Jim Edds - Biography

Home Sweet Home

I was born in Wiesbaden, Germany and every couple of years it was moving time.  That's right, welcome to life growing up in the Air Force.  I got to know a lot of people not very well.   The plus side was I lived in Guam, a beautiful tropical Island where I learned to SCUBA dive and swim competitively - two sports that would help me later filming Hurricanes and alligators in the Everglades.  Dad retired at Eglin AFB in the Florida Panhandle but after 5 months we moved our net worth yet again to Pensacola, Florida only this time the Air Force didn't do it for us - we did the lifting.

I finished High School here in Pensacola then went on to Pensacola Junior College and finally got my BS in Chemistry at the University of West Florida.  At the time UWF was an upper level university and that meant they served beer on campus at the "Rat" - the local chow hall near the Library.  Oh, the good ole days!

Life was grand in the Chemistry department because we had a key to the Bld. 58, a key to the lab, and a key to our very own desk in the lab.  That meant we could go in and out any time day or night.  It also meant they expected a lot of work out of us too!  I didn't mind, I had the time of my life there.

Back in 1979 I had my first good encounter with a hurricane as "Fredric" came by on the way to wrecking Mobile, Alabama.  What a sight to go out at night and see the big ole pine tree in the front yard horizontal in 90 mph wind.  Fredric had lots of lightning too which is a good sign the cane is really juiced up.  If you want to see people get excited just tell them a category 3 hurricane is coming!  Ever since Fredric I was plotting every storm that formed.  In later years, I'd call the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and ask for the latest coordinates on the storm.  It was during one of those calls that I talked with Todd Kimberlain, a high school volunteer at the NHC and later the dean of Hurricane chasing Jim Leonard.  Jim would later play a pivotal role in my career path in 1998.

My senior year was delayed a full year because of a unfortunate close encounter I had while spearfishing at the Alabama Point Bridge with a 28 foot Bertram boat.  I was holding my breath in about 9 feet of water looking for flounder in the sand when I heard the familiar sound of a boat prop.  It didn't bother me as I had heard this sound many times before.  Then the pitch changed and I could tell it was getting closer.  I finally had to come up because I was out of breath.  Upon surfacing I looked up at the bow headed right for me only 15 feet or so away.  I made a lightning fast dive to get under the boat but this big Bertram was not on a plane and riding low in the water.   The twin screw Bertram with 350 hp each sucked first my flippers and then me up through both props.  I was a real mess after that.  The Life Flight helicopter out of Baptist Hospital picked me up about 15 minutes later.  I remember the flight nurse gave me a copy of the report some time later and it said my blood pressure had dropped to 60/0.  This was the same helicopter that I'd ride out as an EMT a few years earlier and pick up injured people.

I was hurt too bad to graduate in 1983 so I said so long to my beloved chemistry chums, many who were soon off to grad school - my ticket would be punched in 1984.  I was lucky to get a position as a research chemist right here in Pensacola at Reichhold Chemicals.  I was making base resins for the paint industry.  Resin plus pigment, plus driers, plus lots more solvent equals paint.  I remember testing fingernail polish resin in the lab.  A number of us painted our nails different colors to see which blend would hold up the best over time.  Oh the things you do for Science!

Reichhold was bought out by Dai Nippon and moved the lab to Research Triangle Park, NC.  I opted not to go because, well, once you get that Pensacola Beach sand between your toes it's hard to leave.  I lived out at the beach at the time.  Just have a look at a sunset and tell me you could leave this place.  It was during my 8 months of being unemployed that I really sat down and thought about what I wanted to do.  A good friend of mine passed away from insidious cancer and that convinced me that life is too short not to do what you loved for a living.  I had always enjoyed underwater photography so I decided to find a job in the Florida Keys, a place where I had good clear water and lots of underwater subjects.  As luck would have it, I landed a job as an Environmental Specialist with the Department of Environmental Regulation in Marathon in 1993.  Oh, the diving was good in the Keys.  I soon began photographing the underwater marine environment.  I also enrolled in a home study photography course with the New York Institute of Photography.  That course was key to my future success as a working Pro.  At NYIP they teach you all forms of photography not just outside.

In 1996, I met three extraordinary people that really launched my photography career: Many Puig, Mark Rackley, and Mehgan Heaney-Grier.  They were looking for a photographer to capture their extreme underwater exploits on film and I was looking for some subjects.  It was a perfect fit.  Only catch was you had to go where they went and that meant swimming in the Everglades up close and personal with huge alligators as Manny interacted with them.  Mark Rackley, a gifted self taught underwater cameraman (of Wildboyz, Jackass, and Gator Boyz fame), would film all the action and it wasn't long before the trio landed their first TV series on Animal Planet called, "Extreme Contact".  Mehgan's forte was swimming to155 feet and back on one breath of air.  I'd shoot a photo of her whizzing by me on a record attempt for the Associated Press article.  "Model sets record freedive" was big news and went around the world.  She was 19 at the time and her modeling career took off.  Mehgan went on to set a personal best of 165 feet in 1997.

