Shark Infested Waters was created back in 2003 by mistake. Happily this coincided with my 17 year career as a music journalist tail-spinning into oblivion. Over the years I’d worked on assignments around the world with hundreds of photographers. I can’t remember most of them. It seemed to me that photographers had an easy life. They got paid more than journalists, they didn’t have to come up with opinions about anything in print and they all had cars. True, they had more equipment to lug through airports and they spent way too many hours hanging around the processing labs in Soho to be entirely healthy, but it still seemed like money for old rope. By contrast I was being paid 10p a word to write nonsense about Jon Bon Jovi’s 6-step link to organised crime and the new record by Clawfinger.
Photographers were a strange breed. They still are. A secret brotherhood united by devilish jargon and light-bending boxes. Of all the photographers I worked alongside, I admired the work of maybe two. One was a mild-mannered, dry-witted enthusiast who lucked into Kerrang! from the world of two-bit Goth fanzines. Soon after bagging his first assignment he packed in his day job at the Bank of England and quickly progressed through the ranks of freelance contributors. Paul Harries ( http://www.paulharries.com/ ) undoubtedly raised the bar for modern rock photography and he is now the magazine’s chief snapper. The second was a loud, graceless, pop-eyed sack of man-shite who regarded all journalists as no more than his own unpaid porters. The man was a Grade 1 asshole but I admired his work. Anyone, after all, who could make Paradise Lost look remotely interesting was worthy of some respect. I learnt a lot from those two guys. I learnt that nice guys do get paid and that the loud ones always have the least to say.
To be honest, I have no idea why Kerrang! decided to employ me. I was not a real fan of Heavy Metal and for years had laboured under the delusion that Led Zeppelin were in fact a three-piece band. Suddenly I was surrounded by a bunch of young men who actually took that shit seriously. Fully-formed adults would literally fight tooth and nail to be the first to review a new album by Motley Crue, Skid Row, Pat Benatar, Alice Cooper, AC/DC….making a name for yourself was a piece of piss when surrounded by so many humourless souls.
It was fun for a few years. But I was getting older. I was bored. Steve Harris turned up at Kerrang! one afternoon looking to break my jaw for daring to suggest that Iron Maiden’s new ‘X Factor’ album was the product of EMI Records’ comedy department. I literally could not think of one single word to write about Pearl Jam’s mind-numbing second album. So I slipped away and bought an old Nikon FE from a second hand store in North London. It still works perfectly today. I spent a year assisting a pretentious commercial photographer in Clerkenwell whose idea of perfection was to bumble through 12 rolls of medium format film in order to photograph one bowl of popcorn. As a lighting test. I worked for courier companies to subsidise my addiction. I was obsessed with photography and I still am to this day.
In 2003 I was living and working in my own studio in south east London. The word ‘studio’ is a bit of an exageration. A few rolls of coloured 9′ paper backdrops, a couple of crappy lights, my faithful Nikon FE and a medium format Bronica which took maybe a whole week to unlock and load. I had several laminated 10″ x 8″ prints which could almost pass for a portfolio if you squinted at them through the arse-end of a bagpipe. But I was learning all the time. Not just the technical stuff but also how to deal with the people who arrived at the studio.You have to be able to communicate an idea to the person who is ultimately going to make your photograph come alive. If you can’t communicate an idea then the end result will always look stilted. If you don’t have an idea in your head at all – maybe you’ll just say “oh, do whatever you want” – then there’s absolutely no point in even getting out of bed. You suck.
I’d love to be able to reveal some kind of massive biblical epiphany that I experienced when the title of the website was agreed. In fact I just happened to be watching a programme on TV about sharks and they looked cool. Plus I knew a fine-ink artist in Berkshire who had already drawn the logo. The website could just as easily have been called Whale Infested Oceans or Pike Infested River Streams. My only consideration really was to avoid any smart-arsed, laborious, camera-related puns. Except for maybe Shutter the Fuck Up.
That same year I also met my wife Karen. We were introduced by a mutual friend who had hired the studio to hold auditions for a project making audio porn cassettes for the blind. As you do. This involved sitting around reciting awful scripts into a tape recorder and drinking a lot of cider. I have no idea what became of the blind porn project but Shark Infested Waters would never be the same again. Karen & I married in 2008. The shark logo is etched into our wedding rings. That same year we moved permanently to Greece. We work as commercial photographers in Rhodes Town and get paid to photograph pretty much everything. The magic, light-bending boxes might have changed over the years (currently the Phase One/Mamiya 645Af & Nikon D3X) but the old principles remain the same. Get it right and get it fast. Today we have so much technology at our fingertips that it’s sometimes easy to forget where it all started. Jessops. That’s where it all started.
So welcome to our blog. It’s not intended to be a technical cheat-sheet or quick photographic fix. There are hundreds of on-line resource sites to help you decipher the mysteries of off-camera flash lighting and continuous focus tracking. The Shark Infested Waters blog is primarily concerned with the inspiration rather the technique – the nuts and bolts behind an image. The fun part is planning the photograph as well as pressing the trigger on the day.
Music will always remain an inspiration. Most of our images are built around an imaginary soundtrack. Music and light work well together. As a journalist I was exposed to an awful lot of noise and that was truly a privelege. I have yet to take a photograph that is as good as my favourite song. One day. I’d rather have a song in my head than a bunch of angry voices reminding me that Photoshop was created for a reason. Yeah, well, Photoshop was actually created by the CIA in order to make the North Korean government look foolish.
Some days I feel like a tyrant. Obviously at the time it was super-important that someone – usually Karen – had to stand semi-naked in a public place holding several highly explosive road flares. Some days I feel like a fraud. I know many photographers feel the same way. Some hide behind the bluster of jargon whilst others over-compensate by being twats. The best anyone can hope for really is to somehow bend the magic light to make an image not look totally shit. Hopefully it was a fun experience for all concerned. Hopefully no one got hurt. Hopefully someone will notice it.
So basically our grand manifesto pretty much boils down to this: get out there and blow stuff up. See what happens. Have fun. And don’t forget to take your lens cap off.