Tuesday, 8 January 2008

1 on 1: Gavin Gough

The Travel Photographer blog will occasionally post interviews with both travel and editorial working photographers. The first interview of 2008 is with Gavin Gough, a full-time freelance working photographer from Great Britain.

TTP: When did you decide to become a photographer? Who or what influenced your decision?

GG: I've entertained ambitions of being a photographer since leaving school but followed a more mainstream career until a sabbatical in 2003. That year off gave me the opportunity to change track and became the launching point for my new career. Realizing just how quickly time is passing is a great motivator and once I had made the decision I knew that the remainder of my working life would be devoted to photography.

TTP: Do you have any formal training regarding photography?

GG: I attended a series of classes many years ago, some of which were taken with a really inspiring teacher who was the most observant person I have ever met. He was the first person to teach me that seeing things with a “photographer's eye” would reveal different viewpoints and perspectives. Other than those early classes, I am entirely self-taught.

TTP : if you had the choice, where is your favorite place to live and work as a photographer in the world and why?

GG: I am lucky enough to be able to work anywhere in the world but I especially enjoy working in the Indian sub-continent and South East Asia. Nepal feels like a home from home, and away from the beaten track, it is still very unspoiled and the local people are charm personified.

India is a photographer's dream but like a world apart. Impossible to sum up in a few sentences, it is a chaos of contradictions, and remains one of the most hospitable places I know.

Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are a delight to visit. I once owned a rickshaw in Cambodia and thought I might use it to show tourists around Angkor if the photographic work didn't take off. I've been completely seduced by Vietnam and it is a place where I can easily imagine living.

My main base, however, remains in England as it really is one of the few places in the world where you can get a decent cup of tea. The Uruguayans are enthusiastic tea-drinkers too so I'm always happy to go back to Uruguay.

TTP: Describe your own favorite image, and describe how you went about creating it.

GG: I really struggled to find an answer to this question. Perhaps because I find it easier to talk enthusiastically about other people's photo's (I try to maintain the stereotype of a self-deprecating Englishman), although it's really just that my favorite photo is different on any given day.

So, for today at least, I have selected one of a Hindu religious teacher or “Swami” taken in Varanasi in northern India as a recent favorite. I was walking along the bank of the Ganges shortly after sunrise and turned a corner to be confronted by the sight of this man standing on his head, performing his ritual morning yoga routine. I obviously didn't want to interrupt him so discretely snapped a couple of frames before he turned himself, with great elegance, up the right way, at which point I asked if I could continue to take photographs.

He was a charming man and we talked for some time before he offered to show me the nearby ashram where he was staying. It was another example of how photography can open doors and help make friends.

I like this particular picture because it tends to make people do a quick double-take when they first see it. Although his face is obscured, I love the round spectacles lying on the ground, carefully placed there before he began his exercises.

This photo will form part of a panel that I'm exhibiting in London in February '08.

TTP: Describe a day in your professional life.

GG: On location I'll be up and out before sunrise, ready to catch the first light. I will often stay out all day, shooting details and interiors if the light becomes harsh and I will be back at a pre-chosen location at dusk and for an hour after sunset. I'll spend the evening uploading the day's photos to a laptop, making my first selections and beginning the process of cataloging.

I love waking up with the knowledge that if I want to pack a bag and go to Belgium, Bolivia or Bhutan then that's my call. I hesitate to paint too rosy a picture though as “Travel Photographer” is a title that many people assume brings with it equal measures of glamor and wealth, neither of which is true.

TTP: Tell your funniest, scariest, most bizarre, most touching story from a photoshoot!

GG: I've been mugged in Rio (who hasn't?), robbed in Florence (I still maintain that my best-ever pictures were lost that day), held by Maoist rebels in Nepal (they were very polite) and chased across Saharan sand dunes by shadowy masked men (I think they were probably only trying to sell me a night's accommodation), all of which sounds much scarier than it was in reality.

The downsides to my work are easily outweighed by the positive experiences though and they are too numerous to recount. Photography is a great ice-breaker and, if approached with the right attitude and with sensitivity, carrying a camera can offer ways to quickly break down barriers.

I am frequently touched by the generosity of strangers and the hospitality shown by those who often have much less than I do. Time and time again I have seen that it is often those who have least who offer most. Making friends via photography is a rare privilege and I have been fortunate to have made many friends during my short career so far.

TTP: What types of assignments are you most attracted to?

GG: Ones that pay the biggest daily rate! Seriously, the money is a big incentive. I have a mortgage to pay and new equipment to buy. I know that sounds mercenary but it's a real luxury to be able to pick and choose assignments based purely on your own whims. I am a working photographer after all.

Having said that, whatever the assignment, I will try to put some time aside to shoot just for myself. Of course, I love to arrive in places that are new to me most of all so would prefer to go to those places first but you should see how much I spend with Canon, Adobe and Apple every year! Believe me, I go where the money takes me!

TTP: How would you describe your photographic style?

GG: This follows on from the last question in that I'm usually showing the best of a location for the benefit of travel companies and stock libraries. So there are lots of blue skies and smiling faces in my commercial work as these wholesome, unspoiled views are the best sellers.

However, I've always been a great admirer of the more gritty, editorial style and although I am a million miles from being in the company of those well-known editorial shooters, It is clear that I am now tending towards a more editorial style in my personal work.

TTP: Who or what would you love to shoot that you haven't already?

GG: The winner of this year's Travel Photographer of the Year competition won an opportunity to photograph the Dalai Lama and I would gladly have swapped all of my other awards and successes for that chance.

TTP: Describe the photo gear, as well as (if digital) your computer hardware and software you use.

GG: I use Canon EOS 1Ds MKII bodies with a selection of Canon 'L' series lenses ranging from 16mm to 200mm. The Canon IS f/2.8 70-200mm is a gorgeous lens. I carry gear in either Lowepro or Crumpler backpacks although I'm still searching for the perfect camera bag.

I work with a MacBook Pro on location, backing up to LaCie All-Terrain external drives. I process RAW files with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS3 and I manage my photo library with iView MediaPro.