I have been a photographer for 35 years, starting in the world of sport covering surfing and windsurfing in the early eighties. My big break came when, now old friend Brian Hart who worked at windsurf magazine in London told me that he was using a picture I had shot from a very windy day at Hayling Island in the south of the UK. I was over the moon! and my first picture was published.
I then went on as a twenty ish year old photographing at all the top wave spots, with not a care in the world. Basing myself in Maui for the winter months. Reality soon kicked in as the need to earn some money meant returning to the UK to work with the ALLSPORT agency shooting more general sports.....not really my bag footy on a cold feb night in the rain or snow!
A stint working with the newspapers gave me the education of being able to shoot stories and it took me to the Barcelona games in 1992. But then things changed.
Dave Cordell, Hayling Island 1982.
Its true to say its who you know and not what you know..... I was friends with Damon Hill, the racing driver. When Damon was offered the drive at Williams GP team we decided that I would start to cover him and his life. In 1994 Damon was to partner Aryton Senna... I had then suggested to Damon that we should do a book of his year with Aryton. Walter Joos had just produced a book on Michael Jordan called Rare Air. It showed Michael at home with the kids, playing golf etc all the behind the scenes stuff that one would like to see of a top sports personality.
Tragedy struck and Aryton was killed on race 3, Imola.
The career of Damon then went nuts, he raced against Schumacher for several years in his quest to win the title, which he did in 1996.
During that period I was asked by many sport establishments to do books with them, the only thing I asked for was full access, which I got from everybody.
This led me to work with some of the best names in sport both home and abroad. RFU, Chelsea FC, Barcelona FC, Ferrari, Mclaren, Williams and Linford Christie all of whom I produced books with. At the time nobody was doing this in British sport and it enabled me to carve a niche for myself.
Getting this wonderful access meant that I didn't really need the long lenses used for action and like many of my heroes with photography I could start to use the Leica M cameras which I have done since the mid 1990's. My friend Ian Berry spotted me at Ascot running around, he asked what I was doing, I told him I was working on a story on Royal Ascot ( I was with the Sygma agency then) he asked me how I could concentrate carrying all that gear and suggested I borrow one of his M6's....... the next week I changed all my gear to Leica.
I was now reading the front of the papers and became more aware of global issue's and a neighbour (who was a lawyer for the UN) asked me to come and do some work with them. So off to Africa I went. A long trip to 8 countries to shoot a body of work on the issues that contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS to be shown at the UN headquarters NY. This lead me to a long relationship with UNICEF, UNFPA cover stories on conflict and post conflict mostly in Africa. Most recently Darfur.
At the same time as the work I was doing in Africa I needed to balance it with some sanity. I spent four years documenting the life of the Cowboy. Travelling throughout the West, mainly Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. the work was published by Macmillan in 2001, and next year I will be re visiting the story with my old 4X5 camera and some type 55 polaroid film that is about 10 years out of date and is still fine.
Its very important to me to keep relationships going with people I photograph and a great deal of the stories or projects I do I re visit or at least try and keep in contact..... all made easier these days with social media.
Most of my work now I generate myself and look to get funding. I am presently involved in a project in Asia that will come to an end early next year. I lecture at Robert Gordon University Aberdeen as a visiting professor and will be starting a project on Aberdeen in 2018 whilst continuing my travels.
I am becoming more fond of using my old film cameras to shoot on projects now. Digital is great but is perfect. Shooting film is a dance, loading 4x5 or even 8x10 film holders, finding the light meter, taking to look at what I see with a greater understanding of what it is I'm doing is the passion. Working with printers and lab technicians is all part of the process.
Nothing beats loading up the car and heading off in to the unknown to make some photographs.
Me in Sri Lanka using my Hasselblad 503