Brendan Burden: Sharing A Sense of Place

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Brendan Burden is an editorial and commercial photographer based in Ontario, Canada. Specializing in travel photography, Brendan has the good fortune to fly around the globe for work and explore cool places like Cuba, Brazil, Israel, and Italy to name a few. He is passionate about exploring and sharing a sense of place. His captivating travel photos have been published in numerous publications. Brendan hopes to work next on a personal project on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. This week atlas speaks to Brendan about what draws him to travel photography, which photographers inspire him the most, and how he captured these stunning photos from Israel.

The vast majority of your work is travel photography. What about travel photography resonates with you?

Brendan Burden: I would have to say it is two things. First, I love to explore, whether that be through travelling or the inside of a building. I want to know what is around the next corner in a compulsive sort of way. So with or without a camera, I want to see things I have not seen before just to satisfy my curiosity. Second, which is more specific to creating an image, is that I want to share a sense of place with viewers. I am essentially trying to convey my feelings about a place, the atmosphere, culture and very often a sense of scale. I find travel photography a good way of doing this and it allows me to create bigger stories than some other subjects allow for. Travel photography is also my favorite kind of photography as a viewer. Nadav Kander’s Yangtze series which is not necessarily “travel photography” in every sense, but to me, is about a sense of place. Similarly Rüdiger Nehmzow’s work, much of which is industrial, does an excellent job of translating what it feels like to be in a space or location and I like that in a visceral way.

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How did you first become interested in photography?

I had always had an interest in photography from a young age. When I went off to summer camp with my disposable camera, I would come back mostly with pictures (not great ones) of sunsets and rocks and lakes rather than a bunch of group photos of the other campers which is typical. I did not actually get into photography until high school when I attended Sudbury Secondary School in Northern Ontario, which is an arts school. I was enrolled in the arts program in Voice and sort of on a whim took photography as an elective in grade ten, at which point I was hooked. Luckily for me my father was always into taking photographs as well so there was a bag of gear in the closet to play around with. My first cameras were the school’s Pentax k100 and my father’s Nikon F3HP, which I still own and use on occasion. My mother was also pretty supportive of my hobby and was happy to buy me film and, when I started shooting slides, pay for developing.

Are you self-taught or do you have a formal training in photography?

I studied photography in high school and partially completed a college program in photography. I am not a great student so it is a mixed bag in terms of training. Much of what I know beyond the basic technical aspects has been a result of a great deal of practice and a lot of looking at art and photography. I do somewhat lament not having studied fine art when I was younger which I think would have been valuable.

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If you look at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it seems like everyone is posting travel photos. How do you create images that set yours apart from all the rest? 

I do not think about it too much. I mostly just post whatever appeals to me and try not to worry about what anyone else is doing. The only consideration I make is usually in regards to whether or not something fits into a series. I will usually post stand alone images to social media and save the larger stories for my blog or website which I think are both more appropriate spaces for that kind of work. I do not know if there is any other way to approach social media which is so saturated and fickle.

Tell us a bit more about these gorgeous images from Israel. What inspired you to travel to Israel? What was your experience like in this country? What did you hope to capture while you were there?

Israel was never a place I had planned to visit, but an opportunity came up and I took it and brought my camera. I wish there was more to it than that but it was about that simple. I had no preconceptions of what I might shoot when I arrived. I was just kind of flying by the seat of my pants, which isn’t necessarily the worst way to see something. Israel ended up being a lot more scenic and geographically diverse than I anticipated. The Golan Heights are wildly different from the Galilee just a few hours south, and the coast is a lot different than the interior a short drive away. It was also a completely new experience, being a North American, to be surrounded by such rich and ancient history. To walk on stones with dips worn into them over thousands of years or see settlements that predate Christianity. Visually Israel is fairly stark and monochromatic. It was a completely new and pleasurable experience to work with that kind of palette. That is why so many of the images focus on the punctuations to that relatively uniform backdrop.

Did you feel uninhibited as a photographer as your explored Jerusalem and other cities?

I did not have much concern in Israel, no. There is a great deal of security in Israel and I felt safe throughout my trip. The only thing I found sort of off-putting, and it was really just because it was unusual to me as a Canadian, was the casual gun carrying by young people serving in the military. I remember one occasion being behind two young guys at a checkout in a grocery store as their assault rifles dangled over their backs a few inches from me. This was something I had never seen before. I think one of the only places I have felt a little on edge was Rio de Janeiro, where violent muggings are fairly common and carrying around any kind of valuables is ill advised. I used a Jansport bag to carry my gear and only took out my camera when I needed it. This made shooting a little difficult but I think it was a necessary precaution to try not to draw attention to myself. Generally speaking though, most common travel destinations are fairly safe with minimal precautions and in my experience reports are overblown.

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What is your dream photography trip?

