Who’s Dax

I’ve been a photographer for about 17 years and I think it’s time I take up knitting :D Started off by taking pictures of lightning strikes (no, there’s no beginner’s category in my world), chasing thunder storms with my bike (how practical), then landscapes and ordinary Photo Club stuff, until I got more and more interested in photojournalism. But I made one crucial mistake. I was looking at photojournalism abroad, Magnum, Getty, Reuters, VII and especially National Geographic. No studies of photojournalism in this wannabe country, so I took that photo out and took up journalism, while focusing myself on photojournalism in every project or research I had to do. Bought books on photojournalism (love the one from Kenneth Kobre), spent hours and hours browsing the award-winning authors and top photojournalism works.

And how far I’ve come?  I have a BA in English and journalism, but don’t ask what my diploma was about. That’s the real testimony of my fleeting mind. :D It had to do with the media, yes, but was nowhere near journalism or English. I had to write two – one was the in-depth look at all aspects of American horror movies from it’s beginnings to the present day, and how the genre developed, the other one was comparing the short works of E. A. Poe and Stephen King. Yeah… I didn’t tell you a few things about me yet. I’ll keep it short: I also write horror novels when I have time. That didn’t happen in at least four years, so my best thing is still “in production”. I am also a founding member of a creative team Majestic 5, we make music videos, tv shows, presentations etc. I’m a screenwriter.

As for my distant gaze at foreign trones of photojournalism and documetary photography, well, I now contribute to all three Slovenian editions of National Geographic (Junior, Traveler and Magazine), still working for the Slovenian Fishing Association, my work was published in Adria Airways In-flight Magazine, Mladina, Dnevnik, Gorenjski Glas, Samaritan, E Magazine (USA), Sportsman Channel website (USA), Element & Zapik (student magazines), covered major sports events for Slovenia Times, online media, as well as the work I did for Askeladden Norway… My mentors include Ron Haviv (VII) and Jared Moossy (Redux), there were several awards during my carreer, but the most important are three of them at the Slovenia Press Photo ’11. That’s all I have to say, before I start hating myself for shameless self-promotion. I hate that. :D

Did my share of travelling, plan to do a lot more. And as for my personality, I have a saying: “Heaven won’t have me, and Hell’s afraid I’ll take over.”  That’s a joke! But I am inclined to criticize what is wrong, the rotting mentality of our nation, the abuse (financial and otherwise) of people, injustices etc. Read at your own risk. :D

Update: 5th May 2011

Lately, there’s been a lot of questions about my life. The childhood part in particular. So I decided to expand this article for those who care to read the whole story. So, who’s Dax?

Good question. Pick one of the answers. After years of general info, I decided to tell the story of how I came about. No, no birds and the bees talk, just what happened after I took the tunnel ride into the hands of a doctor who slapped my naked ass. It’s quite a story, so sit down and grab some pop corn and something to drink, you’ll be here a while. :D

I guess telling this story has become somewhat necessary. I realized not only my friends, but even I didn’t know exactly what happened. Now I do. Sort of. I saw the light at the end of a tunnel in 1980. You know, Yugoslavia and socialism, everybody had jobs and one car only (if any at all). I was normal for half a year of my life. :D Remember polio, the paralytic disease that affected children all over the world (still does actually)? Well, back then it was said to have been eradicated in the Western world. Children were vaccinated in three steps (three months old, six months, and nine) by an OPV vaccine, which is basically a live virus being ingested orally. But that vaccine, although more efficient, has a flaw: one in almost a million children can actually get polio from being vaccinated. I’m special. Whether I like it or not, I have to stand out, and well, you gotta start early. So I was one in a million.

The strange thing is that at the second vaccination for polio, there were also about six other kids who got polio from that vaccine, too, in my town alone. One in a million? Talk about safe vaccine. So something went wrong and doctors had to cover their asses of course. How convenient that they vaccinated me for other things as well at the same time, this time intramuscular (needle and all), and since that one was sloppy and bloody, that was a perfect excuse for my left leg to be paralyzed. The cause was everything: a blood clot, a six-months-old’s psychosomatic reaction, even pretending etc. Everything except the virus from the OPV vaccine. And to prove my parents wrong they went a long way. I guess Slovenians were rotten in their mind even back then, because they were able to use electroshock therapy on a six months old child just to cover up their shit. My parents of course wouldn’t take it, so they took the fight to higher institutions, where a little more competent people proved the cause of paralysis was polio. But the cover-up didn’t end. The virus they found could’ve come from either the vaccine or air. The latter would get them off the hook, but analyzing the virus was still too big a risk for them, so they froze it and stalled analysis until it was too old to be analyzed.

