Free spirit Lloyd Belcher

Lantau-based photographer and filmmaker Lloyd Belcher is a free spirit.

By doing what he loves for a living, he brings new meaning to the art of running.

Lloyd Belcher looks like he belongs on Lamma. With a shock of wild sandy-blond curls and the comportment of an easy-going post-1960s hippie, to the untrained eye Lloyd would fit in on the island most often associated with the Summer of Love. Tell him that and you’ll get a knowing laugh. “Back in the day Lantau was Lamma, though,” begins the honorary Lantau native who, in reality, isn’t hippie-ish at all.

“I first moved here when I was 14,” Lloyd says. “I had long hair, we were in bands. This was a village,” he notes, referring to the land that Citygate now sits on. “I used to go up Sunset Peak [and] looking down at this place 30 years ago, it was a village.”

Born to a career military man in the UK – in Aldershot, just outside London – Lloyd and his family relocated to Hong Kong when he was a kid, and it’s easy to see why he can be taken for a native. He speaks Cantonese, and knows a fair few of the villagers that live in Lantau’s more obscure locations. Whatever appeal Hong Kong Island may still hold, Lloyd has been able to see past it for decades now.

Running time

Maybe that’s because Lloyd is very much a one-man band. The former University of Hong Kong criminology lecturer studied visual anthropology (focused on ethnographic photography, film and new media) at university and taught himself how to take pictures – still and motion – along the way.

Lloyd is also an avid trail runner, and it is the marriage of running and photography that has brought him to where he is today. “I had an interest in adventure and sports, so I just decided to take the cameras I used in the academic world into the world I spent more time in than I should,” he says with a grin. “It’s worked out well.”

Indeed it has. What started off as a creative outlet, just for personal pleasure, has blossomed into a fully-fledged second career as a photographer. “It just took off about two-and-a-half years ago,” Lloyd explains. “I rocked up to race and did what I’d been doing. Then I set up a Facebook page and that was it,” he recalls. “My heart was really in it.”

Lloyd Belcher Visuals quickly cultivated a strong client base (of race organisers and related corporates), and while race events can be tricky to shoot, Lloyd says it’s thrilling to work out where the best images are going to come from. “Sometimes it’s like a military exercise,” he says. “I look at the terrain, work out how fast people are going to go, and try and head them off.

“I get paid to capture the action but I’m also trying to show off an event, so I’m trying to get variety,” Lloyd adds. “I want to show off the mountains, the people, the journey. It means getting around the course as much as I can. It’s a challenge but I enjoy it. It’s a buzz.”

Lights! Camera! Action!

Steady commissions have afforded Lloyd the freedom to pursue passion projects and focus more on filmmaking. His filmography – 2012’s Lantau 100, The Most Beautiful Thing (2013) and More Than A Race (2014) – chronicles prominent Asian ultra-marathons that are one part sports documentary and one part enlightening travelogue. The 2012 and 2014 films put the spotlight firmly on local races – the Raidlight Lantau100 and Vibram Hong Kong 100.

Lloyd’s current project is a documentary about Nepal’s Mira Rai, who has taken the ultra-running world by storm. “It’s an amazing story. She started running competitively a year ago and she’s won every race she’s entered,” Lloyd explains. A photography shoot with her led to a conversation about her life, how it’s shaped her sport, and then the film.

“It’s inspiring because women’s running in Nepal isn’t taken that seriously,” Lloyd points out. Ultimately, he hopes to see the finished film make its way into Nepalese schools and to charities serving girls and young women.

Through the lens

In a city like Hong Kong, Lloyd knows he’s fortunate to be making a creative living he enjoys. He’s also fortunate that his wife Gabbie, a teacher he met while working at a non-profit in 1992, and 14-year-old daughter, Anya “get it,” and, better still, appreciate what he does.

“My wife was a graphic designer. We’re both borderline academic nerds and pretty artsy-fartsy,” Lloyd says. “We’re comfortable in both worlds and our daughter is the same.”

Like many professional shooters, Lloyd takes every opportunity to spread the word about analogue photography, usually through the workshops he teaches. “I’m really passionate about getting people to control the camera,” he says. “We’re in a generation when the camera thinks for you.” There’s a pause as Lloyd reflects silently on his daughter’s budding habits. “She only shoots manually,” he beams proudly.

When he’s not jetting around Asia following gruelling races, he’ll simply pick up his 35mm camera and decompress by taking photographs, primarily in his beloved, vanishing Lantau. Looking out the Citygate windows, Lloyd expresses mixed feelings about how it’s changed. “There’s a sadness about the cost of it all. I’m not against development, it has brought benefits but at what expense? I’ve seen the fallout from the development and the way it was handled was unfortunate – ecologically as well. Change happens but it’s the expense of the change that’s tricky.”

Nonetheless he’s still running for himself, and recommitted a decade ago to combat the long library hours. The balance it brings keeps him sharp and suits his personality. “I’m quite a private person and I love solitude, so I’ll run 100 kilometres on my own,” Lloyd says. “I’ve chosen things that fit with my character and I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to do that.”

Besides, in his own words, Lloyd’s not a gym type. “That’s my gym,” he says, pointing at the Lantau hills in the distance. “Around the back there.”

Find it

• Lloyd Belcher Visuals,