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Jaimen Hudson: Aerial Photography Connected Me Back To The Ocean

Dive into the world of Jaimen Hudson, a quadriplegic photographer whose lens captures the breathtaking beauty of the ocean. From Jaimen's passion for photography to his incredible documentary Sky to Sea this was a fantastic chat.

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Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name's Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. This week I have Jaimen Hudson. . If you don't know Jaimen, he's an amazing photographer and cinematographer. He's based in W.A., and a lot of his work is capturing the ocean whales, seals, dolphins. I will link his Instagram in the description, but his work is just beautiful and it was an absolute thrill to talk to him. So without any further ado, here's Jaimen.


Jaimen [00:01:02] Thank you so much for having me Peta. My name is Jaimen Hudson. I am a quadriplegic due to the result of a motorbike accident when I was 17. So it's crazy to think in two years I'll be in a wheelchair for the same amount of time that I was walking around. And I have sort of been lucky to not let my accident define who I am. I guess so. And not to give up after I've been pretty lucky to have a great life after that. I have a successful photography business. I'm very lucky to travel to do that. And we also run an accommodation business and an island cruise business. And I now am married with two children. I've got a little boy that's four. Van middle name, Captain. So we call him Captain and, and my daughter is Sunday and she's one year old. So. Yeah. Leed great life despite the the big hurdles I have in front of me every day.


Peta [00:01:58] I always find a really interesting how people introduce themselves on the pod and like sometimes I have complete conversations where my guest doesn't even mention their disability. So I always find it really interesting. And how you say that, you know, you're going to be in a wheelchair for the same amount of time that you weren't in a wheelchair. Do you find being disabled and having a disability identity gets easier as you go on? Or is different challenges sort of raise their heads and you're like, Oh, I've got to unpack this. This is just another area of disabled life I hadn't thought about before.


Jaimen [00:02:36] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, not too much comes my way any more that I'm not used to or that I don't expect. You know, I, I definitely think, you know, time heals all wounds. It's to the point now that I almost don't know any different any more, you know, like it was a long time ago that I was able to jump out of bed in the morning whenever I wanted to and have a shower. I mean, I get hoisted out of bed every morning. I have careers come. But that's just my norm, you know, I don't remember any different really. And every day you do that 365 days a year for 15 years, you better get used to it. Otherwise it's going to be a bit of a hard slog for your life. I even hated the word quadriplegic when I first had my accident because like when you hear the word quadriplegic, you my take on it was that you sort of couldn't really do anything for yourself, you know, But it basically just made you have impairment in all four limbs. And now I just sort of it is who I am, really. And I mean, like if I was just a drone photographer and I wasn't a quadriplegic, I mean, people would probably like my videos, but I don't think my story would resonate with them as much. I have a huge amount of people contact me online and they say that they draw a lot of inspiration from my story. And I think sometimes it takes seeing other people and what they're going through to realise like what you're perhaps going through is not that bad. And there's often people worse off. I was contacted by someone the other day who had seen the documentary from Sky To Sea that was sort of people that don't know based around my life story and returning to the ocean again. And they their family friends had a four year old that fell out of a tree and had acquired quadriplegia from it. And you think a four year old like. You know, at least I had lived quite a lot before I had my accident. And no time is ever a good time. 17. Still very young. But, you know, you think of a poor four year old. I can't even really comprehend probably what they're going through. You know, it just breaks your heart. So many other people with cancer and all sorts going on. It's a lot of people that just battle mental health issues, you know, and that's like an invisible disability really, because they they don't physically have anything wrong with them, but they wake up every morning and they might just be in like a negative mindset. And I have they would contact me and I said, I feel bad for feeling down because of like they say what I'm going through and I can't comprehend why they feel so sorry for themselves. But I said, I think it's just a chemical imbalance in your brain. It's not your fault necessarily. It's just sadly, the way the card you've been dealt in life almost.


Peta [00:05:27] Your photography and your cinema. You know, cinema photography is just stunning. Like, I love your work. Honestly, I, I planning on buying a piece for my studio. I just love the ocean. And as somebody who has a physical disability like you. I'm fascinated to your relationship with the ocean now. Like I. I know you grew up in and around the ocean. Your parents are in a diving company. But how did you go about connecting back with the ocean? Like often as disabled people, we look at the ocean, but we're not necessarily in it.


