Hands Not Thumbs /// 001 /// Grace TSP

Posted by Tom Dear on

DB: Why is adventure so important to you? What drives you to go out and experience the outdoors in the way that you are?

GTSP: I'm an adventure photographer, but more so than that,  I just love learning, you know? I'm constantly trying to pursue knowledge, and where I'm at right now is trying to work out how humans can move through life. It's the idea of movement that's really attracting me at the moment and what's coming through with my photography. I used to do a lot of landscape photography and I used to actually hate shooting people, I’d  just shoot land, like beautiful, beautiful landscapes.

And then, I just started to realise that the beautiful thing about these incredible landscapes, incredible rock formations, incredible oceans is actually the fact that we as humans can utilise them in really cool ways.

The sport usually comes before the photography, with the exception of Paragliding. Once I started rock climbing I pretty much immediately began shooting it and pretty quickly had the realisation that I wanted to become the best rock climber I could be to make myself a better climbing photographer. With diving it was definitely the sport first…I started diving way before I picked up and underwater camera!

But yeah, this realisation that we can move through the world in such incredible, fascinating ways that really shouldn't be possible just made me want to experience and document it all. I hope though my photography, I can inspire that wanderlust for other people to realise as well that if you're just walking through life, you're missing out on so much that you can be doing.

 

DB: You just seem to immerse yourself so fully into whatever you're shooting, you seem to pick up on the little nuances, that others may miss. So with that being said, is there a conscious effort from you to commit so heavily to each sport?

GTSP: It's kind of been different for every sport, but I guess the concept in general of trying to involve myself in these activities and not merely be a bystander, probably stemmed from my somewhat of an obsession with Hunter S Thompson. He was the author of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'. He was mainly a journalist more than he was a writer of novels, but he came up with this idea of Gonzo journalism.

One day, Rolling Stone magazine came to him and said, We want you to report on the Hells Angels. So what Thompson did was he actually got himself into the Hells Angels as a member, and spent the best part of the year just living as a Hells Angel and doing what the Hells Angels do.

He thought that was the best way he could possibly understand these people. He didn't know how else to write about the Hells Angels in any meaningful way, apart from immersing himself in that story.

So Gonzo journalism was born out of that, and that's definitely a concept that I've tried to take over into my photography.

So you saying that you've picked up on a couple of things in my pictures that maybe other people don't? That's done entirely intentionally.

With a lot of my climbing photography, I might just leave a little bit of leading line rope dangling in, where myself as the photographer is connected to the image, or in diving photography, for example, I recently took a shot that people went mental over. It was just a diver doing a safety stop on the line, but I got my camera as close as I could to myself, where I was actually having to hold on to that line. So just little things like that, that sort of just connect my side of the story as a photographer to the actual participant.

But coming back to the more skill side of things that's very, very important to me. I think if you're shooting rock climbing, and you don't know anything about rock climbing, it's never gonna work. You might be able to get some nice pictures, but if you don't know why that particular move is so incredibly impressive. I don't know how you can convey that story.

Also just from just from the point of safety as well, if you don't know what you're doing out there, then it's not gonna work is it?

My next step is Paragliding. I've really been getting into Paragliding photography recently, I have my friend Will to thank for that. He got me into it in lockdown … he learnt during the pandemic and I just started shooting him and it just really captivated me. My plan for the start of next year is actually to get my Paragliding certification, and then from there, branch into tandem.

So a lot of like big Paragliding competitions, the way that they're shot by photographers is on tandem. So there'll be a pilot at the back and then you can strap your photographer in at the front and get your shots that way. So because that's something that I'm really passionate about progressing, that's something that I now need to invest in.

And it's just a nice happy coincidence that is also a really fun looking sport. I want to do.

 

DB: I'm sure people go on to your social media account and say things like “I’m so jealous, Grace is out having the best time, she's going Scuba Diving, she's Paragliding, she's rock climbing etc etc” However, there's also a narrative of 'Instagram vs Reality'.

You post the most amazing things and people may have the right or wrong assumption of your life everyday. So with that, what's been the most challenging shoot you’ve had, that might look amazing, but was actually super challenging…or maybe not as amazing as you perhaps showcased it as? How did you make the most out of a bad situation like that?

GTSP: Yeah, it's really interesting question. There is definitely a lot that people don't see that goes into a shoot, for example, I recently did a rock climbing shoot on the West face of Tryfan with my friend Olivia, who's just an incredible rock climber. She was leading trad, and the plan was for me to second and shoot at the same time, but it just wasn't going to work because I wasn't at the same level that Olivia was on then, and that was the whole point of the shoot! I really wanted to get up close and personal with her actually starting to lead trad climbing as it was something that was quite new to her.

