Terrifying injuries bring a world of light to Daniel
GRASS tops sway in the light morning breeze as Daniel Ridgley Hewitt pulls up alongside the paddock, camera gear in tow. It's cool now, in the pale dawn light, but today is set to be a scorcher.
He gazes across the landscape in readiness for the sunrise, searching for something to spark his imagination.
He does not rush. There's no need for that, for he knows he'll be inspired today, just like he was yesterday and countless mornings before that.
A waiting sun. Cattle up ahead. And trees in the distance.
For Daniel, this is bliss.
"I love the sunrise," says the 27-year-old photographer, who shares his time living on the Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay.
"I always wake up before the sun.
"My mind just switches on. I love the time in the morning when it seems like the world stops and there's just such peacefulness."
The boldest of the four beasts edges closer, eventually reaching out to lick the lens of his treasured camera. Aside from the movement it takes him to focus his lens, and the push of the trigger, Daniel remains still.
Many would feel uneasy at the closeness of the creature, but he relishes the way the light falls around its legs, the curiosity of the cow, and the fact he is capturing a unique moment in time.
"I just want to share how beautiful it is with everyone else," he tells me later. "Photography for me is about sharing. It's about me sharing myself with the world."
It's been more than a year since I first met Daniel, and on the surface, not much has changed. He carries the same sun-kissed hair, clear blue eyes and joy for all things natural.
But in the time it's taken our paths to cross again, Daniel has been to the edge of life and back.
On July 2 last year, his body took the biggest of hits. While working on a job in Byron Bay, he fell through a skylight in a roof, landing on a concrete floor seven metres below.
His scull was fractured. So was part of his neck (C7). Both wrists were badly broken, his collarbone was fractured and he suffered a brain haemorrhage on the left side of his head. The fall also resulted in a fractured hip, a shattered elbow and two weeks of great uncertainty for his family as Daniel lay in an induced coma in Gold Coast Hospital.
His brother, who was with him when he fell, believed at first that Daniel was dead.
"It was pretty traumatic for him," Daniel said.
His best friend, also named Daniel, was at his side every day while he was in a coma.
In the months that followed his release from hospital, Daniel set about his recovery with determination.
"For three or four months, I walked on the beach every morning, two kilometres forward
and two kilometres backwards, because someone told me it would strengthen my hips," he said.
More than a year later, his recovery is ongoing. Stretching out the underside of his arms towards me, he reveals the scars that climb from his wrists towards his elbows. His wrists were so badly broken that metal plates had to be inserted to give them structure. The lines shine pale purple in the sunlight - one is neat, the other is jagged.
"I like this one," he says, pointing to the jagged scar.
"It's more creative."
The scars serve as reminders of the fall, but Daniel is eager to look to the future. "I don't want to think about it and get stuck in the past," he said. "I've never thought, 'What if it didn't happen?'."
For Daniel, the accident highlighted the simple beauty in life.
"I've been waterrafting in India down the Ganges, skydiving and bungee jumping in Berlin and sailing across the Pacific Ocean in a storm where I thought I was dying ... but I still get joy out of just seeing a seagull," he said.
"I could watch seagulls and cows all the time."
He has begun making frames from recycled timber he sources from old houses.
"Each piece of wood has a story to tell," he says. "When making a frame, you can either take some layers off to show the quality of the wood, or put a wax over it to highlight its characteristics."
The frames, as well as a selection of Daniel's images, are on show at Cafe Envy in Mooloolaba.
Daniel has always loved a good cuppa, and hopes to one day open a cafe combining his love of tea, cooking and photography. But for now, he's focusing on his art and his career as a wedding, lifestyle and events photographer.
He plans on giving 10% of profits made from print sales to the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service as a thank-you for getting him to hospital safely.
"I'm so glad they took such great care of me," he said. "I want to thank them."
The prints are on sale at http://www.danielridgleyhewitt.com.
He will also be giving away five prints on his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/RidgleyHewitt.
In the meantime, the self-taught artist takes strength from nature and explores the interconnectedness of animals, humans and trees.
"Nature teaches you how to live," he says.
"That's what I love about trees
"They grow tall.
They know where they're going, and they're strong. But they bend for the wind.
"(If I could be a tree) I'd be a fig tree, because they're not afraid of the direction they want to grow in," he laughs.
See more of Daniel's work and read his blog at danielridgleyhewitt.com or contact him on 0421 468 965 or email email@example.com.