies and up the slopes of the hills. I was surprised to find eucalyptus forests breaking up the vibrant green of the tea plantations – a sight, and a smell, transporting me to the Australian south coast.

It was so warm in the valley that morning that I had departed with only a t-shirt, but now high in the mountains I froze as I rode through the clouds themselves. The wind picked up at this altitude and I could see the white wisps washing through the trees. At the summit we pulled over to seek refuge with an Indian family who had stopped to build a fire beside the road. They didn’t speak English at all, so we could only offer plenty of smiles as we wedged our way into their group.

Down the mountain and into the next valley, my blood began to run again and we turned off the main road to explore a little village. I guess the townsfolk don’t get visitors that often with the way they stopped their work to stare at us. Again, no one spoke English, so it was with big gestures and smiles that we interacted with some kids who were hanging out their laundry on the best clothesline possible: floating across the top of the tea bushes themselves. A kindly looking old lady stopped to give me some fruit and pause for a photograph, as did another man carrying a giant blue loudspeaker.

20121216_IMG_7893_900My most striking memory of that day was watching workers build the road by hand high up in the mountains. Torrents of thick black smoke gushed from the furnace heating the tar, to which women dumped baskets of gravel scooped up and carried on their heads. All wearing flip-flops.

Distances in India often end up being much further than they appear on a map, given the dense traffic, livestock and just general hazards in whatever form you can think of. We finally found a waterfall that we should have, according to our “not to scale” map, encountered half a day earlier, and, since the light was fading, declared that we had successfully reached our destination. The truth was, we never had a destination in mind. With perfect, endless rolling green hills like those in Munar, you’re just there for the drive.

If you haven’t visited my website in a while, I’ve updated my films and photography, so take a look!

Camberwarra

I’m holidaying in Camberwarra at the moment – just outside of Nowra, south of Sydney. It’s a beautiful area with gum trees, wineries, brilliant green farm lands, and of course, the pristine white sands of Jervis Bay not far away.

It also happens to be the location where I filmed Denis Carnahan’s music video “Different World“.

Desert Safari in Abu Dhabi

When I mentioned to a friend of mine in New York that I was going to the Emirates, his reaction was sharply aghast.

“Oh….I hated the Emirates.”

My heart sank. Why so bad? Was I wasting my time visiting the country?

“I went dune bashing. The driver thundered along the edge of a cliff and I was thinking, ‘No, surely he wouldn’t…’ but then, yes, he does – yanks the wheel to the right and we go flying over the edge. It was the scariest thing I’ve done. I hated the whole experience.”

I was somewhat hesitant following this account, embellished by Megan’s propensity to throw herself from high places.

I’d imagined our tour as simply a cocktail of sand and fuel. Instead, it was a complete “cultural” experience. I place “cultural” in inverted commas because it was a little rushed and box-ticking:

Now you ride camels, now a dog show, now a falcon show, now look at the goats, now drink Arabian coffee and eat dates, now pat the eagles, now dress up in traditional garb, now watch a 7-minute doco on the history of the Emirates…”

Nevertheless, in a short space of time, I felt I had a glimpse of desert life, and retained an experience more holistic than just adventure sports.

On to the main event… It was somewhat amusing to see our guide, having just demonstrated traditional activities while wearing a Thawb, don a pair of shades and jump behind the wheel of a 4WD.

Dune bashing is a freeform roller coaster, the vehicle’s trajectory materializing in the glint of the driver’s eyes scanning for a suitable embankment. Only once did I feel unsettled: with the weight of the vehicle sliding forwards into a downhill slope and sand kicked through the window.

Overnight I camped under the stars, with a fireplace and chai tea, and in the morning woke to tackle the dunes barefoot. You really can just throw yourself down a near-vertical decline: giant, sliding steps, cushioned by the pillowed sand.

My remaining time in the Emirates was spent visiting a few of the sights of Abu Dhabi: The Grand Mosque, Emirates Palace and the Heritage Village. Again, Abu Dhabi is not really made for walking – so many footpaths have craters from construction, or simply end for no apparent reason.

I’m also discovering Megan’s hangriness – that sudden evaporation of energy that makes a girl wilt unless food be applied immediately. I guess in New York there is food on every corner, but traveling brings irregular mealtimes. I’ve learnt to carry snacks at all times…and that some things really do run on peanuts.