I'm the guy on the right. Almost 20 years ago exactly.
The four of us were camped for a week on a remote volcanic island on the Antarctic Peninsula 1200 miles from nowhere after just crossing the Drake Passage on Christmas in a 44' sailboat and rolling over twice—all on the heels of sailing for 50 days across the Southern Ocean from New Zealand to South America.
Before we'd left Ushuaia, Argentina the week prior, I stuffed a thousand rolls of 35mm and medium format film in double, Zip-Lock bags into the bilge, four camera bags with five bodies and ten lenses into the head (a.k.a the bathroom), and hoisted a skinned sheep into the rigging for New Year's Eve dinner. Ostensibly I was on assignment for National Geographic Adventure magazine, writing about one of the first combined climate and climbing expeditions down an uncharted stretch of the Antarctica Peninsula. Personally it ended up being the greatest trip of my life.
In the same way that iconic photography doesn't originate in a digital darkroom, great storytelling doesn't spring to life from Grammarly or AI. Words that move people, like magic light, (at least for now) can't be manipulated or coerced from pixels, algorithms, or automated decision making. They're envisioned, practiced, planned, rehearsed, rehashed, and humanly painfully earned. I learned this 20 years ago the hard way, and the creative lessons from that Antarctica trip still shape everything about how I approach narrative and visual storytelling today.
I never studied photography or cinematography in school the way I studied writing (I took seven years of Latin and five years of Greek and am still virtually unbeatable at Scrabble) so I never had mentors who taught me the ropes. Back in the 1990s the Internet didn't exist either so you couldn't learn lighting tricks or replicate the pros' techniques by watching YouTube. You read books from masters like Galen Rowell instead and scrutinized every Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz photo that you could get your hands on, reverse-engineering how every frame was shot, where the shadows fell, and how they somehow always caught the light of the High Sierra or Mick Jagger at just the right angle and time. You figured it out. On your own. Shot by shot. Until you nailed it yourself.
That same obsessive attention to detail, technique, and creative precision in the pursuit of original storytelling still drives everything about how I write today—whether it's a Forbes feature on a country music star or an ice hotel in Greenland, a podcast interview with a crypto billionaire in her Miami penthouse, or the memoir of Hollywood's top stuntman. Technology, the internet, and social media have revolutionized everything about how we simultaneously communicate about and consume the world around us—and how we as writers, photographers, filmmakers, and creative artists realize our clients' visions.
At its root, however, bold indelible storytelling still originates with Zip-Lock bags, salt-crusted notebooks, and sheep in the rigging. It's also much more fun than sitting in front of a computer pushing pixels or letting Grammarly do the hard work for you.