Officially, there hasn’t been polio in Slovenia since 1979, and even I didn’t have polio officially. According to our “doctors”, I had a “polio-like” disease. And that undefined condition defined a lot of my life since. Now you’re going: “What the hell?! Is he doing all those photo stories on a wheelchair?!?” No, actually my leg was paralyzed for only two weeks. I can walk, but more than 70% of muscles in the leg are still dead today. Basically, I can walk more like a duck, but hey, it’s a walk. :D Furthermore, the thing had like power fluctuations. It never grew consistently. It was always shorter, but it could be one cm now and four next month, and two the month after it. Most of my childhood was trying to tame this thing, so that it wouldn’t damage anything else. But it did. Not even the ugliest pair of orthopedic shoes with an adjustable sole to match the missing centimeters could stop my spine from curving. And soon I got a metal corset that’s used to keep the spine straight. The thing’s screws kept tearing my clothes. And it was shit to sleep in. :D It also required me to visit the hospital for regular maintenance like a goddamn machine twice or three times a year for two weeks. Like all the running around hospitals all the time wasn’t enough. But this hospital was different. For one thing, the food they served actually deserved to be called food. And it was more like a children’s colony at the seaside. Apart from the needles, drawing blood, occasional spinal taps and enemas some kids endured it was quite fun. I became a family. Knew the nurses since I was very little, had a doctor who was some sort of House without the sarcasm, but with all the bluntness and genius. School there was a piece of cake. I had a pool (I learned to swim there), and physiotherapy overlooking the sea. I was king. :D They called me Arafat for the way I wore a towel on my head when returning from the pool. But I established my rule many years before when I was just off the soother, and sure enough if I don’t have it, no wimpy kid in my room will have it. Robbed them all of their bad habit and threw the soothers over the balcony into the cactuses below, so they never found them again. That’s how I got crowned. :D

When we were older, my Che Guevara character led a rebellion against the system of our ward, all the rules about bed time and lights off, so we had covert operations running in both floors to sneak into girls’ rooms, a bit of smuggling here and there, some hidden experiments even. Sooner or later the story turned into X Files with us inefficiently calling ghosts (someone always chickens out) and eventually getting more than we wanted. The Moulder in me and my friends investigated the incident and realized why the bars on windows of all the rooms. No, it didn’t turn out we’re in prison (this screenplay doesn’t have that extreme twists), but we did find out a boy died after falling from the window.

Anyway, I guess we had time to live. To listen to all the music out there from Tajči to Alice Cooper. I remember lying in a completely empty room (usually there were six of us in the room) on some early summer day, staring at the cracked ceiling (the hospital was pretty old – a hundred years actually) and listening to I Might As Well Be On Mars by Alice Cooper.

The doctors of course made rounds. The entire delegation came into the room, we could hear them coming from the room next to us. This blunt chubby man with a harem of nurses walking behind him like wives of a fat sheikh was making the call, picking out the lucky ones to write a D on their chart. It wasn’t until faculty when I again felt happy to get a D. :D But D meant “domov” (home) and he wrote it under a certain date. Could stand for dismissed, too. So I went home to an empty apartment, to a school of normal kids who a lot of times took me for a freak (justified), lax morals and even more loose bonds. Normally, friends in the hospital were a lot closer.

Finally in 1991 the head nurse popped the question. :D

“Would you like us to elongate your leg surgically?”

“Will I stop wearing the corset and wear normal shoes?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, do it.”

And that was it. She didn’t even need a ring to seal the engagement. So if I thought I looked like terminator before, this was totally extreme. Thin metal rods going through my leg, screwed on both sides onto two metal rings around my leg. Two rods in the upper area, two in the lower area, to keep the two parts of sawn apart bone in place and make way for new bone to form in the gap they made in a month of moving both rings apart to a length of four centimeters. Spent a year on crutches. Broke a knee in between and landed in another hospital. Got a dog for company then and she became my best friend for 14 years. After a year, they took the rods out with a single pull, no anesthetics, and I was up and running. And I never stopped running since. The end of my life in that hospital was also the end of the hospital as we all knew it. It got renovated, turned into a modern, soulless, dead piece of chemically clean, odorless children’s ward with no children sounds, no laughter … The modern world and degeneration of human mind enforced absurd privacy laws that prevent children from visiting friends in other rooms. Charts are gone – too much personal info on them (body temperature is waaaaay too personal).

My life changed. My dog became my life companion, while I lost a pillar of my childhood to cancer. Even in elementary school and in the years of hospital I had a talent for drawing and painting. Took some classes. A painting of mine still hangs in an office of a local radio station. :D And I wrote a lot. I still do. But back then I wrote novels. Yeah, real ones. And I was quite good at it I hear. But then I found a Zenit camera and it hit me: why paint if I can do this in 1/125 of a second?

