Let me take you on a journey to where it all started for me.
When I was fifteen, my life radically changed overnight. I woke up one morning and all my hair had fallen out. This was a result of a condition called Alopecia Totalis, brought on by a combination of stress and a heavy bout of cerebral malaria.
This event was the culmination of an excess of physical unease I had experienced at the hands of Jesuit priests in the formative years of my schooling, beginning at the fragile age of seven years old. With the eventual onset of puberty and the dawn of manhood, it was inevitable that my world would eventually cave in one day. The realization that I was emotionally disconnected from my physicality was a challenging way to live. However, it forced me to speed up the process of finding my own way in life.
I grew up with a geologist father who in his job travelled all over the world.
I loved living in such freedom and among different people. This is why since boarding school, I had always felt isolated and different from everyone else and now, with my new involuntary appearance as a skinhead, I felt free to abandon all plans to study and go and find my identity in the world.
At the age of 17, I left for the lofty Tibetan Plateau. Dressed as a monk and with my pale bald skin, I vainly tried to blend in amongst my new high altitude heroes.
If ever there was an accidental tourist, it was me. Serendipity had taken me on this journey and as a result, I was one of the first foreigners in decades to traverse the Tibetan Plateau and to reach the capital Lhasa. What I saw and shared were the magical, lifechanging and unique aspects of a rich culture that outsiders had not witnessed for decades.
Tibet: The roof of the world
The accumulated fluked images that I returned home with, marked the beginning my never-ending project searching for the beauty of humanity.
In the period that followed, I carried on haphazardly discovering the world and myself by using a camera as a thinly veiled cloak to witness the human suffering that I recognized in myself. Afghanistan, Pakistan, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Nigeria and the former Yugoslavia performed as backdrops for me to hide in and stand next to others in our mutual pain. In this physical and mental disguise, I continued to escape from my deep personal discomfort and searched for a light to heal.
As an “adopted Dutchie”, Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam became my hub and anchorage to continually keep discovering the world.
My ex-wife, the mother of my three children, and I settled in the Netherlands in 1998. Unbeknown to me at the time, Amsterdam was to become my first real home and safe haven. This city and its people helped me find peace and acceptance for all my idiosyncrasies in its humanly welcoming and extraordinary civilized society.
Whilst my three children, Ardash, Naroush and Alaya, were young, I adapted my organic photographic skills to the world of advertising to pay the inevitable bills of a growing family. As much as I was grateful for the continued opportunities to stand behind a camera, the superficiality of the commercial world made me feel like I was betraying my passion. I realised that I was truly in love with the spiritual process of photography.
Listening to my voice within
In 2010, I finally listened to my voice within. The voice that reminded me to act on my urge to return to my roots and my true calling. My dream was to connect with the all-encompassing wealth of ancient cultures living in harmony with themselves and Mother Earth. To live, laugh, cry and dance with them on my unending journey of life’s discovery.
As with all relationships in life, the key to profoundly connecting with someone is trust. The same holds true for the bond between an artist and his or her subject.
It became customary for me to never enter a community with a camera in sight, and it was normal to wait up to two weeks or more before the first picture was taken. Wherever I went, I would always approach and present a feeling of enormous respect. I deliberately physically positioned myself lower than the people I photographed, showering all with heartfelt compliments. Once the barrier of fear was bridged and a mutual language of awe was developed, a door of reciprocal empathy and understanding opened. As soon as the connections were made, my enthusiasm and passion for aesthetic perfection became infectious. The spirits of everyone involved were elevated to a crescendo, which climaxed in the striving for the perfect picture.
The more I invested, the more exposed my emotions became. My struggle became the source. This was the beginning of my ensuing healing, when I finally closed my eyes and surrendered to myself.
I discovered we are all one and that Mother Earth unifies us. We may have different cultures and languages, different colours and beliefs, but in a much deeper way we are all from the same spirit.
I believe we are at a crossroads in time. Within one instant, monumental changes can be made. Since the world is now globally connected, there is no excuse anymore. We are very aware of the fragility of the disbalance between human and nature and now is the time to act. Let us learn from the wisdom and way of life of indigenous peoples.