On Boxing day, 2004, an earthquake in the Indian ocean caused the deadliest tsunami and natural disaster in recorded history, killing 250,000 people in 11 countries. At that time I was employed as a press photographer covering news for the nationals in the South West of England. Tom Henderson, the founder of a small charity in Cornwall called me within hours of it happening. He asked: “Will you go and oversee the aid being deployed in Sri Lanka?”
I surf and still have a huge affiliation with the sea, I’ve spent most of my life looking at the horizon, waiting on the next swell so I was up for it. Even at the risk of getting sacked. Fuck it, I was on a mission to help people, and so was he.
I was employed by a press agency at that time, and they supplied all my kit which included all the digital Nikons, laptops and transmission gear. These guys refused to let me go. So I took my holiday leave and left all their digital gear at home. I grabbed my Leica M6 with a 35mm f2.0 lens and fifty rolls of Fuji 400 colour film, and got on the next available flight to Colombo.
The drive to Heathrow was a lonely experience. It was Hogmanay when I arrived in Sri Lanka. I had left everything at home, including my girlfriend and my family to help people in a country I had never been to before. I was risking everything with Apex and the Western Morning News, but it was the most liberating experience, I felt free and I was taking a risk. I had no digital gear, just an old Leica and some film. I was on a survival mission, but with emergency kit that could help people who’s lives had been wrecked just days before.
The rest is for another story, but what I am getting at here is that I used film in the jungle, and it was for months. I operated alone in LTTE controlled areas. I stayed in a hospital with tsunami victims. That was the only accommodation available. Not a great experience.
Almost ten years later, here I am in 2014, scanning the first batch of negatives at Falmouth University on a Hasselblad flextight scanner. The first scan I did was of the worst train crash in recorded history, near Galle. Over 1,500 people died on that train when they were moving South on Boxing Day. So here is the first professional scan of one image in thousands that I have never published until now.