My leg never bothered me, was never an obstacle. Doctors told me I wouldn’t or shouldn’t do a bunch of sports, and I did it just to screw with their theories. I even ice-skated!

At 15 I started reporting from fishing competitions and taking pictures of them as well. Long before I enrolled in journalism and English.

In the nineties I also got a video camera, and it wasn’t a week before me and four friends formed a creative team, known today as Majestic 5. From movies I directed and wrote I moved to writing screenplays, and our team continued to produce music videos, then the first mobile soap opera for our national telecommunications carrier, then TV shows for our national television.

At the same time, my first achievements in photography were in nature category. :D While everybody was running away screaming :D I stood on a cliff and photographed lightning strikes heading towards me in a menacing storm coming from the sea. Despite the warnings I sometimes waited too long and no, it’s not safe anymore, when the storm is directly above you and you’re shooting from a building that’s encased in completely exposed metal shell.

Years and a lot of money later, I was covering events in my hometown for a students club, and I started taking pictures of concerts. From local ones I eventually moved to the big gigs in Austria about five years ago, and after Bon Jovi, Madonna, Metallica, P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Nickelback, Kid Rock, David Guetta, Whitesnake, I ended up standing in the photo pit in Munich, Germany, almost leaning my elbow onto the shoe of Alice Cooper standing right next to and above me on the stage, singing. Who would’ve thought, ha? From the empty hospital room somewhere in a godforsaken country to less than five centimeters apart in Germany. Nice.

I wrote three unpublished novels (and trust me, they’re not worth publishing), and never finished the last one. I wrote several screenplays and I am still writing them. I moved from shooting entertainment to serious photojournalism (apart from my more regular job in a club). From my teens to now, I’ve worked for the Fisherman magazine, Slovenia Times, Plus, Pil etc. Published my photos in many more magazines, some also in American magazines (E-Environmental Magazine). Later, when National Geographic came to Slovenia with its first magazine – Junior, for kids – I started working for them and I still do. I also worked for Traveler and the main magazine on long projects (up to two years in the making). My standards are extremely high, yes… I joined Janez Puhar Photo Club, started exhibiting my more artistic photos all over the world and got some prizes as well. A lot of it for concert photography, but also prizes for my photo manipulations. One is still circling through emails. The dried out Lake Bled.

In depth stories that I love to do and news took me to places where physical strength was key. The two weeks of saving fish from a drying out lake, a vast muddy area. The courses of our FIS World Cup skiing competitions. The steep mountains of inaccessible gorges looking for the last populations of an endangered fish. And so on… Sure, there are times when I’m in disadvantage because of my leg. I don’t run that fast and I don’t climb well. But I compensate. I pull myself up with my hands and take different photos that aren’t in any way dependant on speed. :D

Following trends and top world photojournalism and photographers, meeting them, talking to them and the editors – a lot of it in all the years of Visa Pour l’Image in Perpignan – I finally met Ron Haviv at a workshop in Ljubljana. Later that year, he made it possible for me to join other great world photojournalists in Istanbul at a Foundry Photojournalism Workshop. By then, I had loads of stories behind me and all it took was one more step in style and execution to reach the level I wanted, but of course not stop there (people learn all their lives). I produced a story on Istanbul fishermen there. The reaction of photographers in Istanbul was a prediction of what was to come in March 2011. The stories I did in 2010 in my own style, won overall best story (the Istanbul fishermen), best story in news category and best single photo in nature category at the Slovenia Press Photo 2011, judged by a panel of internationally acclaimed photojournalists from VII, Associated Press, War Ltd. and presided by the international photo editor at Time Magazine.

This is how far a handicapped kid can come. And it’s not over yet.

2 thoughts on “Who’s Dax

    • This part of my story was always all access if anyone asked. I realized the problem was that people and even my friends were kind of afraid to ask why my leg is the way it is as if that’s too personal or too painful. It’s not. I don’t carry it as a burden. Nor the story or anything that happened before, and as you can see, I actually have fond memories of my hospital years. Spiritually, I got more than normal people with normal lives in their childhood I guess. Whether I got enough life is another thing, but in this story, it doesn’t matter.
      Anyway, friends were afraid to ask, so I decided I make it a bit easier for those that read this blog. It’s not a taboo. :) And with all the interviews these days, when sometimes we touch on the subject of my beginnings and childhood, and new people asking me about it every day, I started looking for some answers myself and when I got them, I found it revealing as well, so … :)

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