Jaimen [00:06:03] Absolutely. Yeah. And I mean, that's really how aerial photography all came about for me. I was actually it sort of stumbled upon it really. It was the technology was just emerging. And we had someone come into our shop here and they wanted to go down to Lake Hillier the next day because we did boat trips and likely has this beautiful pink lake out on Middle Island. We took him down there and he showed me some of the footage and immediately I saw the cool perspective it gave you. And I thought, Wow, this is like incredible. And perhaps it's something I can do from my wheelchair because obviously surfing, skateboarding, motorbike riding, even normal handheld photography, it was not possible for me due to my hand function no longer working. Immediately. I was just hooked. I fell in love with it, and I wanted to be out and about flying as much as I could. And I was very lucky that that is what gave me my connection to the ocean again, because on a sunny day, you know, I would quite often sit around at the house just sort of waiting for my friends to finish surfing or doing whatever they were doing so we could hang out again in the evenings. I didn't. Other than working in the business, I didn't have like, I didn't have anything to do. I couldn't drive myself anywhere. As soon as I got into droning, that meant I could be out searching for wildlife or at the beach filming, so Jess could be down on the beach enjoying it, and I could be flying the drone around, taking photos. And yet so that's what really allowed me to reconnect to the ocean again was the aerial photography.


Peta [00:07:34] Your movie Sky To Sea I definitely want to touch on. But when I was watching it, I was really struck by how patient you have to be to do your job. Like, it sounds completely logical. Of course you do, because whales and sea lions just don't appear when you want them to be. But also you have to be patient because other people have to set the drone up for you. Like, how do you manage your anxiety and your patience when you know that there's a shot that you want to get, but things aren't happening as quickly as you maybe like it to be?


Jaimen [00:08:08] That's a very good point. I wish there was like a behind the scenes film crew with me every time I went drone because now things are different for me. I can drive a car as of about two years ago. I've got a car that I can stay in my wheelchair and drive independently and I can go out there and film. So I just use a bit of a smaller drawing than the massive one you would have seen in the documentary there. And everyone sees my Instagram on my face and I think, Oh God, there's whales and dolphins around all the time. You're lucky. And I'm like, Well, not really. Like I am out searching constantly. Like, that is my life. I tell you, if I'm not with the family or the kids or working here, then I'm out looking for wildlife. It's like an addiction that I have to search and try and film these unique scenarios. And, you know, if you think I've been droning for nearly ten years, so in 2024, it'll be ten years to only about six months ago to learn how to change a battery on your own. That means I'd go out there and fly one battery. And it was still incredible scenes going on. I'd have to just try and hope that someone else came out and helped me change a battery or I'd ring Jess and get in a race out there and, you know, you do get frustrated, but there's no point in my frustration doesn't garner you anything, you know what I mean? You just really just got to learn to deal with it. And I think having a disability, mind you, you get patience anyway because you're always to like an unusual schedule. Like I said earlier, you don't jump out of bed at like five in the morning and go chase a sunset, like everything's got to be planned out. And my care is come at 7:00 every morning. So like you sort of waiting around and then you get hoisted out of bed and it takes you roughly an hour or an hour and a half, an hour and 45 minutes to get ready for the day. So I think having a disability like mine, it sort of you're forced to practice patience.


Peta [00:10:00] And as a photographer, I'm sure you're always thinking about the next great shot that you want to get. Is there anything that is on your bucket list that you'd love to capture?


Jaimen [00:10:11] I love, like when there's two spaces interacting like a wild and a dolphin, or if I could get blue whales and dolphins, that would be really cool. I'd also like to film orcas. Our boat goes away every year to Braemar Bay to do research on orcas and also the tuna. And that would be amazing to be able to go over there and film those.


Peta [00:10:31] When I when I look on your Instagram, I mean, obviously it's filled with beautiful shots. That goes without saying. And for anybody who hasn't seen it, I'll link it in the description. But what really stands out to me as a wheelchair user is the fact you're in a manual wheelchair often on this end. And like, for me, that doesn't compute because I don't know how you ever get a manual wheelchair on the sand. Whenever I say marketing for disability related organisations, I get really annoyed when they put that manual wheelchair on the side because you just know that that isn't the thing. So how do you get on the sand?


