In December 2016, the BBC broadcasted a show called ‘The Big Life Fix’. Episode 1 featured James, a 23 year old photographer from Liverpool, who suffers from a rare genetic skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa. James’ condition is terminal but James was determined to make a difference.
The only thing that distracts him from the pain is photography. James was unable to use his camera without the careful aid of his dad but thanks the BBC show and product design engineer Jude Pullen, he designed and made a custom camera rig. James can now move the camera, zoom, focus, and even change exposure, all without the aid of his dad anymore.
After seeing the documentary, and without any hesitation I contacted James and offered to make the long drive over the course of a weekend how to get the most out of his camera. I will also introduce him how to use off camera flash and pass over a very generous surprised gift for him at the end.
This is when I met James Dunn.
When I first contacted James over Facebook, it started out as simply wanting to leave him a nice message and to say how much I enjoyed watching him on the show and how inspiring he is. James soon replied and thanked me for my message and explained he’s now starting to learn all the manual features of his DSLR now he can use it without the help of his dad. It was then that I said, “I’ll teach you…when are you free?” James didn’t think I was serious at first because he knew how far I would have to come to meet him but I just felt like this was something I needed to do and I really wanted the process to be documented. I asked James if he was happy for my videographer and close friend Mike to come along to film the weekend and he said “SURE no problem!”
James has a lot of experience being on camera because of the BBC show so he was very patient with us and more importantly, understood the process of making a documentary; Sometimes things need to be re-filmed which he was fine with. For example and here’s a secret, When I knocked on the door and said hello for the first time… that was actually staged. Myself and Mike thought it would have been rude to turn up and start filming before saying hello first. Once we had time to chat, I asked if the “hello” could be re filmed and he was totally fine with it. Very professional.
James showed us around his home town without his parents which made him feel really independent. I did however have to give him his medicine while we were out though which his parents have said he rarely lets anyone else do so I felt really special he let me do that… even if he did pretend to be dead haha. We filmed that in the disabled toilet of an Odeon cinema and the manager came in half way through and asked “What is going on here?!” You can imagine how weird that must have looked when someone walks in and sees a guy injecting medicine into a disabled guy whilst its being filmed in a toilets haha. After we explained what we were doing, he was fine.
James had great banter with us and we forget he even had EB, he never ever complained once about it. We just GEEKed out about cameras and had a lovely time in the company of him and his parents, Lesley & Kenny. They even let us stay with them so we didn’t need to get a hotel.
Probably my favourite part of the whole process we caught on camera is when we gave James his surprise gift from Pixapro at the end. I love that footage. You can genuinely see how happy he is in the documentary and just makes me smile every time I see it.
We shot the documentary on Mikes Sony FS5 and mainly the 24-105mm canon and a couple shots on the 100mm macro canon. The music used all came from Musicbed.com which I love!
This is without of doubt, the best piece of work I have ever made and I am so proud of it. I’m so humbled that we were able to showcase this at an actual commercial cinema. Sadly, James passed away before the screening of the film but luckily he was able to see a draft I sent over to him and he said it was “EPIC”. This project taught me that there’s nothing quite more creatively fulfilling then when you’re using your own skill to help others. Its very easy to get caught up with your own goals and achievements but when you’re sharing that achievement and using your skills to better their own work then there’s no better feeling in the world than that. Before James died, he went on to photograph many celebrities, including Tom Holland (Spiderman Homecoming). Using the skills I helped to teach him, his photograph of Tom was sold at auction and managed to raise over £42,000 for the charity DEBRA.
If you want to donate to DEBRA then go to www.fighteb.org.uk