Across India in a tuk-tuk

A voyage of discovery doesn’t stop once you have conquered a fear or climbed a mountain.

I had already summited Mt Kilimanjaro in September 2011 with Daina Borillo and Benn Dalby, so when they suggested I join them to drive a tuk-tuk 3700kms across India to raise money for Frank Water www.frankwater.com, it didn’t seem like such a ridiculous idea, in fact I was quite excited.

Daina and Benn already had their crew, so my first mission was to convince some friends to join me on this adventure.

The organisers website warns:

“Your chances of being seriously injured or dying as a result of taking part are high.  Individuals who have taken part in past Adventurists’ adventures have been permanently disfigured, seriously disabled and even lost their life. 

This is not a glorified holiday, it’s an unsupported adventure and so by its very nature extremely risky. You really are on your own and you really are putting both your health and life at risk. This is what makes them adventures.”

I knew that too much thinking would make us realise the stupidity of this undertaking, so I found five willing participants who joined me in signing up and paying the £1395 entry fee.

It wasn’t long after parting with our hard earned cash that I discovered the only way to get travel insurance to cover driving a tuk-tuk was to have a motorbike license. Never in my wildest dreams had I considered riding a motorbike but there it was, just another item on the checklist.  Adam, Carol, Katelin and myself spent many Saturday afternoons at Motorcycle Motion in Moorabbin, riding around and around that parking lot, before finally walking away with our license.  We had months of practice on our Honda 250cc, kindly purchased and restored for us by Chris Patterson. This was a little adventure in itself.

Next was the ‘Pimping’ phase, this was the fun part where you get to design your own tuk-tuk.  Two fabulous designers kindly donated their services, Alice from Dolly Rogers www.dollyrogers.com in Amsterdam designed ‘Uggi’ and Jessica Brent from Sibling www.siblingnation.net in Melbourne designed ‘Half a Tribe’. We proudly spruiked their fabulous designs all across India.

One important detail before departing was to apply for our visas. Seriously an arduous and bureaucratic process, requiring my father’s name and birthplace, my grandparent’s details, a curiously non standard size passport photograph and an application for an alcohol license.  They’re dying for you to get it wrong.  A guy even skulks around in the lift lobby to ensure you have the correct size photo as you attempt to enter the application centre.  I could only assume that if  you got it wrong he could make a quick buck and hit you up for another photograph in the correct non-standard passport size. Once you’ve made it past him, before you get to take a seat and wait your turn, another guy wants to inspect your application form in the hope you’ve made some mistake and they can upsell the add-on service of having you pay to have someone help you complete it.  A very strange experience all round and I hadn’t even left Melbourne.

Departing Melbourne it was an unexpected pleasure to be upgraded to business class, courtesy of Emirates (best Airline in the world). I arrived in Kochi on Friday 4/4/2013 to join my team at Saj Homestay (www.sajhome.com), a family run guesthouse with loads of generosity and great food, lovingly prepared by Saj’s wife.  Our adventure was about to begin.

We made our way to the parade ground where 74 fabulous little tuk-tuk’s were lined up awaiting our arrival. We were given two days for test-driving, mechanical issues and a little bit more ‘Pimping’. It was a bit of a false start for ‘Uggi’, we couldn’t even get the engine going. We mulled around aimlessly until one of the official Indian mechanics told us to check if there was fuel. How stupid of us to assume we’d be given a vehicle with at least enough fuel to make it out of the parade grounds – thanks Adventurists! As it turns out our tuk-tuk needed a complete overhaul with a new battery, horn (an extremely essential item in India), exhaust and some broken rubber pipe thingy. From this very technical description I’m sure you’re beginning to gather that I was of no help whatsoever when it came to the mechanics of the tuk-tuk. All I can say is ‘Thank God for Chris’!  I did however excel in outfitting our little vehicle. I scoured Kochi for the cutest red hubcaps, came across the yellow flowers and red dolphin along the way, sourced the cup holders to accommodate 1 litre water bottles and tracked down the handle bar covers (which turned out to be functional as well as decorative). So while completely useless on the mechanical front, I did get our tuk-tuk a little dolled up.

