PORTRAIT: Steve Say

Meet Steve. He’s a bushcraftsman. He makes shoes, fire, canoes and jewellery. Ever since we first met a couple of years back, I wanted to photograph him and we finally got round to it. We headed up to Devils Dyke on a cold but sunny Sunday afternoon with my husband (who was a voice-activated lightstand for the day!), Steve’s fiancé Kirsty (who helped style everything!) and my dog SHARK! (who was as unhelpful as usual!). By the time we set everything up, we had an hour and a half to get the shots we wanted before it got too dark. Steve wanted to use some of the photographs on his website, Axe And Paddle Bushcraft, so we wanted to show a few of the skills he can teach.

He runs private classes and workshops, as well as teaching at festivals and taking personal commissions. Check out the interview below, or shoot him an email to find out more.

 

 

INTERVIEW: STEVE SAY

Standing at 6’4 and with blond hair down to his waist, bushcraftsman Steve Say certainly stands out from the crowd. It’s a beautiful November Sunday and we’ve come to Devil’s Dyke so that Steve can demonstrate some of his skills. “Bushcraft is knowing how to use the outdoors to your advantage,” he explains as he unpacks his home-made rucksack. “Y’know, edible plants, different materials, making tools and shelter.”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

With a huge range of skills – including making jewellery and shoes, using animal skins, crafting canoes, growing vegetables, carving spoons and making fire – Steve is a man of the outdoors. Growing up in East London, he began to learn his fire-making skills from reading old books. “My mum was obsessed with Native Americans,” he says. “She always took me outdoors. Now I don’t like being indoors – I’m feral!”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

Nowadays, he runs customised courses for small groups in fire-lighting, cord-making, leather work, cooking, and preparing skins amongst other things. Working a lot at festivals, he sets up his 12ft tepee and gets a fire going. “We teach kids and adults. The adults love it just as much. Flint and steel fire lighting is good to start, but for people who want more advance stuff, I teach bow drill firelighting. It’s a bow wrapped around a wooden drill and you drill it into the base plate. It creates friction which you can get an ember from. You use straw or hay to create a fire from the ember. It can be quite hard, and it take years to work out which woods are the best ones to use.”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

If you think this sounds unique, you’d be right. “Everything I know is all self-taught. I’ve read it in books, then it’s trial and error. I don’t know anybody else who does this. In the last few years I’ve met people who are interested in bushcraft. But only certain aspects of it, like foraging or craft work. I don’t know anyone who uses all of these skills to sustain themselves.”

Such utopian ideaology of living off the land seems impossible in our frantic-paced modern world. Yet Steve maintains hope. “I’d love to live like that. I’d like a nice bit of woodland by a river or lake, so I’ve got some fish. Some land to hunt on. Not just running around shooting everything, just selective hunting. It’d be lovely to be self-sufficient and have your own solar, wind, or water power. It’s very idealistic. But it’s possible. It’s not for everyone, you’ve got to cut a lot out of your life. You can’t have no cable TV, it’d be a waste of energy. The idea is to be self-sufficient: grow your own vegetables, chop your own firewood and catch your own food. You won’t have time to sit and watch TV.”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

But with the free time he would have, Steve enjoys what he calls ‘making stuff’. “I make spoons. I make canoes. If I want something, I’ll make it.”

He demonstrates by showing his hand-crafted moccasins. After finding patterns in books, he drew around his feet and stitched the leather together. After some trial and error, he’s got the art down to a tee. “Each Native American tribe has its own pattern. You can tell where a tribe came from by their moccasins. There’s some really ornate patterns.”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

Whilst Steve makes the shoes to order, he admits they might not be what most people are used to. “You walk more on the toe of your foot than the heel. In shoes, you bang your heel down first, it’s not good for you. Moccasins change the way you walk, you can feel stuff under your feet. They’re really nice in the snow, it’s like walking on marshmallows!”

 

With a lot of the courses he runs, people are looking for an experience but they want to learn something too. “When you first create fire out of stone and a bit of metal, it’s an amazing thing. Its great to teach someone that! With the hand drill, you’ve gotta be really stubborn. Just holding it all in place can be difficult. You need the right materials, you need to craft them into the tools you need, and then you need the technique to actually get a fire going. Nobody ever taught me that. I used to get whacked in the head with bits of wood when they’re flying out the bow, and with the string on the wrong side.”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

“When it eventually worked I was over the moon. I couldn’t believe it! I was jumping around, beating my chest! It was a little caveman moment. The first man who ever did that would’ve felt the same too. I get that feeling every time I do it. Every time I light a fire, I get a massive grin on my face.”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

Before moving to Brighton, Steve worked as a jeweller near Hatton Garden for ten years. Working alongside designers and a wax carver, he did forging, and soldering, as well as making stone settings for rings. Boasting clients such as Selfridges, David Bowie and Alexander McQueen, his style has evolved over time, merging with his bushcraft skills. “Materials are everywhere. Gold and silver, well, they’re nice things. But I like real treasures. Bones, wood, bits of feathers and beetle wings. I’ve regressed. I started with that stuff as a kid, and now I’ve gone back to it. I love birds’ feet and bits of leather!”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

“I’m always finding bits of stuff and keep it aside. I’m like a magpie. Beetle wings are my favourite at the moment, but they’re hard to get hold of. I save them all up and then when I have enough I’ll attach them onto my hat. They’re like little charms.”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

With dreams of running a small campsite for wild camping and running courses based on all of his skills, Steve has firm beliefs about the things he crafts. “They’re all one off pieces; made by hand. There’s gotta be a bit of love in each creation. Mass-production takes away some of the quality. Although I wouldn’t mind one or two people helping me out with sewing because it takes a bloody long time!”

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

 

Steve is available to run private courses for groups or individuals of any age, and for commissions. Get in touch with Steve at www.AxeAndPaddleBushcraft.co.uk

Rachael-Emily.com. Portrait and music photography in London and Brighton, UK

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