One year ago, a boy by the name of Tyler Grace left me a comment on my fan page that made me realize for the first time that as a “public figure“, I had the power to change peoples lives. – Fast forward to February of this year, I received an email from his sister Bianca telling me that his 21st birthday was coming up and that there was nothing he wanted more in the world than to meet me for his 21st birthday. Although they couldn’t afford to fly me in, a 2 minute personalized video would mean the world to him. At the time, I happened to be touring in Singapore and I thought to myself: When am I ever going to be this close to Australia again? Why just make a video when it was within my power to make an impossible dream come true? I rescheduled my return flights, bought a ticket for myself to small town Albury, Australia and had Bianca prepare a box with a bow that I could fit in. Check out his expression, it’s priceless.
How it came together
The ticket was the easy part. Though I had already bought the ticket, I hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to actually pay for it. The plan was to give a conference and use the funds raised from that to help pay for the travel but since the entire trip had to be a secret, I couldn’t actually post anything online without Tyler finding out!! I proceeded to make a secret group on facebook to try and softly spread the word through a couple dedicated, motivated and passionate fans. In the meantime, conversations with Bianca kept going in between planning my underwater shoot in Bali and fire shoot in Singapore. I didn’t want to just show up at his house and grab a coffee with him, I wanted to do something memorable for him and together we began to discuss what Tyler was physically able to do and what he might enjoy doing; A photoshoot at a lake depicting his struggles in life and relationship with his sister, a canoe trip (he hadn’t been on a canoe since he was 8!), a rodeo (never been to one, and he’s Australian!), the Von Wong conference (where he would be invited to share his story) and last but not least the chance to be on the set of an actual “Epic Von Wong photoshoot” in an abandoned brickworks with models, hair and makeup where he would be invited to take shots of his own. Parallel to all this, I was hoping to have some way of documenting the adventure as I thought it would make a great memory. As a result, I hit up my friend Sam and his wife Silvia who had just accompanied me to Asia on my Cheap Camera challenge with DigitalREV and asked if they would be interested in coming along and help me document the journey. Despite the fact that none of them were videographers and that there was zero budget, they both enthusiastically hoped on board to contribute to the cause and use the surprise as an excuse to visit Australia for the first time. All that was left was to make our way to the right airport without slipping up. We got into the local newspaper! Read article here.
Thoughts and ramblings
For the longest time I’ve been wanting to do a project with the Make a Wish foundation – the idea of a terminal child getting their wish granted just seemed like something extremely beautiful to capture but unfortunately things just never quite panned out. When the email from Bianca came through, it seemed like too beautiful of a project to pass on by. I think it is projects like these that truly give meaning to what we do as creatives. What use is all the fame and popularity that is accumulated over a lifetime if it can’t be put to use and change the world for the better? The projects for a terminal lady last September, my Eliza fundraising video that raised over a million dollars, and now this one are some of my proudest accomplishments. This photo of Tyler and his sister struggling through the mud towards a better and brighter future is something I think all of us can relate to in some way, shape or form. We all go through hardship, pain and suffering at some point in our life and if there is some way we can reach out and help at little or no cost… should we not try? I’ve always said that a photo consists of two stories: The photos themselves and the process in how they were created. In this series of images, the photos themselves tell a simple fashion story featuring a couple beautifully styled models (thank you Aster for the styling!) in a dirty grungy location. And while the photos are pretty, the story on how they came about is so much more exciting. The entire shoot was planned in secret through a private facebook group, scouting was done by helpful fans, and all the models, makeup and hairstylists were found by another fan I never met before, Deep Golder, who had spent weeks slowly but quietly accumulating potential individuals that would be interested in shooting with me “in the near future”. While all this was happening, Bianca made a fake account to participate in conversations and monitored Tyler’s facebook to make sure that he didn’t suspect anything. Inquiring discretely about what Tyler’s dream shoot would potentially be, we tried to style things accordingly so that he would be offered the opportunity to shoot on a set larger than he’d ever done before. And then somehow, magically, everything finally coming together for us to actually have a successful photoshoot where I had the chance to demonstrate to Tyler how I worked… and for him to have a chance at shooting some shots of his own.
One of the great things about building a brand on inspiration, is that I am supported by companies that are equally passionate and motivated that help me make what I do possible. I reached out to a couple of these sponsors, asking them to also sponsor some gifts of their own for Tyler’s 21st and to my great pleasure, I had some great responses:
- Cotton Carrier for a camera vest system that would help Tyler’s back by evenly distributing the weight of the camera towards the front of his body.
- SmugMug for a 5 year business website subscription to help him display and sell his work.
- Think Tank for a StreetWalker HardDrive backpack to help him carry his gear around.
At the end of the day though, I personally declare that the best gift he received was a pink (or possibly purple) unicorn that I found for him at the Kayabram rodeo to remember me by. Curious to know what things were like from Tyler’s point of view? Read his blog here and give him a like on facebook!
- Part 1: Day 1 – The Surprise
- Part 2 – Day 2 and 3 – Newspaper articles, a photo shoot and more
- Part 3 – Searching for wild kangaroos and the rodeo
- Part 4 – Canoeing, Fetish Clubs and the Conference
- Part 5 – To come….
1) “How does one get sponsored?” Stop thinking about what you want – but think about what you can give. What do you have to give? Why is it in someone’s best interest to support you? What do they have to gain? Nothing in life is free. Remember that and it’ll be a step in the right direction. 2) “When will you come visit me?” The simple answer is: When I can. Hire me, get me hired, or wait until my adventures bring me to your neighbourhood! Alternatively, feel free to inspire me!e First and foremost, I have a career to build so that I can keep delivering inspirational adventures to you guys! ^^ If you’re wondering what my travel plans are in the near future, download my Von Wong app and get notified when I’m close by! Next stops are Toronto, San Francisco and Cologne, Germany!