“Hello from the Arctic! Baffin Island to be precise,” Adrian Fisk greets me over email from the shooting location of his new documentary (though he’s usually based in the more stable climate of Dartmoor). Despite most people’s skirting away from such extreme weather, Adrian is no stranger to the harsh elements of planet earth. “By a twist of fate, I was in Bangladesh, just 20 years old, in 1991 when one of the deadliest tropical cyclones in history made landfall there,” Adrian explains to It’s Nice That, speaking about how he got his start in photography. “Being there determined the trajectory of my entire life. The cyclone whipped up a terrible wave 30-foot high. This tore into the coastline, which in places sits just inches above sea level, at a speed of 90 miles per hour. With so little standing in its way, the wave crashed miles inland: obliterating everything and everyone in its path.” Adrian narrates to us the devastating loss of 136,000 Bangladeshis, and how officials in the epicentre mistook himself and his friend as journalists, proceeding to bundle them both into a run-down army helicopter about to take off on an aid drop.
“I had a stills camera on me, and, flying low over mile after mile of utter devastation, I instinctively leant out of the window and began to record the scenes of havoc below,” Adrian fascinatingly continues. “It was in those moments, on that flight, that I became a photojournalist. I realised, as if it was an epiphany, that being a skilled cameraman would give me access to practically any place, person, or situation I could imagine in life.”
Along with the huge privilege Adrian felt to be in the “front row” of history, he also experienced a feeling of great responsibility: to share what he had seen in order to inspire help for those who’d been caught in the cyclone’s path. He knew that in capturing and conveying circumstances such as these and in using these stories as a form of activism, to push for change in the world, that he had found his life’s calling. “30 years later, and with just as much hunger for truth and knowledge as when I first set foot on that helicopter as a young man, I continue to believe that filmmaking and photography are the most powerful tools we have to map and feel the richly varied contours of human experience; and to build empathy and appreciation for all the wonder, majesty, hope and despair that are the gifts and trials of each life on this amazing planet.”
Adrian’s photographic odyssey has been a journey of epic proportion; his work has been featured in Vogue, Nat Geo, Vanity Fair, and The Economist, and has taken him everywhere from the heart of London’s 1990s rave scene, to Himalayan trails with remote Maoist insurgents, into the minds of Chinese youth and into the spirit-lands of Amazonian shamans in deep South American jungle. And here, on home soil, it took him to tree-top environmental protests in the English countryside, which Adrian’s latest book project, Until the Last Oak Falls, aims to archive. “I tend to inhabit, or at least steep myself in, the worlds and lives I chronicle,” he explains to us of his deftly dedicated and involved practice. “I love to lean into a story: I’m convinced the greater the proximity and connection I have with a subject, the more vivid, urgent and immediate the photographs or films I’m making become. Quoting Robert Capa, Adrian believes that “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” This close-up and intimate work has got him exhibited in the Courtauld Institute of Art in London for its Biennale, and in the Saatchi Gallery.