SHOOTING THROUGH ADVERSITY! A PHOTOGRAPHERS JOURNEY – ANDREW HALL

The reasons why we choose to take up and pursue photography are countless. It may be the need to explore a creative outlet, or to take on a hobby that gets you out and about. It may be as a career choice or purely to have some fun and meet and interact with like-minded people. 
In having conversations with many members of the Fuji X Aus group, and more directly in conducting interviews for the Fuji X Aus website, it is clear that many people have very clear and strong personal reasons for choosing this path. Previously we had a discussion with Fuji X Aus member Peter Walpole whose story struck a very personal cord for me in how he has used his photography as a form of therapy to manage the impacts of a life changing event and ongoing medical issues. Shooting through adversity. It was inspiring for me as I am sure it was for you. If you haven’t read that interview yet, then please do so be clicking here.

Today I wanted to explore the concept further and am fortunate enough to have had the chance to discuss this very topic with Andrew Hall. He is a member of the Fuji X Aus community but, as some may not know, is also an official Fujifilm X-Photographer. Andrew’s core genre is motorsport photography and he travels the world in pursuit of the perfect shot. But he is also a very skilled photographer across a brand range of genres. He has an iconic style in the images he captures and is obviously amazing at what he does.  But the path has had its fair share of adversity for him to navigate. Let’s see what he has to say about his journey. 

What can you tells us about yourself and your career in photography? Where are you from? When did you first pick up a camera? 

Born and raised on Sydney’s northern beaches and whilst I’m very grateful to be able to travel the world with my photography, the northern beaches will always be home.  As it says on my Instagram profile I’m a photographer, traveller, coffee snob, husband and father.  What else? I’m left handed, an Aquarian and I can’t wink so I shoot with both eyes open  

I always had a camera with me from an early age, I suppose I just wanted to record the moments with family and friends. I got my first SLR camera in the early eighties. In the mid eighties I was in a motorcycle club riding motocross and while I was recovering from an injury one season I just picked up my camera and started taking pictures of my friends racing and crashing!  The rest as they say is history. From those early days standing in the mud at Sydney’s Oran Park raceway I have been fortunate to have a career in photography spanning nearly 30 years. 

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What drove you to become a motorsport photographer? Where has your work taken your around the world and for what events? 

I have always been a motorsport fan, and as a 12 year old I vividly remember sitting on the hill at Oran Park watching the likes of Peter Brock and Allan Moffat battle it out on the track. So I suppose it was natural that I gravitated towards motorsports. However my first race meetings as an accredited photographer were actually for machines with 2 wheels not 4!  My motor-cross connections at Oran Park meant that when the World Superbikes came to Sydney in 1988 I was able to convince the promoters to give me a photographer’s pass. 

My first season of photographing 4 wheels was in 1990 and I photographed the Australian Touring Car Championship as the preferred freelancer for the Chevron Publishing group for 20 years. Chevron produced the major motorsport publications back in the day. I was still photographing the motorcycle events including the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and expanded my list of events to include the F1 Grand Prix in Adelaide and Melbourne and the Indycar race on the Gold Coast.

I had always been drawn to the major Sportscar races in Europe and in 2001 I photographed the Iconic Le Mans 24hr in France for the first time. 2018 was my 17th visit back to Le Mans and it remains my favourite event by far.   The Le Mans race is the jewel in the crown of the World Endurance Championship and for the past 6 years I have covered rounds of this championship in Japan, the Middle East, USA, China and Mexico.

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Motorsports is not all you shoot. What else do you enjoy photographing?

I love shooting Landscapes, Urban, portraits…basically everything!  I the early nineties I joined a camera club and it was my time in the club that introduced me to other genres of photography besides motorsport. My motorsport photography style has a lot of portraiture and abstract images and I create those images based on ideas gained from outside the motorsport arena. I ended up being president of the camera club for nearly 10 years and every month I made sure we had a set subject in a competition that forced us to shoot something we wouldn’t normally shoot. It pushed us and made us better, more versatile photographers.

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What can you tell me about your physical condition? What is it? How long have you been managing it and how does it impact your day to day life? 

