The innocence of ignorance and a backpack full of film

Only after working as an engineer for half a decade did the idea of making a living from something I love even enter my mind.

I had already discovered a love for travel photography, taking breaks from my downtown, wear-a-suit-every-day job to photograph the places I had read about in my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines.

During this time my friend Sean suggested that I meet him in South America. Sean had taken a year off work and was traveling around the world - a grand adventure that many dream of and very few ever accomplish. With the innocence of ignorance and a backpack full of film, I was off on the trip that would eventually refocus my life.

After time spent in Santiago and around central Chile, we headed to Easter Island. We quickly found a house for about $20 a night, our home for the week. Over the next few days we lounged around the island, reading what we could on the history and the culture. One night we splurged on a feast of seafood, fantastic red wine and Pisco Sours. We finished the night off with a six-pack of Escudo on the grass in front of the house, on this tiny island more than 2,000 miles from the coast of South America, one of the most remote inhabited places in the world.

Our conversation turned to careers and dreams, when Sean posed this simplest of questions to me:

“Playing in his sandbox, looking at what you do to fill your days, would the eight-year-old Nielsen be happy with what you did with his life?”

“No, I don’t suppose he would.”

“If he could tell you to do anything you wanted, no restrictions, no why nots, what would it be?”

“I think he would tell me to be a photographer… like a National Geographic photographer,” I said.

After moments of silence, I asked Sean the same question and his reply was, “I would be a writer.”

A few days later, we were back on a plane to Santiago. Sean left the airport to continue his wandering and I continued on to Calgary to start making plans. Within seven days I had built a very rough website from a template, set up a BSD Photography URL, scanned a bunch of old prints without a clue what I was doing, received a business license and had business cards made up.

That was almost 10 years ago and this site is the fifth version of that original webpage that I made in a few hours. Since then, there have been many more trips and many more stories. There have been clients and awards and publications but I will always remember that conversation sitting in the dark in front of Chez Cecilia’s guest house.

What about Sean?

And in case you were wondering, Sean did become a published travel writer with a dedicated following. His stories about traveling around the world with his pal are world famous, but mostly with his pal and his Mom.