Jaimen [00:11:09] That would just be my wife or my family dragging me through the sand into a spot. More recently, I haven't taken my manual wheelchair on the beach in ages because I got a Magic Mobility X8, which is just an absolute game changer for me. Like. West Beach is sort of across the road from my house and I go across the road down this like steep emergency track onto the sand and within like a matter of seven minutes, I timed it the other day I'm on the beach with the kids playing chases and stuff. It's been the best thing ever that that full drive wheelchair. So yeah, I know exactly what you mean. There's always the photo, but they don't show the behind the scenes story of how you actually got there. And that's always just brute force and and manhandling. Really dragging me along the beach. Yeah.


Peta [00:12:02] And as we mentioned before, you did have a documentary about you and your life and your work Sky To Sea, how did that come about and why did you decide to go ahead with that project?


Jaimen [00:12:15] Yes. That all kind of that quiet organically and a bit by chance. A very, very long time ago. ABC and Tokyo Broadcasting over several years chartered our boat to go down to Braemar Bay and Point Ann and to film Southern right whales. And one of the cameramen on there was Leighton Debarros and he was the producer of the documentary. Fast forward about 20 years. I just happened to bump into him when we were both doing a drone course in Perth, and I hadn't seen him for quite a long time. And he said, Look, I love what you're doing and I think it's a really cool story and I think we could try and make a documentary out of it. And I was like, Oh, that would be incredible. You know anyone that wants to make a documentary about your life story, it's pretty. I don't know what the exact right where it is, but it's very it's an honour. You know what I mean? You feel sort of am I worthy of that? But when he sort of came up with the idea and then we were wondering what the grand final for it could all be, because, of course, you can't just have a documentary about my story and my drone. There sort of needs to be an ending to it all. And we sort of thought it. My idea was to get back in the ocean for the first time in 13 years. And and we did that. And I mean, know the final of the documentary couldn't have gone any better of us up north with the whale sharks and the humpback whales and the dolphins and everything like that. It was just an incredible, incredible opportunity to be a part of. And the final product is one that I think is something I'm very proud of. And I think that the overall ending to it was really well done. And I put a huge amount of time and effort into it Leighton and Jodie and I'm really glad they were the ones that did it because I think it turned out great.


Peta [00:14:06] It is absolutely beautiful, no doubt about it. And I was going to touch on the fact that there is sort of a pressure to have an happy ending or at least tie up loose ends when it comes to things like that. And, you know, for those who haven't seen the documentary, there was quite a lot of challenges that you had to go through to get back into the water. Did you ever feel pressured to do that or did you feel like you bit off a bit more than you could chew at times? Or were you just determined that it was going to happen?


Jaimen [00:14:35] No, I mean, it was really my idea to do that. So I certainly never felt any pressure or anything like that. I wanted to kinda do something epic, I guess, and to be able to get in the water and share it with these like 30 ton humpback whales and everything like that. And I made my first time getting back in the ocean was in Exmouth, were about 500m off of the shore, 40m of water its white cappy. And that was sitting on the back of the bike about to get thrown off and try and dive with these humpback whales. And there was probably a split second in my mind where I thought I probably should have gone in a lagoon first or something like that. But I do say in the end of the documentary there, and I didn't say it because I thought it sounded good, it was truly how I felt. As soon as the saltwater touched my lips. It was like I was at ease again. And I felt at home like I had done many times before in the ocean. So it was quite incredible in that sense.


Peta [00:15:30] And obviously when people make a documentary, I mean, knowing like Leighton personally would have helped, I imagine feeling comfortable talking about your disability. But how did you go looking back and watching you talk about that? Because you do get quite emotional at points like, did you ever think about how you were going to approach your disability and explaining it to people watching the documentary?


Jaimen [00:15:57] You know, what happened to me is absolutely traumatic. And it was a horrible situation. And if it happens to anyone, it's it's terrible. And even though I lead a great life now, I think it's good to show that emotion and show that like, you know, although I've gotten past it, it's it's not an easy thing to do. You know, and I think showing the raw emotion how I sort of feel and and speaking about that is good. And to what you are saying about did it help that I knew him? It certainly did. We filmed that over like three years, that that documentary. So you sort of become friends with the cameraman as well. And it's almost like, you know, you forget the camera's there and you just speaking with them. And so that helps a lot as well.


Peta [00:16:44] Another element that I don't think we talk about enough at, you know, particularly in our disability bubble, but also the greater society is what it's like to be a dad when you have a disability. Can you talk to me about it? Like obviously you've now got two beautiful children. You're well into the swing of it now. What is it like for you today?