That is an almost impossible question to answer. There is so much of the planet I have yet to see. I’d really love to visit Iran and maybe one day Afghanistan and the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan. I would also really like to photograph some of the more remote areas of the far north. The Torngat Mountains in Labrador, Faroe Islands, the Aleutian Islands. A lot of remote places.

Are there any photographers whose work inspire you?

For sure. I really love Nadav Kander’s landscape work and Rüdiger Nehmzow as I have mentioned. I am also a big fan of Edward Burtynsky whose images are pretty awe- inspiring. The sense of scale and place that all three bring to their work is really impressive. I also really enjoy the work of Kamil Bialous, Grant Harder, and Alexi Hobbs, all fellow Canadians who are producing some amazing photo stories. It is hard to narrow the list too much. There is so much great work out there – I just have a bunch of books and a giant bookmarks folder dedicated to it and I spend a fair bit of time just enjoying it.

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What is your next project?

I just got back from Germany and Switzerland with a short stop in northern Italy so I am working on putting together some edits from those trips. After that, I head off to Pittsburgh and Virginia Beach for some assignments. In terms of personal projects, it is hard to say. I have been thinking a lot about creating a story focused on transport in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence. It is logistically a very difficult project so it is difficult to say whether it will come to fruition or not, but I would like to produce some more stories focused on Canada. There are a lot of remote places in this country and a lot of stories to be told about the landscape and people so it would be great to tell some of them through photography. It is just a matter of finding the time to do it.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Brendan!

For more information about Brendan, visit his website.  All images © Brendan Burden.

Ricardo Silen: Behind the Lens in Turkey

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Ricardo Silen is a freelance photographer from Northern California. Originally from Pennsylvania, Ricardo has lived and worked in the Bay Area for many years. One of his biggest passions is travel so at least once a year, he flies to a different country to explore and learn about its history, its culture, and its people. He has traveled throughout Asia and Europe but never stepped foot in Turkey. Earlier this year, Ricardo brought his camera and flew to Turkey. This week Ricardo speaks to atlas about his impressions of the people and the culture, his first balloon ride, and his photo essay on this history-rich country.

What inspired you to travel to Turkey?

Ricardo Silen: I have traveled to many places in Europe and East Asia so now I have to connect the Northern Hemisphere dots between those places. Iran and India are next.

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What were your impressions of Istanbul?

Istanbul was great fun. I usually do not spend much time in big cities but I did in Istanbul because I read it was worth it. While I thought I would see people hiding from the troubles there, it was actually very lively.  Below are some of the places that I particularly enjoyed:

Beyoglu district, south and west of Taksim Square, was full of lively outdoor cafes or open-air restaurants in the winding narrow streets that branched off from Istiklal Street, the main closed-to-cars shopping street. On weekend nights, hundreds of folks flooded that area to eat or smoke or drink tea or raki (an Ouzo-like drink).

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Kadikoy district, a short ferry ride across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of Istanbul, was also a popular spot for the same kind of fun, and seemed to have a much better beer selection in its cafes.

The Bosphorus itself was spectacular. One morning I stood on its western shore and watched the sun rise over Kadikoy. Then on one evening I stood on its eastern shore and watched the sun set on the Old City. I also took a fun and inexpensive ferry cruise one afternoon along the length of the Bosphorus — from about where it meets the Sea of Marmora to about where it meets the Black Sea.

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One of the coolest things of my trip was probably my balloon ride in Cappadoccia which is several hundred miles east of Istanbul. Millions of years ago it was a very active volcanic region. There is still a large dormant volcanic cone visible in the area. That volcano covered the region in ash, which eventually became a soft rock called tufa. This type of rock is relatively easily eroded or carved out, which is what accounts for the interesting rock formations and valleys. Throughout the centuries, people have also carved homes in the rocks. And there are also a number of old underground cities in the area; I visited one called Derunkuyu that goes back to at least the 8th century BC. There is also plenty of good hiking through the tufa valleys near a small town called Goreme where I stayed.

Can you tell us more about these photos you captured from your trip?

The best pics from my trip were the ones from the balloon ride, which is odd because I took them while I had one arm wrapped around one of the basket’s support poles so that I would not fall out and die. I wish that I could take good pictures of ordinary street scenes when I travel because, more than the famous sites, it is seeing people go about their everyday life slightly differently than we do in the U.S. that is my favorite part about traveling. But I am a bit uncomfortable about turning other people into unwitting props for my photos. And when I do selfishly break that rule and sneak a photo, it never captures the feeling that I experienced being there.

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What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of my trip was having baba ghannouj (mashed eggplant). I have always loved mashed potatoes but never I never imagined that there was mashed eggplant.

What did you take away from your trip?

The biggest thing I took away from the trip is that Turkey is not dangerous. The locals want people to come and visit.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Ricardo!

