goodstuff 019

Tom Oldham photographer


Whilst I’m fully aware of the righteousness this may well exude, I have to announce (via and beyond to the whole world wide web) that I’ve recently had a bit of a revelation.

I pondered thus: times being what they are, and while some are struggling to hold their business together and also working overtime to keep a grip on what they’ve fought for, a fair few freelancers—illustrators, graphic designers, photographers like me—must simultaneously have more time on their hands—dare we admit it—which maybe is being dedicated to scoring new business, working up their portfolio finally, visiting galleries and for inspiration and generally doing all the stuff they’re certain they will when on holiday or on the sofa but then traditionally forget about the moment they’re stepping on the tube, bus or pavement heading back to their workspace. I know, I’m the world’s worst for pie-in-the-sky fantasy tomfoolery.

Which makes the next bit all the more surprising (to my family, friends and those who know me as a selfish, filthy capitalist anyway) as I have just acted on something I hoped I always would, could, might and definitely should after 10 successful freelance years: some charity work. I had the time, had the cash flow to pay this month’s rent and via some well positioned friends was recommended as a snapper and videographer to voluntarily update the media resources for Riders For Health, a UK-based NGO whose primary objective is the distribution of medical aid and healthcare in several African countries. I went to Gambia, with my partner Hope assisting me, and had the best holiday I have ever enjoyed, whilst working harder over a two week period than I think I ever have in my life.

It’s rare in my job to shoot hard from morning till night, in blazing midday sun, switching between mediums and going from setting up lights to interviews then locked off sunset shots and flash-lit portraits (all the stuff I love doing anyway of course). But when performing this on the most beautiful and joyous yet sometimes heart wrenching and tragic people, it does make some of my other work seem, well, a little ‘fluffy’ to put it fairly to all concerned.

The experience was breathtaking, grounding, humbling (so far so predictable, I know) but also on a purely selfish note—it enabled me to garner new folio material, properly challenge myself in tough circumstances (heat, dust, sweat, dehydration, language, emotion) and to realise that life’s ‘essentials’ vary quite massively from continent to continent. Creatively I came back and saw home and work in a refreshed way that I wasn’t expecting. I have profited from this new stance and am looking forward to the next trip.

At a time when creatives are possibly feeling compromised, consolidating their resources, downsizing and being forced to look inwardly—a positive course of action came for me when offering my minimal skills but ample time to others. The opportunity has never been better.

, 22 October 2009