It’s May 2020. The UK has been in lockdown for over a month leaving many people feeling isolated and anxious.
Photographer and long-time Wasted Talent stalwart Nick Pumphrey turned to where he feels most at home – the sea.
In May he dedicated to taking his camera in the sea for every dawn of the month, and sharing his experience each morning with ten photographs on Instagram. His ritual was known as #DawnDaysOfMay
Filmmaker Greg Dennis documented Nick’s ritual and in turn, has produced a wonderfully honest and profound look at the challenges of mental health, as well as the important role creativity and nature plays in allowing us to be present and overcome feelings of negativity and despair.
We sat down with Nick to gain a deeper insight of the anxieties he’s experienced, his creative endeavours and what books have helped him in the pursuit of happiness.
Wasted Talent: You’re one of the most positive people we know, yet you touch upon your experience with anxiety, depression and mental health. It seems to be a bit of stigma, especially amongst men. Can you talk a little about your experience with those things and how you conquer those feelings?
Nick Pumphrey: I think anxiety and levels of depression are very common in our fast paced forward thinking way of life. Personally I have naturally chased the things that I love, thirty two years of riding waves is a small example of that. Subconsciously this has helped to keep me pretty happy, but as I grow and learn more about the world, experience emotional triggering situations, feel the pressures of ‘society’ I become aware of how fragile I can be, and at the same time be awake to the plethora of root causes. It’s through recognizing these feelings and thoughts that I can try to remove myself from them.
I’m not sure if even the most enlightened Buddhist monks ‘Conquer those feelings’ but their teachings especially when it comes to being more present and finding your path in life have something special to be learnt. This subject has recently been more interesting to me, little by little my inner peace and understanding of myself grows, it’s definitely a lifetime endeavour,but for sure one that can be so liberating in time.
What specific books helped?
‘The Power of Now’, ‘The Four Agreements’, ‘Soil, Soul, Society’ , readings and exercises from ‘Wim Hoff’ and some stuff with Deepak Chopra, especially ‘The 21 Days of Abundance’
How did Dawn Days affect your approach to photography?
It was totally refreshing and brand new! After reading ‘The Power of Now’ in April, my approach to photography was all about just turning up with the camera and documenting what was directly in front of me, under the most potentially beautiful dawn light. No expectation, no brief, no pressure from anyone or myself, just be there and see what happens, reminding myself to just be present and enjoy what was there. The dawn swims were always surprising, sun rises flaring over and over again, birds mistaking me for a seal, the moonlight dancing on the textures, all sorts going on, was pretty wild once I started getting more and more into it and in turn becoming more and more awake to the smallest details.
What is it about the ocean that helps you find peace?
It’s my happy place, it always has been, the beach and the sea in St Ives, Cornwall was my playground as I grew up. I was always fascinated by the ocean and those feelings have never left me. I would love to learn more about our connections to the sea. I mean we ARE nature and I feel today that has been forgotten. It can become more like us AND nature but in reality everything in the natural world is connected in absolute harmony. If that last sentence is realised then finding peace in nature makes total sense and could explain why the sea does what it does for me. If everything is energy, and we are all vibrating on different frequencies, what if at times we and the sea are vibrating on the same level? Does that explain the ‘peace’? I don’t know, but for sure there is some more profound stuff going on.
How do you overcome anxiety triggers out of the water?
I read a great book a few years back called ‘The Untethered Soul’ and it explained anxiety quite perfectly. Anxiety triggers are everywhere and in constant flux. If i’m thinking about the future too much, imagining scenarios or trying to figure out/control what could happen then I am opening up myself to those anxious feelings. It’s basically my brain trying to figure out something that has not happened and therefore impossible to come to any clear conclusion. The brain and the gut are connected via the ‘vagus nerve’ which explains those uncomfortable feelings in the stomach, these sensations become an indicator to myself of which I have learnt to recognise and change by coming back to the more present moment.
You’re incredibly honest with your emotions in the video. How did Greg approach you and were you nervous about being so vulnerable and open with him?
The whole approach to this film has been both honest and organic. I swam for 14 days before Greg asked if he could join. At first we would just swim, he would film and I would continue to photograph. It wasn’t too long before Greg felt like there could be a story to tell. One day he gave me a nice cold beer and sat me down to question me and release some thoughts. I spoke for 45 minutes and if you know me then that is a lot! We did a second little sitting as he wanted a few more questions to make sense of the visuals then we were kinda done. So the majority of the words that you hear in the film just came out, it was all on feeling. It was very raw and straight from the heart. Greg is a good friend so I was totally comfortable with talking to him and looking back on the film I feel totally at peace with what was said. I feel that Mike Guest and James Warbey were amazing. They had bigger struggles than me and turned them around massively through that same ocean and creative connection, as well as Pete Leakey, who made the incredible original soundtrack. By watching ocean visuals sent from Greg he produced beautiful emotive music. We all had struggles and being creative gave us a collective release which amazingly ended up in this film that Greg has weaved together so brilliantly.
How has Dawn Days impacted you since?
Well it has been well received by people all over the place. Already, after a week of the film being released, I have heard some lovely stories of rekindled creative projects, folk going for swims in their nearest body of water, men and women saying how emotion and tears had been released whilst watching. The impact of the film for me personally is one of warm hearted satisfaction after releasing some emotion on the first few viewings. Now there is more of a grande feeling that small positive acts do make bigger ripples, it has fired me up for this autumn and winter, to swim with the camera more, to encourage and inspire through creativity and to stay connected to the big ole Mother Ocean.
What have you planned for the rest of the 2020 shitshow?
Continue ignoring the mainstream narrative news bullshit. Drink fine red wine. More Dawn Days. Surround myself with good people. Learn to grow food. Catch some waves. Believe that there is goodness out there. Where there is dark there is light.