All images © Ricardo Silen.

Anne Launcelott: Life in the Omo River Valley

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Anne Launcelott is a Nova Scotia-based photographer who specializes in candid photography. Anne attended the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and has been capturing beautiful and spectacular images for over thirty years. She has a unique gift for telling stories with her camera about people from different cultures and countries, including Vietnam, Myanmar, Morocco, and Ethiopia. Anne’s work has been shown in many solo and group exhibitions around the world, including Canada, China, and Nova Scotia. She was elected to the Society of Canadian Artists in 2012 and her black & white image, “Face at Window (Havana, Cuba) was selected as Best of Show for the Society of Canadian Artists National Open Juried Online Exhibition. This week Anne speaks to atlas about how she got started in photography, her experience photographing the Kara and Hamar Tribes in Ethiopia, and the impact the tribes people made on her during her trip.

How did you first become interested in photography?

Anne Launcelott: I received my first camera, a Brownie Instamatic (for those old enough to remember) as a birthday present from my father when I was 14. I have had a love affair with photography ever since.

Some say photographing people can be challenging. What is your approach?

My specialty is candid photography. I am inspired by people and the themes of everyday life. In order to photograph a certain expression or action, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible so as not to break the moment. More often than not, travel takes me to countries where a blonde white woman with a big camera around her neck really stands out. In these circumstances I spend time with the person, talking through gesture. Once I have their trust, I then indicate I would like to photograph them. I never get a refusal and I have a memory that lasts long after the photograph I have taken is forgotten.

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You used to photograph in black & white exclusively up until ten years ago. Why did you switch and what do you prefer to photograph in now?

I went digital in 2006 because B&W film, or film of any kind for that matter, was impossible to buy here in Halifax. I find color is more of a challenge because if there is a red bucket in the background, for example, the eye goes to that and not your subject. In a B&W image, it is just one more grey or black object in the background. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Color shows the viewer what it was truly like when I photographed the scene, whereas B&W is so much better at creating a mood and dispensing with the distraction of color.

In 2013, you went to the remote Omo River Valley in Southern Ethiopia with a group of photographers to document the lives of isolated tribes living in the valley. What inspired to you go on this trip? What was your experience like?

This trip was being led by world famous photographer Steve McCurry, and since this was an area that really intrigued me, I just had to sign on. I loved travelling with Steve. He took us to this remote area of Ethiopia and then we were free to wander and photograph to our hearts content. At first it was very difficult and overwhelming to photograph.  About a hundred children were crowded around me yelling, “photo, photo”, but since we were camped outside their village for about a week, they soon became familiar with me walking around their village. It was virtually impossible to take any candid shots so I was certainly outside of my comfort zone.

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You captured some very beautiful and compelling images from the trip. What were your impressions of the Kara and Hamar Tribes? What did you take away from your experience?

The Kara tribe lives in a very remote region. Despite having nothing and contending with so many hardships just to survive, the children were carefree and happy, free from the trappings of our modern technical world. The women do all the work while the majority of the men sit around every day doing nothing. This was rather disconcerting and I really admired the wormen whose every waking hour is devoted to looking after the children, cooking, gathering wood for the fire, collecting river water for cooking and washing, and tanning the hides of the goats to make clothing. The boys go to school — up to grade 4 or 5 — but the girls do not as they are needed in the village to help their mothers with the work. Feminism is certainly not a word they know in this society.

The Hamar Tribe, on the other hand, live right beside an Ethiopian village called Turmi and are much more influenced by the outsider through the tourism. The tourist has to pay to take a photograph, and the members of the tribe would spend it all in one of the three bars in the small village. This was very sad to see. Regarding what I took away from the experience, I was amazed at the resilience of the human species and realized that despite such huge differences, we have so much in common.

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What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip had to be traveling with Steve McCurry and getting the chance to make a connection with a young teenage girl from the Kara Tribe. She would hold my hand every time I came into the village and learned very quickly some English words I was teaching her. She would place on my wrist each day a bead bracelet she had made for me. Here they have nothing and yet she was giving me a gift each day. I will never forget her.

What message do you hope your viewers will take away from these photos?

I want the viewer to come away having learned something about the way of life and culture of these people. I really hope my images have told a story about how rich this culture is and the importance of tradition. Despite having nothing, the Kara Tribe are a proud people and we can certainly could learn so much from them about taking joy from the simple things in life.

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Where do you want to travel to and/or photograph next?

India is very high on my list of travels. I feel that this country is a feast for the artistic eye.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

I am often asked by the person I photograph to send him/her the image I took. Always honor this request if you have said you will do so. It will make a person trust foreigners and make it easier for the next photographer who comes along.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Anne!

For more information about Anne, visit her website.  All images © Anne Launcelott.