In 1998, I accompanied the US Freediving Team to the World Freediving Cup in Sardinia, Italy as the team photographer.  Freediving is a very dangerous sport especially if you do it alone.  I watched 7 freedivers blackout on the first day.  Some would break the surface after a deep freedive and start shaking uncontrollably.  The shakes were called "Samba" by the other divers.  Nobody got hurt during the competition but there were several from other countries that died in training for the Cup.

Also in 1998, I chased my first Hurricane - Category II "Georges" in Key West, Florida.  I had kept up with Jim over the years trying to break out of the day job that was now old and mundane.  He took me down to Key West early that morning as power transformers exploded along the route and showed me the storm chaser "ropes" - stuff like where to park your car, how to figure out where the eye is by watching the wind shift, what is going to fly in the air, and not to leave you food at home!  Jim had been chasing storms right out of the crib and no one had more experience.  He was shooting digital video and I was still shooting just pics.  I was fascinated with digital video mainly because you could make an exact copy of your tape unlike slide or negative film.  After watching 110 mph winds blow through Key West I was hooked.
 
So after 5 years in the Keys my images and articles had appeared in over 30 magazines and newspapers worldwide.  Especially gratifying was a personal letter from Vice President Al Gore after viewing some of my Florida beaches and underwater images. I had done well but still wanted to quit the day job and do this full time.  Magazines were disappearing as the internet came along so I needed to try something different.


I saved up enough money and bought my first digital camcorder - a Sony TRV-900 in 1999.  My first sale came when I filmed a waterspout near Marathon and sold it to a British production company working on a waterspout show.  They were in Key West with their hired guide Joe Golden, the world's foremost waterspout authority who did his thesis on, "The Lifecycle of Florida Keys Waterspouts".  I was at the Key West National Weather Service Office when they came in to check the forecast.  Someone said, "hey Jim's got what you're looking for showing right now on our TV set".  They bought my video and I was hooked.  I got pretty good at finding waterspouts over the next few years.  I'd go up in a Cessna 182 with "Fantasy Dan" at Sugarloaf Key (MM 17) and we'd hunt them down.  We'd look for the telltale dark spot on the surface of the water - that's a good sign a waterspout would be forming.  Sometimes Dan would take the door off the plane so I could get a better shot as we orbited these tornadoes over water.  There was one big spout outbreak in April 2005 where I lost count of them.  Everywhere you looked out the plane there was a waterspout.  After a solid hour of orbiting them I told Dan to land the plane I was too dizzy and getting ready to hurl!  In time I produced a DVD called "Florida Keys Waterspouts" - which consisted of about 20 of my best spouts.  Sometimes I'd send the footage to The Weather Channel over the internet.  Early on I'd drive 2.5 hours to Miami and upload to TWC via a satellite uplink facility.  Then I'd send them footage via dial up interent.  Sometimes this took 8 hours for a 1.5 minute clip.  With high speed internet, this only takes minutes now.  To this day I'm a contracted stringer for The Weather Channel.

Over the years I used my vacation time to film the weather and build up a stock library.  In the spring of 2005 my financial planner said to me, "Why are you still working for the State? I'll be back here in 2 weeks; you know what you have to do".  Well, when the financial planner gives you the green light -  it's time to start writing the resignation letter.  What fun it is to tell the boss how sorry you are to be leaving your job!  I put on my best sad poker face when the boss read my letter and asked if this is really what I wanted to do!

I picked a good time to leave the day job because 2005 was a blockbuster hurricane season.  I was a dope for scheduling shoulder surgery in June but usually that's a slow month as is July.  That year I found myself chasing Hurricanes Dennis in Pensacola (only 10 months after Ivan) and shortly afterward Hurricane Emily in Tulum, Mexico with one arm in a sling and plenty of pain for two men.  You have to really like filming hurricanes to film in that kind of pain.  I chased Hurricane Katrina for a week including onboard a NOAA Hurricane Hunter G4 at 45,000 feet.  Next up was Hurricane Rita passing  just south of Key West where I filmed a cyclist get creamed by a giant wave at the White Street Pier - one of my best money shots!  Finally, Hurricane Wilma roared through South Florida and the Keys in October putting 75% of Key West underwater.  What an eye opener that was.  There were 100,000 cars swamped in the Keys thanks to Wilma.

In 2007, I moved back home to Pensacola sensing I had tapped out in the Keys.  I had accomplished what I wanted and was on my own doing what I loved.  That's the secret to life.  Yes, I'm employee of the month every month now!  It was a long road to get my own business going full time but heck, that's half the fun!  Next up was to take the storm photography worldwide cause there's always a storm somewhere in the World - you just have to find it.

Check out some of my Magazine, Video, & Newspaper/Book Credits


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