Matt Wallace: Adventure in the Bolivian Highlands

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Matt Wallace is a photographer based in Switzerland. He first became interested in photography at age eight when his parents took a photography class. Since then, Matt has never looked back.  Trained as a health care professional, Matt’s interest in indigenous health motivated him and his spouse to travel to Bolivia. He often photographs during his travels around the world. Matt talks to atlas this week about how he came to capture profound images of the indigenous culture and the vast and gorgeous highlands of this South American country. (Editor’s Note: This week we are sharing another favorite feature of ours from Matt Wallace. Enjoy!)

How did you first get started in photography?

Matt Wallace: My interest in photography started when my mother and father took a photography course together when I was about eight years old. I recall them taking pictures all the time and I was fascinated by the entire process. Later I was really into skateboarding and my friend and I used to take photos of each other doing tricks. I think this helped me learn about composition in a very organic way.  It made me visualize how to best capture a scene and made me aware of how certain techniques can dramatically influence how a picture turns out. This led me to take up photography in my final year of school (2000). It was in school I learned about the chemistry of film and basic developing techniques in the darkroom. I loved working in the darkroom so much that I would cut class to develop prints and became obsessed with all aspects of film photography.

How would you describe your photography?

I do not think photography can be easily defined as one particular genre. They all overlap. Landscape can be documentary, documentary can be street, and street can be travel or portraiture. I just take photos of things that interest me or are related to a particular topic or project that I am working on.

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You have travelled all over the globe, including Bolivia. Your images from Bolivia, including images from Salar de Uyuni are spectacular and masterfully composed. Can you tell us a little bit more about your photographs from Bolivia? What inspired you to travel to Bolivia in the first place? How long were you traveling in Bolivia? How did you decide which photos to capture while you were there?

Thank you, I think you are too kind! Bolivia is a very amazing place. It is extremely photogenic. At the time I had just finished working in remote indigenous communities in Australia where I specialized in indigenous health. My wife was interested in child labor and indigenous rights and in the process of writing her thesis. Bolivia is known for its strong indigenous culture, so this made it a place of interest to both of us and we spent a few months there. I was most interested in the remote highlands, very vast empty spaces. In these areas, I find that you can see how people interact with their environment. The photos I took in these areas felt more genuine because they are more obvious. They are about these empty isolated spaces that portray a sense of isolation and being alone. The photos are generally composed very simply and often with a central focus.

Did you face any challenges while shooting in Bolivia? If so, what were they?

No, not really. Like anywhere you have to be respectful. One can sense if it is the right time and place to take candid street photos. I think if one is respectful, confident, and able to read people and a scene you will not have any problems. I feel most people do not mind having their photo taken. But if you are disrespectful about it or intrusive then they may feel you are taking advantage of them and will take exception. Basically, do not think you are Bruce Gilden. Battery life was a challenge as it was cold and we often had long intervals between having the opportunity to charge. Also it was very dusty in some places, so my gear took a bit of a hammering.

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You shoot exclusively in black & white. In fact, your Instagram page is filled with stunning black & white images. Do you prefer to shoot in black & white? Do you ever shoot in color?

I do really like color photography. Most of my favorite photographers shoot in color.  I am never satisfied with the photos I take when I shoot in color. I go through phases when I shoot only color but I always find myself returning to black and white, even my digital cameras are set to monochrome at the moment. I still shoot a lot of film, and black and white is easy to develop. Overall, I like how it looks and the feeling photos have in black in white. I think by shooting in black in white you are not making an exact replication of the scene. Instead you are simplifying it and bringing the elements that you want to be exhibited to the forefront. This attracts me as I like simple composition and simple photos.

Are there any photographers whose work have influenced you? If so, who?

So many! There are too many to mention.  I find myself reading American Power by Mitch Epstein over and over. Another book I come back to is William Eggleston’s Guide. I am a fan of topography photography, particularly Bernd and Hilla Becher.  Other photographers whom I admire are the New Typographic exhibitors such as Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, and Nicholas Nixon. In addition, the Swiss photographer Ludovic Stefanicki has been a source of inspiration recently. The great photojournalists from the Vietnam era have also been and remain a huge influence on me.

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Are you self-taught or did you have a formal education in photography?

I did photography at high school (a long time ago) but other than that I am very much self-taught.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

Read and study photo books! Be obsessed. Do not just take photos. Think of projects and topics that interest you and then take photos that demonstrate these things. Start with film, learn good techniques, and then move to digital. Have fun. Don’t submit photos to critique groups on social media. Get critiques — get a lot of them — only from people whom you respect.

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

For more information about Matt, visit his website and Instagram. All images © Matt Wallace.