I have a degenerative nerve condition called HNPP. It was a late onset condition that affects the myelin sheath around the nerve. The myelin is damaged by pressure, external or internal and the lack of signal through the nerves results in muscle wasting to the area controlled by those nerves. I first had leg symptoms in the late eighties but it didn’t really cause issues with my arms till 1995 .The condition is not that common and there is a wide variance in the severity of HNPP. Some people may go through life not even knowing that they have it and then there is me! I’m the poster boy for the extreme end of the condition! 

I have carbon fibre braces on my legs as my ankles don’t lift and I have braces on both hands as I can’t open my right hand and my left one doesn’t close properly. I have no feeling in my hands or feet and despite several operations to remove nerve compression the condition continues to progress. There is quite a bit of nerve pain associated with the condition and the medicine regime has the inevitable side effects.  I work hard with my physio and medical team to minimise the impact of the condition on my daily activities and the advancements in my brace technology has made it easier to live a relatively normal life…. just don’t get behind me in an airport security queue, you will be there forever while they scan and swab all my attachments!!

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How has it impacted on your photography career? How have you overcome or managed adversity? 

I just couldn’t carry the weighty DSLR gear anymore so the switch to mirrorless has obviously helped with the weight and size and it also has reinvigorated my photography with all the technological goodies that goes with the modern day mirrorless. Other than the fact that I cant feel my finger on the shutter button and I have a few challenges kneeling down to get a better angle (tilt screens are a Godsend!) I’ve been lucky that the technology I wear on my effected limbs has enabled me to carry on my career…that and me being super stubborn and doing things that my doctors were convinced I would struggle to do!

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How has your photography helped you in dealing with this condition?

My photography was a passion before my condition was an issue and it remains a passion but now it also is a serves a distraction from the limitations and chronic pain that are now a part of my daily life. I go for a bike ride every morning to keep my legs strong and my mountain bike has been modified to help me ride it without crashing! I always take my little FUJIFILM X70 with me in my cycle jersey to capture a shot of the sunrise at our local ocean pool.  Some mornings I don’t feel like going, I’m too sore or I’m tired form a bad nights sleep, its my passion for photography and the fear of missing that perfect sunrise shot that gets me up and out on my bike!  In turn the exercise I do on those morning rides means that I can still travel the world !

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At what point in this process did you move to Fujifilm X Series cameras and what is some of your preferred gear? What do you typically take to a track event?

I started using the X series from the very first camera , the X100, released in 2011. I just loved the fixed 23mm lens (35mm) and the light weight and amazing 12mp sensor made the X100 a joy to use and freed me from carrying a bulky DSLR around cities like Paris. The X-Pro1 came out in 2012 and I started to use this to take my driver portraits and for action shots in the pit lane. I still had to use my Canon DSLR gear on track as Fujifilm didn’t have a high performance body and long lenses. That all changed with the X-T1 , X-T2 and the X-H1. The longer glass came as well including the 100-400mm. From 2015 I was completely Fujifilm kit and the Canon gear went on Ebay!.

My typical racetrack kit is 2 x X-H1 bodies , a few primes for pit lane work and a couple of zooms for the track shots. Primes , 16mm, 23mm, 56mm and 90mm. Zooms 50-140mm and 100-400mm. I’ve also been using the GFX for driver portraits and even a bit of on track action. But my go to Fujifilm everyday camera is the X100F ☺

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What advice would you give to others that are managing a physical condition about the need to seek a creative outlet such as photography?

Whilst there are obviously physical challenges with my condition in everyday life as well as in my photography career the mental challenges are equally difficult to deal with. Living with the chronic pain everyday and dealing with obvious detioration of my physical condition does test my resolve and generally positive outlook. The love and support from my wife and daughter is the cornerstone of my coping mechanism and they are very encouraging for me to continue my travels and photography. My medical team understand that its vital for my mental well being that I have my photography as an outlet and so are very proactive when it comes to fitting with me with the latest technological advancements. 

I’ve always been a glass half full kinda guy and all my efforts with exercise , physio and doing as the doctors tell me (most of the time) are geared towards allowing me to indulge in my passion for photography and spend time capturing memories with my family.

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Where can people see your work on social media?

Instagram @andrewh65

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2 thoughts on “SHOOTING THROUGH ADVERSITY! A PHOTOGRAPHERS JOURNEY – ANDREW HALL

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