So in the end, I just I made the decision to untie and then I just free climbed the route instead. We had a third climber with us so there was no issue just leaving those two to belay each other and lock down those pitches, so I decided to take myself out of the situation of actually being tied in on that rock in order to get best shots.

but it’s very important I say that the route I was climbing was graded well below what I felt comfortable with.

DB: Yeah, people I guess don't associate the risk factor with some of these things. Like when you see the work of Jimmy Chin and what he's achieving, people see the amazing shot, but they don't see the prep or know about everything that's gone into that.

GTSP: Yeah! And it is a huge, financial burden too. Being able to prepare yourself for shots like this. And I think, coming back to the whole, Instagram versus reality thing, that's definitely a side that is glamorised a lot, you know, the world of adventure sports photography can be very lucrative. But the level that I'm at right now, it's not. 

It's definitely more a case of, I'm putting so much into it, in terms of getting these skill sets. I recently did my rope access course, which is really important for big wall climbing. When you see Jimmy Chin hanging off a huge shear rock face -that takes a lot of skill to be able to read a mountain like that, and get that setup right. So that's something that I recently invested in, in order to then expand my skill set and be able to actually get work on these sort of big wall shoots!

 

DB: So to follow on from that, what do people commonly get wrong about you and your craft?

GTSP: One thing that's really been bugging me recently, I don't think people really appreciate photography as a craft as much as they should do.

I think that's because anyone can pick up a camera now - and that's absolutely fantastic, but by the same token, people don't realise just how much goes into being a photographer.

The biggest way that I've seen that come to fruition is through people asking me to do free work for them, and that really does grind my gears, because yes, I'm not the most experienced photographer in the world, hopefully, one day, I will be, but that doesn't mean that I can then get taken advantage of because of that.

I have brands that have got in touch say: "Oh, can you just shoot this for me? It will be great for exposure for you..." And it's just got a bit too much now for me.

DB: Freelance ain't free!

GTSP: Yeah, exactly! You know, you wouldn't ask a Graphic Designer who's just starting out to work for free, you might ask for a lesser rate, but you still got to appreciate their craft. So, without getting too grumpy about it, I think some people think that because what I do for a nine-to-five looks really fun, I don't need paying properly for it. I feel like that's quite a big assumption.

DB: So, moving forward then,  reflecting on what you've achieved so far. What do you thinks been the biggest lesson you've learned? And what's the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

GTSP: That's really interesting. I think a big learning point for me was actually believing myself, as I’ve struggled with incredible imposter syndrome.

I used to do my photography alongside being a Graphic Designer, and then when I quit my design role, I thought, "shit, I'm taking my photography full time now!"

I then had to start telling people who asked me "What do you do?" I'm an adventure photographer! For so long, I didn't believe that. I don't know, It’s hard to explain. It was really tough, convincing myself this is what I do. I'm good at it, I know I'm good at it, and yeah, for a while, I didn't think it came across to people that I was telling it to.

I think the moment where I had to believe in myself was that moment when I took it full time, that was sort of the the do-or-die moment, like I've got to make this work.

I think it was actually really good for me. Putting that pressure on it might not work for everyone but having the pressure of like, right, I'm going to quit my lovely safe salary job to do this full time, it gave me that incentive. I don't think I could have done that if I'd have still been doing it alongside my graphic design job.

 

DB: Lastly, as you know, the Dayebreak brand is less about coffee, and more about empowering people to have the best day possible. To wake up and just get after it! So for you, what would a perfect Dayebreak day look like?

GTSP: You've got to get up early. I get the whole having a lie-in thing, but the morning is such an amazing time of the day, you've got to get out there and make the most of it!

The morning is really where where I thrive. When you're in the mountains you don't have an infinite window of daylight, you really do have to start your adventures with the sun rising, and I think that's a metaphor for life as well.

The other thing that has probably come through from this interview, and something I think ties in with what Dayebreak is trying to encourage through being "Architects of Adventure", is expand your skill set, whatever way that is, whatever you might be interested in, go and try it.

I do a lot of different sports, I am not an expert in any of them, I'm sort of bang average, in a lot of these disciplines, but I really enjoy it!

I could be a very good rock climber, I know I could be if I fully dedicated to it, but I've got so much other stuff going on that I want to try, I don't just want to limit myself to that one thing.

I know that I'm never going to have any regrets because I'm always constantly trying new things.

Just don't have regrets, expand your skill set and just learn - just don't stop learning in life. That's so important.

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