I was in Jordan one night in a Beduin Camp near Wadi Rum, which is just weird enough of way to start a story. I had sort of traded the Jordanian board of tourism for a video portrait of what it would be like to travel there. In exchange, they hooked me up with hotels and a driver/guide to show me around the entire country. Due to some minor scheduling conflicts, I ended up only being able to go for about 47 hours, but I couldn’t resist.
This was the last stop on the trip. I had literally been whisked all over the place. I’d seen the once-lost city of Petra and the brilliant clear waters of the Red Sea from Aqaba. In a few hours, my guide Ziad would drive us through the night to Amman for my early morning flight. He was sitting outside this little shack watching a soccer match with some of the other people who worked at the camp. I thought the scene was kind of charmingly surreal, but there was something nagging at my heart, like a current pulling at me. I decided to go out into the dark desert to try and shoot some time-lapse. I told Ziad who said, “Okay. Be careful though,” which sort of gave me pause, but I decided not to care.
I trudged through the sand until I was over the crest of a dune, far away enough from the lights of the camp. Once I fussed around with a few different angles and compositions, I decided to give up on the idea of a time-lapse. The exposures were 30 seconds each, so to be able to get even a 5-second shot I would have had to shoot for over an hour. I didn’t think I wanted to sit out in the shifting sands for that long. I could hear some dogs growling and snarling through the wind out in the darkness. It was putting me on edge. I also didn’t want to leave empty-handed, so I decided to try and take a self portrait. (It’s the portrait at the top of the post here.)
The process was ridiculous- running back and forth to my camera, trying to swing wide so as to not leave a string of footprints in the foreground. I drew an X in the sand where I would stop, and freeze for the long exposure. Then run back and look at the image and adjust my position until I was able to stand right in that notch on the horizon. Out there alone, I suddenly realized how insane it was to be standing in that particular spot. Why was I in Jordan!?! How in the hell did this happen?!?
A few years earlier, I had been piecing together the rent with a quilt of freelance production jobs in film and television. When I started my own little wedding video company, Shark Pig, I thought that I was actually failing, that I was giving up on my long-term dream to reach the top of the tricky and treacherous Hollywood ladder. I was ashamed to tell my colleagues that I was going to shoot wedding videos. But what I thought was a failure ended up being the move in my career that brought about so much opportunity. I don’t think there could have really been any way to anticipate that Shark Pig would eventually bring me to that spot three-steps-left of the X in the sand, under the stars in Jordan.
I have taken all kinds of damn jobs over the years. Many were pretty inconsequential, but others have had a great effect on my life, usually through a contact that I first met on that particular job, but also from learning new skills or gaining a new perspective.
At this point, The Wedding Department of our company is really great at providing us with the opportunity to travel. I happen to have the luxury of calling dibs on the best destination weddings if I feel like picking one up, so I went to Tulum for a wedding around Christmas. As I drove my little rental car south from Cancun, I could see the big tropical clouds moving quickly in the moonlight. Eventually I could smell the Caribbean. I felt the same subtle pull of the current I had felt in the desert, but this time it drew me to the sea. I walked out onto the beach to shoot some time-lapse.
The memory of the self portrait in Jordan popped into my head, and I decided to jump into one of the frames and see if I could replicate the feeling I had while posing for my lens in Wadi Rum. I walked out to where I thought might be a good place. The exposure was long again, so I would have to try and freeze. I tried to be still – not just in my body but in my mind. What ended up rushing up on me was profound. I thought again about how lucky I was to be able to come down to paradise, and for work no less! Then my mind went further… I started to think about the light in the lens, and the light in my own lenses. I looked at the stars.
Even the stars that are right next to each other in my glasses are drastically different in terms of how close or far away they are from Earth, but light from both were simultaneously bouncing off my retinas. “How could this be?” I thought. The distance between even one of the stars and that beach in Tulum is so grand, it can’t be measured in space, it has to be measured in time – in light years. How far had I traveled in time to be there? Where could I consider my journey to begin? There were so many stars in the sky that night, all of which have drastically different distances from us and from each other. The sheer scope of it all is crushing. Even though the light from those stars all left at very, very different times, the photons from each all fell on me at once. It was a frail glimpse of something infinite being wrapped up in a single moment. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Then no joke – I’m not exaggerating or pulling any shit here – right THEN a huge shooting star burned up right in front of my eyes.
I guess the point is there’s no way of knowing what specific opportunities your work can generate for you, but it’s extremely important to remember the potential! As creatives, we all have the ability- and I would even say the responsibility- to plant the seeds of opportunity for ourselves and those connected to us. Your attention and effort have profound strength. When you put your work out into the world, it sort of takes on its own little life. You might be surprised how much those little lives can have a big effect on yours. They certainly have on mine.
Anywho, thanks a lot for reading if you’re still with me. A couple funny things to note: I am so dumb that I can’t even open Photoshop, so my very talented friend Max Wanger did the processing on these portraits. If you want to see more of my commercial work, or for some bizarre reason you want to watch wedding videos, then check out my site: sharkpig.com.
I’m including only one video because I shot part of it in Jordan. It’s a music video for a rap song that I wrote, and I shot it for free all over the world. It’s fun. Check it out. I highly recommend going to Jordan, Tulum, or basically anywhere.
- Brian | Shark Pig
Our “What I Have to Say” Wednesday series features established photographers and artists with messages they just can’t keep inside. Authentically and honestly, our writers share words of wisdom to challenge, encourage, and inspire.