I only have one brother, and he is quite possibly the most unique human being I know. If Alan was handed a questionnaire on life, and asked to check boxes describing who he is, it would be one ‘Other’ after another.
For starters, like me, he doesn’t really know where he’s ‘from’. But he’s taken my geographical dyslexia and gone three steps farther. After growing up Persian-Scottish in Scotland, Canada and England, he has traveled the planet from Cape Town to Marrakech, and Ramsgate to Kuala Lumpur, doing what he loves – taking pictures.
These days, he is most frequently found in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, but he was in Nepal during the devastating earthquake earlier this year, and has been all over California this summer. He says his sense of multiple identities allows him to slip in and out of different cultures easily.
The biggest obstacle Alan has had to overcome in his life was getting leukemia at the age of 20. If he hadn’t already been there, this would have set him firmly in the ‘Other’ camp. He became the sick guy. He felt pitied. And, while compassion gave him a certain leeway for a while, he had to carry on in life with physical side effects long after people had moved on and the compassion had been allocated elsewhere.
And there have been many side effects of the disease and its treatments, from deteriorating joints (which forced two hip replacements) to a retinal detachment (which has limited his vision in one eye). He has endured operations and periods of recuperation, and this all reminds him that physically he will just never be like other people.
I’m sure there have been many times when he has wanted to scream ‘WHY ME?!’ at the world, but he just keeps going. Sometimes he calls me from a mountaintop in Java, other times from a hospital bed in Thailand. Sometimes he’s elated, sometimes he’s lost. The highs and lows of living as vividly as he does.
Unlike most of his peers, he hasn’t married and hasn’t had children, so there’s no urgent need for him to conform. No need to get a day job or a mortgage. I don’t know if he could conform now, even if he wanted to. He finds himself at home with the digital nomads of today’s world, taking his work with him, putting down roots wherever he goes.
We don’t always get along perfectly, my brother and I, and he attributes this in part to feeling different from me and my sister growing up. We would think in a linear way, while his thoughts would meander and go off on tangents. We did well at school, which was never as easy a fit for him. When we didn’t understand him and when he didn’t achieve the grades we did, it frustrated him.
Today, he knows that he’s just unconventional. You only have to look at his pictures to see that. I’m glad he knows that now, and enjoys the world through the lens of his artistic mind. His pictures bring joy to many people, and I don’t think he could take such beautiful shots if he hadn’t confronted death at such a young age, or been so unconventional. The same must be true for many artists.
“You can only go up from feeling pitied,” he told me last week. “I think cancer scares people off and draws people to you, but I noticed compassion fatigue after a while. Surviving leukemia, deep down was really just my chance to say, ‘Fuck you, I am Alan.’ And I truly believe that out of all this comes a sense of one’s own self.”
“I have taken strength and determination from this. To really be completely 100% me, and true to myself. Through my photography, I have found a consistent identity. And my lifestyle is a statement that I can be me.”