Jaimen [00:17:07] It's amazing. You know, like my my son, like, is amazing. You know, like he's at a stage now where he's quite cheeky he's four. He's got an answer for everything. But it is difficult when they're growing up, you know, like you want to be out to pick up your kids like and my kids never come to me to be picked up because I know I guess it's never happened. So I know it can't happen. My son now can crawl onto my lap, which is great, but I do wish when my daughter was crying, I could just pick her up and hold her and help her. So things like that a very tough you know, you can't be a normal parent, that's for sure. Can't kick the footy with them or anything like that. But. You know, my daughter now ran up to me when I come home and she'll hug my legs and put her head on my knee for a little bit and sort of welcome me home. So the love from them. They don't care. I don't know any different. But my son, I'll be like, if you keep doing that, I'm going to come over there. He'll be like, you can't. You know, life is such a cheeky little bugger. But that was something I was probably a bit concerned about before I had children. But to anybody out there that is like, you know, second guessing it, like, you know, your kids don't care. And my kids are saying me get hoisted out of bed and my careers arrive. So what they are sort of introduced to on a daily basis is a lot different to what other parents are. But, you know, other kids will ask questions about my disability that my kids already know the answer to, and I think it makes them a lot more compassionate and a lot more willing to help others, you know? So I hope that sort of rubs off on them into the future. And being a parent with a disability is probably better than I anticipated. It would have been really as far as I thought. Or maybe I was worried they would almost resent me in a sense because I couldn't do certain things with them. But I, I certainly don't think that's the case. I mean, like that four wheel drive chair, for example, I've got a little step on the back that my son can come on the back with me and we zip around all over the place. And obviously my wife has to do a lot more with the children that, you know, she has to get them both in and out of the car. The nappy is all on her, you know, So getting up in the middle of the night to help them is all on her. But I just try and be, I guess, good emotional support. Good. Just be there for her as a as a father and an ear for her to, you know, vent frustrations or talk with as much as I can.


Peta [00:19:38] My final question I ask this of every guest, but what do you wish the future will be like for disabled people?


Jaimen [00:19:46] I mean, we're in the best time now, really. Like, you know, cars are becoming readily available for people like me to drive. Like, you know, for the first 14 years of my life after my accident, I couldn't drive anywhere independently. And then all of a sudden, I had this car that I can drive, I can get into it myself. The first time I just went to Bunnings on my own and it was the first time I'd done anything on my own. And you've got to remember, like I have people get me out of bed in the morning and shower me and then I would have people pick me up and take me to work. People take me droning. I'd be at work with people all day long, people to get me into bed like you're never alone. You know, the first time I went to Bunnings, I literally cried. I was like, I was like, This is such a mundane task, but it just meant so much to me. So for people now, like technology's moving at such a great pace, you know, you've got four wheel drive wheelchairs, touchscreen phone Siri available to like help you send text messages and things are only going to get better and better. I mean, no one wants to have a disability like and I wouldn't recommend anyone, you know, rush out and do anything stupid on a motorbike or a horse and try and attain one. But you also can't live your life worrying about what might happen because you'd lead a pretty sheltered life, you know? I just think that hopefully someone like Elon Musk would create that neuro link, which would in turn allow people to control their limbs. I don't know exactly how it's all going to work, but I know Spinal Cure Australia are doing a great job. There's a new trial coming out called Get a Grip and they're helping people like myself regain hand function. You know, if I could regain hand function, that would be incredible because that's probably a huge part of what I've lost is being able to grab things or get myself in and out of my chair. If I could get Tricep movement back, it would open up a whole new world for me. Australia is heading in the right direction. I'm on the board for the Disability Services Commission and Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability and you know what they're trying to do now to make sure things are inclusive for everyone is fantastic. You know, like all new buildings have to have certain code put in. And if you visit places like Canada or America, pretty much every shop you go to, you press a button, the door automatically opens. It's incredible. And it makes life so much easier and independent for people like us. So we're definitely heading in the right direction for sure.


Peta [00:22:21] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, can I encourage you to leave a writing interview? Wherever you listen to your podcasts or share the show on social media or with a friend? It helps more people find the podcast and for the podcast to grow. You can always find me over on Instagram. My handle is @petahooke, or you can send me an email icantstandpodcast@gmail.com. Again, thank you so much for listening and until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the Bunarrong people where this podcast was recorded.


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