To summarise, here’s what it’s like to drive for 14 Days, spanning 3700km on Indian highways:

  • Crazy Indian drivers will overtake you from the left and right simultaneously. If this isn’t confusing enough, particularly given that one of the vehicles is usually a motorbike and the other a damn massive, monolith of a bus or truck, one must also keep their peepers posted to avoid a head on collision with the random vehicles that literally advance into oncoming traffic. Think nothing of entering a highway facing oncoming traffic, think nothing of it at all! The most disconcerting thing is the over zealous cars that beep and wave furiously at you as they overtake – very friendly bunch – and then practically side swipe you as they make their way into your lane. You’ve barely had time to recover from the distraction, which usually involves trying to return some kind of greeting… and then BAM you’ve nearly hit the buggers. It quickly wipes the smile right off your face!
  • Intersections and roundabouts are mayhem, the only way to make it through an intersection I found was to advance into oncoming traffic and furiously beep the horn.  If you hesitate, you will quickly be overtaken from both sides by traffic from behind, further complicating the task of making it through the round about.
  • Speed bumps, often unsigned, appear out of nowhere and can span up to 16 bumps. You definitely don’t want to hit these at 40km an hour in a tuk-tuk.
  • It’s a fine art to avoid pot holes the size of meteorites in a 3 wheeled vehicle
  • Highways are littered with safety signs spouting a host of driving recommendations, all of which are completely and utterly ignored. These include:
    • “Lane discipline gives you long life”.
    • (Life expectancy in India has to be at an all time low, because I can assure you no one in India knows what a lane is, let alone in which direction you should travel).
    • “Be alert, accidents hurt”.
    • “Expect the unexpected”
(they’re not kidding).
    • “Alert today, alive tomorrow”
(not necessarily).
    • “Traffic rules are life saving tools”
(not if they’re not policed).
    • “The safe way is the right way”
    • You are exposed to wind and dust constantly, your skin is dry and scorched and no amount of moisturiser is going to help. Your hair isn’t hair anymore it’s straw, and no it’s not your imagination, it really is falling out. Your fingernails look like you just dug your way out of Alcatraz and your feet look like you’ve donned a lizard costume.
    • Long haul tuk-tuk driving isn’t too dissimilar to architectural photography; the best hours on the road are the first and last 2 hours of each day.

At the end of a 9-10 hours driving in a tuk-tuk on the Indian roads there is always a feeling of exhilaration that you have survived yet another day.

So what were the highlights?

  • The kindness and generosity of the India people en-masse. What a fabulous group of human beings!
  • Attending ceremonies of worship at Srikalahasti Temple, one of the most famous Shiva Temples in Southern India.
  • Staying at Palm Coast resort in Chirala, a quirky little beachside resort owned by a bone surgeon and run by a fun team of young Indian boys who helped us find beer and danced with us late into the evening.
  • Being invited to breakfast by a beautiful family in Rajamundry who picked all six of us up from our hotel and served us a banquet of Indian delights including:
    • A sweet rice dish flavoured with cashews, lychees, ghee and milk.
    • A savory dish of coconut and spicy condiments.
    • White bread and jam.
    • A selection of almonds, dates and pistachio nuts.
    • Bowls of pomegranate, grapes, apple and papaya.
    • A brew of coffee.
    • Chocolate cake and biscuits.

That’s some serious Indian hospitality!

  • Swimming at Gopalpur in the Bay of Bengal where holiday resorts go to die. Hotel Sea Pearl was a dismal representation of her once former glory; sad, run down and in desperate need of some TLC.  Quirky enough to be cool with camel rides on the beach to boot!
  • Overnighting in Chandipur where the sea recedes by as much as five kilometres every day offering us the opportunity to literally walk into the sea at sunset
  • Skirting the foothills of the Himalaya’s.
  • An elephant travelling the wrong way down the NH31C.
  • Hiking to the root tree footbridges in Cherrapunji.  The bridges are molded and formed over centuries from tree roots.

