Documentary chronicles Russell Ord's quest for epic shot

Anthony Pancia
Swellnet Dispatch

A Western Australian photographer's quest to capture the perfect image led to him getting up close and personal with deadly waves off the state's far south coast.

Margaret River photographer Russell Ord's mission was sparked by a disdain for his work.

He turned his back on a career as a firefighter to pursue the one shot he hoped would deliver the peace of mind he sought, after realising his own body of work "wasn't doing anything for me".

"I'd gotten bored with looking at my own images and just wanted to challenge myself," Ord recalled of the initial spark that is chronicled in the documentary, One Shot.

"I had the image in mind, but it took a while to put all the pieces together and really focus in on what it was I was looking for."

Ord, already lauded internationally for his work, had relayed his frustrations and ambitions to filmmaker Darren McCagh, who quickly determined it would make for an interesting subject.

"Something tweaked that that would make a pretty good story and there and then we figured, well let's take a crack at telling it," McCagh said.

"We were both pretty unsure of how or where it would take us, but the idea lit a fire in both of us."

Russell Ord, at The Right, found peace in situations others would run from. (Photo Trent Slatter)

Around the time the idea was taking hold, Ord made international headlines for rescuing and resuscitating US surfer Jacob Trette, who had nearly drowned while surfing Mavericks.

Ord had been photographing surfers from a jet ski when he found Trette's lifeless body drifting near the shore.

The story of the rescue was picked up by international news agencies, and the former firefighter was courted by talk shows in the US and Australia.

While rattled by the sudden attention, Ord said witnessing the near-death of a surfer bolstered his own drive to get outside his comfort zone.

"That experience opened my eyes to my own life and just how quick it can change," Ord said.

"It made me want to drill down and really focus in on what it was I was looking for in a photo."

Central to Ord's idea of the perfect shot was the thick, heaving waves of The Right. Breaking several kilometres off the coast, it gives photographers on jet skis a relatively easy vantage point due to a deep channel that surrounds it.

Chris Ross tackles The Right on the far south coast of WA. (Photo Russell Ord)

However, Ord had other plans and began training to enable him to ditch the safety of a jet ski, and swim in close proximity to the surfers and the thick ocean waves.

It was a feat that had yet to be attempted, and one that initially caused anxiety for Ord's wife Catherine and their three young children when they first saw images of Ord flirting with disaster.

"There is that underlying anxiety with the kids because they have an awareness about what their dad does," Catherine said.

"We have all the social media platforms and other photographers capturing what it is he does on that frontline, which we had never seen before, and that perspective does change things."

Ord and McCagh were buoyed by the response to their crowdfunding pitch, which raised capital to allow the necessary travel in pursuit of footage for the documentary.

They travelled across Australia and the US interviewing subjects, including veteran photographers and magazine editors, and had an emotional visit with Trette, who had made a full recovery from his near-drowning.

Ord (L) and McCagh travelled to some of Australia's most remote locations for the documentary, One Shot. (Photo Calum Macaulay/Cmac Images)

"It was initially a side project and we didn't really want to ask for money, so we launched it on crowdfunding platform Pozible," McCagh said.

"We found out that we had succeeded in reaching the amount of money we had hoped to get, and we were just blown away at the support that continued from there.

"Just to know that people other than us were interested in the story verified that we were onto something."

The pair's patience eventually paid off and both were on hand to capture images from a rare large swell that hit the WA coast.

Ideal conditions at The Right enabled Ord to capture the image he had imagined when he first set out on the journey.

He recalled a fleeting moment of contentment when looking at the image in his camera's display, before realising he was drifting towards an oversized wave bearing down on him.

"That snapped me back to reality quick smart," Ord said.

"But once we got back to shore and we were able to have a good look at it on a large screen, it all sank in and it felt like a massive weight was off my shoulders."

One Shot debuts on ABC TV tonight at 10pm.

© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Tuesday, 21 Mar 2017 at 8:10pm

awesome shot.!


tonybarber's picture
tonybarber's picture
tonybarber commented Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 at 8:24am

For anyone who partakes in photography and not just water, this is a must see doco. The man, his photography, his outlook and the blokes he films make a great combination. Thanks SN for the heads up.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 at 9:58am
flow's picture
flow's picture
flow commented Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 at 10:19am

Behind every good man....

Snuffy Smith's picture
Snuffy Smith's picture
Snuffy Smith commented Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 at 11:19am

Is a jet ski and a pack of peanut's.

Balls of fire

Snuffy Smith's picture
Snuffy Smith's picture
Snuffy Smith commented Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 at 11:20am

Did he come to the conclusion to shoot fish eye to fuck all the other guy's shot's?or is it for the artistic angle?

Balls of fire

talkingturkey's picture
talkingturkey's picture
talkingturkey commented Thursday, 23 Mar 2017 at 11:29am

In his "dream shot", did Mark make the wave?

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