For most people, social media is their trophy cabinet: a place where they display their achievements, flaunt their feats and show only the best version of themselves. Not Richard Grenfell, he is here to smash the cabinet’s glass.
With his new found love of photography as the paint and the realities of everyday life as the brush, he aims to create a truer picture through his photo blog Humans on the Sunshine Coast. “I don’t trick the photos up at all; I don’t try and flatter people with the photos. I try to keep things as I saw them at the time rather than make it look anything other than what it is,” he says.
A staggering 9500 people follow his Facebook page, but Richard hopes adding to his already impressive portfolio will create enough community support to push this figure to 10,000 within the next month. His spare time is spent scouring the Coast’s hot spots, camera in hand, looking for people who are willing to share their story. But it hasn’t always been this way; the venture comes after a life of continuous reinvention.
At just 15, a fresh-faced Richard left school to join his father on the regional show circuit selling jewellery. That’s where the rollercoaster began. Travelling show to show, the teen was exposed to various and diverse groups, but quickly learned there is more to people than meets the eye.
“The guys who do sideshow stuff, they are full on those dudes, but they are cool when you know them … but they are a different breed and I mean that affectionately,” he says.
What followed is a decision which still boggles Richard’s mind: army enlistment. His voice lowers and he shakes his head in pure disbelief recalling those few brief, regrettable years. At another loose end, he made a career out of his love of music. “I was an instrumental music teacher, that’s a fancy way of saying guitar teacher, for about five years. I did that full time for that period and then I got sick of that. That’s a bit of a common thread in my life,” he says.
Curiosity finally got the better of the tired muso in his mid-40s. His beloved rock magazines had always left him questioning what exactly made a photograph great, so he decided to find out for himself. Talking about trading in his guitar for the camera, the self-taught photographer’s eyes light up and his face almost disappears behind his infectious grin. He says at first handling equipment as intricate as a DSLR was baffling but his confusion only left him wanting to know more.
“I think there’s magic in still photos. I think they’re far more iconic than anything else. Like you think about the great images in history and they’re very iconic and I can’t think of an iconic video, apart from movies of course. But a single image is far more powerful I think and people change the world with them like those iconic shots in Vietnam,” he says.
The streets of Nambour are where the now pawnbroker’s latest passion began. Over a year ago he took up street photography, capturing and talking to the town’s characters, but was unsure what to do with this material. It wasn’t until friends told him about a similar project already happening that a light switched on. “I looked at what Brandon Stanton [creator of Humans of New York] did and I thought ‘wow this is cool and exactly what I like doing,’ so that’s what I did. I copied his idea, pretty blatantly too,” he says.
After a life of ups and down, the 49-year-old knows better than anyone else that everyone has a tale or two to share. Although he’s aware there is nothing original in his idea, Richard carries on aiming to tell all stories good, bad or indifferent. The quirky pastime has paid off. The project has quickly become a local sensation and is well on its way to reaching the goal of 10,000 followers thanks to the man behind the scenes breaking away from online delusions.
“I’ve got a theory that social media is riddled with crap. The other side to that, is that people tend to censor themselves as well to look as awesome as possible. It’s either one or the other so to put something in the middle, which is kinda real, maybe that’s what it is, maybe that’s what people relate to,” he says.
With such instant success and support, it’s only a matter of time before Richard destroys the trophy cabinet’s glass.