Most people visit India in the hope of experiencing some kind of enlightenment. Driving across India in a tuk-tuk would have to be the furthest possible place from enlightenment; in fact it’s probably better likened to a living hell.

On 19/4/2013 @ 5.00pm after 13 Days on the Indian roads driving 3700 kilometres, we arrived in Shillong to find that in excess of  £50000 had been raised from the combined efforts of 74 teams making their way across India.

Thank you to all the friends and family who donated and supported us.

10 Year Celebration

Well … today marks 10 years in business.  Where did the time go?  With such a milestone there is always cause for reflection. Where was I 10 years ago?

– Moving into our studio in Chapel St where we have had the good fortune to remain for 10 years.

– Door knocking like a Turkish rug salesman, hoping someone would look at my folio and give me a job.  Thank you Cox and Buro you gave me a great start.

– Servicing a huge equipment debt – (that hasn’t changed).

– Shooting on 6x12cm roll film backs on a beautifully crafted Linhoff technikardan S45.

– Scanning all our film with an Imacon Flextight Precision II scanner.

– Filing and archiving all our film.

– Endlessly visiting the  Lab.

From a technology stand point life now is quite another story.  We are slaves to the digital era and  spend a large part of our time tied to the computer labouring over file processing, archiving and maintaining enormous catalogues of data.

I have had the good fortune of some fabulous assistants who have all contributed so much to helping me remain in business and overcome many unexpected obstacles on a shoot.  Thank you to:

– Alexandra Yourn my producer and good friend who made starting a business fun and gave so much moral support.  Ali is now a dedicated producer in New York for her wonderfully talented husband Lucas Allen – www.lucasallen.com.au

– Kim Lawler my first assistant who helped me muddle through the beginnings of a professional career.  Kim is an amazingly talented photographer in her own right pursing her own career as an artist and undertaking a PhD – www.kimlawler.com

– Kate Morris who generously came on board to assist and help with administration, all the while establishing and running her own photographic business – www.katemorris.com.au

– Markus Weber – the man who did everything!  Markus never complained despite some very tiring and trying shoots.  Markus now works full time for Spotlight shooting their in house catalogues and remains a most valued friend.

– Viola Nardi – Viola was just an absolute  joy to be around.  She would make light of any situation and was a hard working and dedicated assistant. We lost Viola to the sunnier shores of Sydney where she is making her way to establish her own photographic career – www.violanardi.com

– Katherine Reghenzani – Kat came on board after her father contacted me to see if she could do some work experience.  Straight from high school, Kat embraced tasks with maturity and intelligence.  It was a pleasure to have Kat.  Kat is now a full time school teacher.

– Kelly Gardner – I mentored Kelly while she was undertaking her BA Photography course at RMIT.  She impressed me so much I employed her when she graduated.  Kelly has gone on to establish herself as a beautiful documentary photographer – www.kellygardner.com.au

– Jason Chetwynd-Cox – Jason you rock and you can never leave!

The resounding attribute of all my assistants is that they were all extremely hard working and bastions of support in producing the portfolio of work that I have to date.  Thank you I would not be here without your help.

Last but by no means least I would like to thank the man who gave me my start in photography, the one and only Mr John Gollings.  Assisting John gave me an insight into the craft and processes of photography along with a lot of fabulous experiences

Just to wrap up, a few milestone experiences:

– Most challenging location – Engine room of Casey Arc Swimming Pool.

– Best accommodation pick – Echuca Rivergum Motor Inn whose promo line says it all ‘Spend a night not a fortune’.

– Best luxury shoot – Sofitel Wentworth Sydney followed by Magnetic Island.

– Most challenging obstacle – sensor lighting for dusk shoots – seems that override button is about as accessible as the crown jewels.

– Most mentally tiring shoot – 8 hour – 360 degree (50mm) panorama stitches from 55m crane.

– Longest standing client – Cox Architects – Thank you for your amazing on going support over 10 years from Kangan Batman TAFE to AAMI park.

– Best celebrity moment – Meeting Al Gore – Thanks GHD for commissioning me for the ‘Our Planet’ conference.

– Best helicopter shoot – Melbourne to Lorne with Flood Slicer.

