They started out looking at bare walls. Now it is a great adventure.
For five long and incredibly emotional years David Hancock sat with his dying wife Michelle in clinics staring at white walls. The conversations with caring friends visiting her in hospital seemed the same with every visit; usually about a nonsensical article in a gossip magazine on the table.
It was then that David, an award-winning cinematographer and photographer, thought how nice it would be to instead look at a giant panoramic view of where they were raised and relive the memories. “It is about creating conversations and smiles,” he said.
Michelle died from cancer aged 36 in 2010 leaving two children, and now with amazing encouragement and strategic support from his new partner, Anne Gibbons, David has began an adventure to bring to life two-metre chrome-finish images so they cover all kinds of walls of gloom.
It is called the Birdseye Project, capturing some magnificent images from the sky using state-of-the-art cameras from a helicopter, drones, helium balloons and even kites. The mission began this week from his Goolwa home and in Noosa, eventually meeting up in Hay and West Wyalong and returning to cover two seasons with all their spectacular colour and ever-changing environments.
There is a commercial component to the project which will take 18 months to help meet the exorbitant costs, and while significant funds have already been raised by providing services to clients and sponsors, David is aiming to raise another $50,000 to meet the not-for-profit aspect relating to the boring wall challenge.
“The Birdseye Project all started from sitting there in Daws Road House with Michelle night after night, week after week,” David said. “It was a dreary drab place. We called it Hotel California (song) because you could check out any time you want, but you are never going to leave.
“It is also a beautiful place, very caring people, and I was really taken by a lot of people’s kindness including the staff – the nurses, carers, volunteers. It was unbelieveable; you don’t realise how many people are actually giving up their time to help so many.
“As we were sitting there it was dark and like being in a dentist chair looking at a poster cut out of a newspaper. I thought, I want to leave something behind. I wanted to present a big picture with ‘love from Michelle’ on it.
“I have always said that a good image should create emotion; it shouldn’t be about, wow, that’s a nice car or whatever, but creating whatever you designed it to be. I believe it is the duty of a photographer.”
David (pictured) said aerial shots were traditionally done from a helicopter, meaning you could not go below 500ft. “You are always looking down, and the shots are map like; one dimensional,” he said.
“The only time that changes if you are shooting something high, say a mountain range; you come down to a height where you can shoot through it and get depth that gives more of a 3D look.
“Shooting low altitude aerials means we are sitting 200-400ft mark which gives us that perfect kind of depth and makes them pop out of the landscape… you can see the shadows and all that stuff.
“We also use four massive helium balloons with a platform on the bottom to carry the camera, and that way we can do the panoramas. Drones are great, but they need batteries and these shots take a long time.
“When you want to shoot in the suburbs there are a lot of rules and regulations – you cannot get a chopper in low or use drones in certain places so we adapt by using kite cams, which are used extensively in Europe. That way you can fly over practically anything without risk, whereas if you are taking a swing shot on a golf course and it goes wrong it can be damaging to the drone and upset the golfer.”
David is hoping to be able to present the first large image from the Birdseye Project to Daw House Hospice – if it is retained.
“We have been asking for people’s ideas, and one girl from Tailem Bend, who is undergoing breast cancer treatment right now, wrote to me and said this is fantastic… it would be amazing to just brighten up the room,” David said. “We are asking her to pick the first place we should provide a new wall. I like people to be involved.
“It doesn’t have to be a chemo ward; it can be anywhere that is dark, gloomy and perhaps depressing. We are trying to bring photography to life in what can be a dying environment.
“It is photography, but I like to believe I am bringing into a room memories and conversations.”
David has been in this profession for 35 years. More than 80 per cent of the vision for SA Tourism we see on television was created by him, and then there was the extensive work for corporate giants like Dulux and Santos, an occasional television series and countless other major projects. There was a time when he had three offices around Australia, 16 staff and a crew of 64, but everything slowly ended as he focused on an even bigger five-year challenge – supporting Michelle and raising two young kids.
With help from Anne, David is now doing new work for Tourism Australia, other clients and smaller sponsors including the Victor Harbor Council.
The Birdseye Project is not just about a picture on a wall in a chemo clinic – for that matter any boring white wall that appears everywhere – but a reminder what beautiful photography is all about… seeing life, memories, and hopefully all smiles.
Images from the Birdseye Project. For more images, information on how to become involved, and how to follow the project with almost daily image updates visit: