Nick’s career as an ocean photographer began later in life after a tumultuous few years struggling with alcohol addiction. As a young adult, Nick describes himself as a ‘complete rogue’ who used ‘alcohol as a distraction from his real problems.' But this is not a story of failure, sadness, or retrospective self-righteousness. This is a story a man who used his love for the sea to rebuild his mental health and overcome addiction.
Having overcome addiction and the gang of problems that trawl after it, Nick wants to use his experiences to provide a new style of rehabilitation. Learning to love the sea again was a huge part of his own recovery, and he aims to use this natural resource as a teacher, friend and source of inspiration for anyone battling addiction.
‘It was the Facebook revolution’
While working as a diving instructor and crewing multi million pound yachts, Nick tenderly took up a camera, to start snapping some memories of the turquoise waters and palm edged shores to share with bright eyed Facebookers back home. Unashamedly, he admits that he was ‘all the gear, no idea’ (as they say in the yacht world), but photography soon became a hobby, with particular focus on seascapes and surf. But despite his slightly surreal existence working the super yacht scene in all number of fabulous destinations, there was a something missing. Sense of failure and lacklustre life took hold, and social drinking quickly mutated into a malignant and dysfunctional relationship with alcohol.
‘I hated everything. I knew what I was doing to myself and I felt guilty. Even though I knew it was my fault, I blamed everything else.’ Like a tide that ebbs from the shore, the ocean that Nick had fallen in love with at such a young age had started to slip away from him. Over the years of his addiction to the sea was always tantalisingly close. Having started his career in the Navy at 16 and subsequently training as a diving instructor before becoming a commercial diver working on film sets, what should have been enjoyable and profitable opportunities were dulled and dashed against the rocks by the encompassing nature of his addiction. After a succession of lost jobs and his creativity and love for the water at an all time low, Nick returned to England where he sought professional help.
‘I found my higher power.’
Going to rehab encouraged Nick to search for something meaningful to guide his rehabilitation and help set goals and rules for the future. For him, the answer was obvious. ‘The sea is a sanctuary,’ he says profoundly. The layers of awe and respect in this statement are powerful, almost tangible, and I understand that this is only the beginning of Nick’s creative journey. It wasn’t long after that Nick found himself booked onto an arctic surfing trip in Norway, all paid for through his new source of income - using the money he’d saved from not drinking. But it wasn’t quite the start to the trip Nick anticipated when the leader Tim Nunn, an established surf photographer suffered an injury which prevented him from travelling. Armed with determination, Tim’s spiritual guidance, and his camera, Nick ventured out alone. The icy waters rekindled his passion for the sea and brought to him new purpose and motivation with the break of each wave.
A successful first project in Norway and a documentation of the trip in Carve, a leading surf magazine brought things into focus for Nick, who was suddenly able to see a new horizon of opportunity in the world of surf and ocean photography. Keen to share his experiences (both good and bad), venues, clubs and societies around the Bristol area hosted Nick as an inspirational speaker, which saw him share his stories with She Extreme, Bristol Surf Society and Bath Spa Media students, as well as a sellout talk at Spoke & Stringer (Bristol).
‘I see a lot of emotion in the sea.’
There is a certain awe captured in Nick’s photos that tells me there’s more below the surface. These photos are more than just the product of a hobby, they’re the trophies of his recovery. Milestones in a journey that is far from over. The dark composition Nick favours is his stamp of realism on a very romanticised image. ‘I’m trying to show people the actual rawness of being a surfer in England. This water is cold and dark, it’s not Hawaii. There is a raw passion in the surfers. That’s why I like to get close, to capture the expression of their body as they work with the ocean.’
‘Never ever think you know.’
Having flunked most of his formal education, the sea has been an important teacher for most of Nick’s life. The camaraderie and team mentality instilled in the Navy remains an important factor for the surfer in Nick. The vast uncertainty of the deep had been a lesson in liberation for Nick, inspiring him to feel free and overcome the enclosed and secretive nature of his addiction. Such an uncertain and powerful force as the ocean demands an unparalleled respect from those who take to her waters. ‘You’re constantly in the danger zone, never take a wave break for granted. Anything can happen. It's very easy to get your blinkers on and see the work through the viewfinder, but in the sea, you need to have a 360 view.’
‘I’d like to set up a group for addicts and take them them down to the sea. It washes away that bad time.’
The future holds a lot for Nick as an up and coming surf photographer. He has big plans for developing and continuing his career as a photographer, as well as a voice over artist. But giving back to the recovery and rehabilitation system is big on his to do list. For him, the sea was a therapy in itself. Something that reminded him that the world is so much bigger and stronger than you, so you have to fight your corner and never give up. Mastering the sea by overcoming fears and allowing yourself to float freely on the waves without fear, or walk along a beach to look out into the vastness of the ocean is an empowering and hugely emotional experience. He wants to enable and empower people with this natural treasure trove as a resource in addiction recovery.
Nick uses a Canon 5D Mark IV with a 50 ml lens in water for clarity at a close proximity, in AquaTech Housing.
For shots from the beach he uses a telephoto 200/ 400 ml lens.
You can find his work on Instagram: @nicko_photo