Thank you to Grenade www.grenade.com.au, efront www.efront.com.au and Pyemachine www.pyemachine.com for my facelift – you’re  better than any High Street plastic surgeon.

Cheers to 10 years!

Generosity of spirit

This blog is dedicated to generosity of spirit!

Over the past month our travels and assignments have introduced us to  some wonderfully generous people who have helped us and bestowed their hospitality upon us.

Firstly I must thank Bobbie Lederman who graciously invited us in to photograph her home.  Bobbie is one of those wonderfully amazing women who has an innate kindness about her.  Upon arriving at her home we were greeted with a parking permit to alleviate us of the hassle of having to move our car on the hour (pure bliss for us!).  Bobbie had her home in immaculate order so our job was made very easy.  Once we finished taking photographs Bobbie invited us to stay for afternoon tea that she had prepared in advance for us.   I think the i-phone snap below says it all.  We don’t often get too much down time on jobs and I think Jason’s (my assistant) smile is a good indication of Bobbie’s fabulous baking skills – Oh yes indeed! Did I mention that Bobbie baked a cake for afternoon tea?




Another assignment saw us all the way out in Glenhope for a new job with JOH Architects. Twas a dawn shoot and a 1.5 hour drive, so for us one of those crazily early starts.  Upon arriving at Glenhope we introduced ourselves to Christian who had kindly met us on the freeway and guided us to the property to avoid us having to find the remote property in darkness.  Thanks Christian you’re a champ!  Upon arriving David (the owner) offered us coffee (glee to our ears) and then returned with coffee and jam on toast – we love you David!  Here’s some pic’s that confirm the early start was worth it.



Thanks to Jane & Mat Martino for sharing their Easter Saturday and their gorgeous little boys with us and helping us create some lovely images that reflect the special touches they have made to their fabulous holiday rental ‘Comma Stables’ at Daylesford.  In addition to Matt’s abundant creative talents, he’s also a magnificent sandwich maker.  If the piccies below make you want to be there, you can book a stay at http://www.dayget.com.au –  just look for ‘Comma Stables’.








Another assignment saw us out at Berwick.  Sometimes luck shifts in mysterious ways.  Upon our arrival in Berwick the weather was not being our friend.  We had decided with the client to cancel the shoot, but agreed to spend a bit of time checking out our options for a later shoot date.  During this time the clouds cleared and we couldn’t believe our luck.  This luck was short lived, just as we were about to do our shot a car crashed into a telegraph pole bringing it down and rendering the main st closed.  Traffic was abysmal.  We circumvented things a little and changed our perspective to get the shot and then realised that we could shoot in the middle of the road since it was closed off (see pic below).  What we hadn’t considered was that to the unsuspecting commuter stuck in a traffic jam it appeared as though the road was closed for us to take photographs.   A very frustrated lorry driver abandoned his vehicle amidst the jam to come and complain – funny!






…. last but not least –  I was nominated in the Top Ten photographers  for Architectural Photography in  Capture magazines Australia’s Top Photographers competition.  To see some interesting work and talented photographers – see http://www.austtopphotographers.com.au/yaf-news/architecture

Each year photographers, creative directors and anyone with a vested interest in professional photography can nominate photographers for consideration for the awards.  After nominations close, the nominated photographers then vote for their peers. This is a fabulous opportunity for photographers to be acknowledged by their peers.  I encourage you to keep your eye out for 2011 and nominate those great photographers whom you admire.


July Update

It’s been a while between posts and am feeling a little catholic guilt for neglecting our blog.  Our biggest news is the purchase of our new Phase P45+, 39 Megapixel Digital Camera back and Cambo Camera.  I have sadly bid farewell to my faithful old Linhoff and embraced the new high end digital technology.  This is not our first foray into the high end digital arena, we previously purchased the Leaf Aptus 33 megapixel back which we have been very happy with.  Anyone whose privy to what is going on with Leaf at the moment will understand our reservation about committing to upgrades with this brand and hence the switch to Phase.  I feel a bit like the guy who bought a Ford Edsel! We have been holding off on our investment in a large format camera suitable for the high end digital back until the release of the 23mm Rodenstock lens.  This is an exquisite lens and makes the high end backs now much more appealing for architectural work.  These items are enormously expensive and are a testament to our commitment and investment in the production of the best quality work we can deliver for our clients. This by no means leaves our Canon 1DS Mark III redundant.  It really is about selecting the right equipment for the job. I look forward to sharing some of the pictures that we produce from our new technology.   We’ve been busy shooting some new interesting projects, here’s a glimpse of what we’ve been up to. Another beautiful fit out by Ryan Russell Architects:



