Once the travel bug bit David, there was no going back. This young Australian photographer’s work looks unreal: he doesn’t shoot people, but moments, experiences, the essence of a whole remote culture in one snap:
I was inspired by portraits of people from India and Nepal, initially, after I saw the film photos taken by my two friends whom I travelled with in these countries, back in 2004. I was drawn to the photos of people from different cultures and of different ethnicities, and back at home I looked at a lot of travel photography online and studied the photos I really liked. The following year I bought a Nikon DSLR camera and decided to try taking better travel photos myself on the next trip. I practiced and developed my ability to meet and engage with people and asking to take their photo. I also practiced using Photoshop to improve my photos, starting with basic techniques such as rotating crooked horizons, adding more contrast, saturation of particular colours and improving sharpness. After a few years of doing this and gradually improving, I entered competitions and I had good success years with this, and my photos started to be seen by more people. I never stopped traveling on 2-3 month trips each year since my first big trip in 2004.
Did you have any interest for other kinds of photography, like fashion?
Not as such, it was just the travel photography that motivated and inspired me. There are so many interesting people on this planet all living different lifestyles, and the beauty of nature and humanity that exists in our world can be breathtaking, and that’s what I want to capture.
The experiences I’ve had have all broadened my mind and I really enjoy meeting people in less travelled regions of the world. I learnt that happiness isn’t derived from material possession, and it’s touching to discover that those who have little wealth are perhaps the kindest, most generous and strongest human beings on the planet. They stay positive and they don’t complain.
Is there a big different between shooting spontaneously and asking a person to pose?
Yes I think so, and both are equally valid approaches to people photography and achieve different results. Personally, I don’t feel comfortable photographing people up close by sticking a camera in their face without their permission. Since I like intimate, relaxed and emotive portraits, it’s better for both me and the subject if I interact with them first, thereby receiving permission to photograph them, and I do my best to make them feel comfortable and happy in my presence. Once a rapport has been established, I can then be more specific by asking the person for a photograph, and I can control elements such as the composition, position of the light, background, posture and expression of the person, and I can get the kind of photo that is in my mind. I always visualize the photo before I take it, so my photographs are always very specific and personal to my vision and style, creating a connected body of work. On the other hand, I do also enjoy photographing unplanned scenes in a documentary style, although I find this much more challenging and difficult to get the emotional and artistic photos that I want, although it is of course possible and it’s also rewarding when it works!
I’ve taken many photos that I’m proud of, usually the ones that weren’t easy to get and contain a moment that can’t be captured again. I would say my Tiny Lion Cub photo is one I’m very proud of, as it took a lot of time and patience and traveling in various African countries over numerous visits before I saw lion cubs, which were walking and playing right next to me on the road we were sharing.
In the Chin and Rakhine States of Myanmar there are a certain villages housing some of the last few remaining women who had their faces tattooed since childhood. This was done in order to taint their beauty and stop men, especially princes, from other tribes and kingdoms taking them away and forcing them to marry. Interestingly, over time and without the threat of being abducted, the custom continued and full facial tattoos became a sign of beauty. Different patterns used to represent the various groups and villages. These days, the tradition has completely stopped and has been banned by the government, with only the last generation of tattooed women still alive today.
I try to bond with the people I meet and photograph by being friendly, jovial and always showing respect to them. I was lucky to stay in a community village for a number of nights near Maraba in Brazil for example, where I bonded with the tribe and gained the trust of these people who practice interesting activities and traditions unique to the region.
I believe if I was to have a full day job now, unrelated to the photography and music work that I do, it would be difficult to pursue personal creative hobbies and passions as the brain is tired after a long working day, and needs to relax in the spare time between the day job. Creative energy comes when you have a fresh mind and lots of time to explore and play with your ideas.
From all the places you’ve been to, which are many, which one is your favorite?
Perhaps my favourite destination to have visited and photographed is Myanmar, because I find it to be a very beautiful country, with kind and friendly people and a lot of traditional and strong culture. My first trip their garnered a folio of photos that to me was my most prolific at the time, and from that moment onwards my photography continued to really grow and improve. I have returned four times since my first trip there in 2010, and led a couple of photography tours in Myanmar with Luminous Journeys. I also have a coffee table book coming out later this year of my photography in Myanmar.
What’s the most rewarding part of photography?
Two things for me: one is creating art that makes me happy. The other is pushing myself to meet and interact with people I normally wouldn’t have otherwise, and my travel experiences are more rich and rewarding as a result.
“Best part of travelling continously is being able to explore new places and learn new things about life in other corners of the world, and the worst part might be in the transiting between locations, but it’s not a big problem.”
My advice for upcoming photographers is: take photos of subject matter that inspires you and that you find interesting, beautiful and meaningful, and also analyse other photographer’s photos that you admire and try to work out why it is a successful photo. Be inspired, but have a vision and make it your own. See the photo in your mind before you take it, plan and think creatively. Like all arts it’s never easy to create excellent work but with dedication and practice, you will improve your craft and find a photographic style that is your personal and unique expression.
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