I’m reflecting today on the conversations I’ve had lately with business owners about photography. There’s the usual raft of questions – how much time do we need, what should I wear, do you need a storyboard, what locations will we use, do we need permission for access? One by one we gradually work through them during the planning, pre-shoot phase so that when we come together on the day, we are organised with well-chosen elements that make sense to their business story.
With each engagement they will learn about controlling the controllables, that at some stage in the process we’ll throw it up to the gods. It’s like holding a puppy – if you hold the puppy gently it will play in your hands, chew your finger, go to sleep when he’s ready. But if you squeeze the puppy too tightly, you’ll choke him and he’ll die. Sounds a bit dramatic but it really makes sense in the process of capturing what really matters to you in the real world. There’s a component here that we can’t control, and that’s where the gold is, in the part that we leave to spontaneity and creativity.
A company called Hitnet commissioned me to come to Cairns for a few days to capture the company story. Hitnet create and deliver a diversity of culturally relevant content via technology hubs to Indigenous communities. One of the founders, Julie Gibson, works from Melbourne where their technology is developed, and Helen Travers is based in Cairns which is where they are directly connected to the communities they help. We decided to spend a few days in Cairns during the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, when a lot of Indigenous activity was happening in the region.
Our primary goal was to capture photos that reflected the positive impact their business is creating. We also needed portraits of the team players, and of their business advisory council. In Indigenous community planning is tricky, things can take longer to organise, and what was planned can fall through at a moment’s notice and give way for something else to happen in its place. So I was forewarned that I would have to go with the flow and be prepared for things to change at the last minute. It was so unusual to have that offered up by the client.
You may think a photographer would want to have everything finely controlled, but this suited me fine. There are many moving parts to the Hitnet story so we planned out what we could in advance including a shoot schedule. We co-ordinated with our connections in Cairns, organised the team portraits, and had Nickeema Williams, an artist and community connector, available for the few days as well.
You can imagine Helen and Julie could have been feeling the heat. Such an engagement is a pricey commitment. We’d spent about 3 months building up to this trip. And it was a dedicated trip 3000kms away from Melbourne. We wouldn’t be doing this again anytime soon. And it was their first time working with me. The scene was set. We’d done all that we could. When we arrived all that was left to do was hit ‘play’ and wait to see what would happen.
On arrival the plans had already changed from what the schedule had allowed for and to them that didn’t matter. In spite of all the evident pressures around this project, Helen and Julie were absolute pros at going with the flow. It didn’t all happen like clockwork as expected. And because I wasn’t feeling even the tiniest amount of angst from them, I could move freely and get on with what I do best – capture what really matters in the moment as it happened in real time. We still captured everything we had hoped for and more.
In the end we created a diverse toolbox of photos that ultimately showcase the positive contribution Hitnet makes to Indigenous communities in Australia. I attribute a huge part of the success of this project to our collective agreement to control the controllables in advance, and then go with the flow in the moment.
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