We had fun with the Grenade team shooting their fabulously renovated studio in Prahan:




We have been working with the City of Melbourne to document the new Flagstaff Gardens Bowls Club – a true haven from the hustle and bustle of the city, nestled cosily amidst the gardens, you almost forget you are in an urban metropolis:





On the studio front, we bid farewell to Markus who has been a fabulous contribution to our studio for the past 5 years. He has become a treasured friend and will be missed. We wish him well in his new endeavours.  We welcome Kelly on board and we look forward to covering many great projects over the next 6 months.

Awards Frenzy

Well it’s that time of year again where we get to celebrate and acknowledge the fabulous work of our clients and the accolades bestowed upon them.

World Architecture News – Education Building of the Year 2009

A huge congratulations to Spowers Architects on the ‘WAN – Education Building of the Year Award’ for the Australian Technical College in Sunshine. To take out a global award is most certainly a fabulous coup for both Spowers and Australian Architecture on the world stage. I love that there was a 13 year old student on the jury.  It is so important that Architecture and Interior Design is successful to those who inhabit the spaces and it’s great to see that Jury’s are formulated not just by peers and academics, but the audience who actually may work, play and live in these environments.  I was completely enthralled shooting the East facade of this building.  It was one of those situations where a symbiosis occurred between the landscape conditions, the light, the architecture and my enthusiasm at the realisation of this alignment. The learning spaces are bold, open, integrated and fun. I am pleased to see this building recognised and I am always glad to see ‘fun’ celebrated in Architecture and Interior Design.

Dulux Colour Awards 2009 – Residential Interior

Congratulations to Emma Mitchell who took out the colour award for ‘Residential Interior’.  The Anglesea House was a pleasure to shoot and has been featured in ‘Houses’, ‘Home Beautiful’ and ‘Kitchen, Bathroom & Bedroom’ magazine (UK), so it’s safe to say it has raised a lot of interest amongst publishers.  It is a wonderful space to be in and is delightfully playful and fun.  I have been shooting Emma’s work for the past 7 years and and each project is unique and inspiring to me as a photographer.  Emma has a very distinct style and I am very fortunate to be able to be part of the documentation and expression of her completed projects.  You can see more of Emma’s work at www.emmamitchell.com.au

National Interior Design Awards 2009 – Emerging Interior Design Practice

We are proud to congratulate Byron George who received the award for Emerging Interior Design Practice.

Thank you Byron for selecting me to commence the photographic record of your work.  It has been inspiring, but more importantly it has been fun… just remember ….’The last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone!”

Byron (in conjunction with Fabio Ongarato) also received the 2008 IDEA Award for Best Retail Interior for the Igloo Zoo fit out shown above.

National Interior Design Awards 2009 – Colour in Commercial Interiors

Ryan is certainly the one to watch – young, handsome and hungry! Having won the ‘Emerging Practice’ Award in 2007, I think we can safely say he has emerged.

This year ryan won the ‘Colour in Commercial Interiors’ award for his Aesop store at Doncaster and was awarded a ‘Commendation’ for the ‘Retail Design’ category.  The Aesop Doncaster store is an ingenious solution for a high profile brand.  Well done Ryan – we love it!  To see more of Ryan’s work visit – www.ryanrussell.com.au

National Interior Design Awards 2009 – Premier Award in Design Excellence & Public Interior Design

Congratulations to John Wardle Architects.  Everyone should visit this building.  The Jury citation says it all. To view the jury citation visit http://www.interiordesignawards.com.au/results/