 

 

 

Ross Willsher: Walking the Streets of London

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Ross Willsher is a seasoned social and commercial photographer based in the UK.  Ross owns a thriving and successful photography business, specializing in weddings, portraits, performances, food/products, and street photography. He is City and Guilds qualified and pursues his passion for photography with meaning and purpose. His creativity and visual storytelling skills are masterfully reflected in every image he captures. Prior to becoming a photographer, Ross worked with members of the community who had special needs and dementia so he is a natural when it comes to making his subjects feel at ease in front of the camera. When he is not photographing, Ross loves to spend time with family, train for half-marathons, and be creative in the kitchen. This week Ross speaks to atlas about his fabulous street photography, the process he undergoes with his camera on the street, and how he is developing his own unique style.  We are thrilled to showcase Ross and his work once again.

Since we last featured your beautiful photography work, what have you been working on recently? 

This year I have been busy building my photography business and have photographed a range of subjects and locations. I have shot quite a few weddings in a reportage style that my street photography has definitely helped with. In addition, I have also photographed families, food, and products for websites and captured some live performances including the Military Wives Choir. It has been such an exciting and diverse year. As the festive season approaches I have few charity balls to photograph and once again my street photography will help me to get lots of natural shots of the guests and speakers at these events.

Your street photography is so rich and compelling which makes you a talented visual storyteller. Street photography can be challenging for some photographers. Some sit in the same spot for hours waiting for the right shot while others just point and shoot randomly. It can be so unpredictable. What is your approach to creating your street images?

One thing I do not do is take lots of photos and just hope some are good. Of course, when you upload the images from the day’s shoot onto the computer, some you thought were going to be great turn out not to be and vice versa. But I usually know which ones have worked and why as soon as I have shot them. I very rarely sit and wait in one location for a long period of time. However, once I see a story unfolding in front of me, I do wait for the best moment to click the shutter — such as a certain expression or gesture taking place. I like to wander — sometimes around the same area for several hours — but in busy areas people come and go and several different stories can be captured in one location in one short period of time.

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How did you learn street photography? Did you attend a formal class or just started photographing? 

I studied photography in London for three years but I never saw myself as a street photographer. There were other photographers on my course who had been doing street photography for years and I never envisioned that it would be something I would naturally have a flair or passion for. I got into it after challenging myself to take street portraits of strangers to build my confidence as a portrait photographer and it grew from there. I was surprised how popular my first few shots were on social media and it made me think that maybe street photography was not just for London “artsy types”!

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In your opinion, what is most challenging about street photography?

Probably the fact you have no guarantee of coming back with any shots. This is not a problem as street photography is a hobby and not where I make my money as a professional photographer. However, sometimes on cold wet days after a delayed train journey into the capital city, I hope and pray it will be worth it.

I love these images you shot from London. Each one tells a little story, plus the composition and the style are masterful. 

I am starting to see my own style develop with these shots. I like straight lines and order to my photos and in these shots I tried to embrace that.  I admire photographers who can find order in the chaos but that does not seem to be what I have an eye for so I played to my strengths with these and kept things simple and uncluttered. London is such a busy vibrant city and it is nice to find little moments where people are isolated from their fellow city-dwellers.

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When you head out to the streets with your camera, what is the first thing you do? Can you explain your process?

The first thing I do is photograph something – anything! A bit like at a wedding (when I start with the cards, the shoes or the popped champagne corks at the bride’s house), taking those first photographs gets me into the mode of photographer and within 5-10 minutes I have found my focus (no pun intended). I have found that waiting for the prime moment to start shooting rarely works. You have to be in the mode and already shooting to see the story in the first place.

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You now own a successful photography business. How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to now doing it full time with your own business?

I studied in London on a part time basis for three years. I then worked part time for the past year while starting my business and have been lucky enough to go full time this summer. It’s all been about getting out there, pushing yourself and facing your fears. Self-confidence affects many new photographers and I am no different. Opportunities have come as a result of taking risks and working hard to always improve my skills.

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

For more information about Ross, visit his website.  All images  © Ross Willsher.

Ben Seto: Wandering in Vietnam

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Ben Seto is an Oakland-based food blogger and photographer. Born and raised in Hawaii, Ben first started blogging about the Bay Area food scene back in 2006 with his blog, “Cooking with The Single Guy.” Over the past decade, the blog not only attracted a wider audience but evolved with a new name, “Focus Snap Eat,” where Ben showcases his food photography as well as continue to share his notes on the latest restaurants and culinary stores around the Bay Area and beyond. He just celebrated the 10th year anniversary of his successful blog and looks forward to what is in store for the next ten years. Aside from food, Ben also loves to travel around the world and try different cuisines.  This week Ben speaks to atlas about his trip to Vietnam, who he would love to go on a photo shoot with, and where he would like to travel next.

How did you first become interested in photography?

Ben Seto: I was always fascinated at looking at pictures growing up. I was mesmerized how a photo could evoke emotions and tell a story in one quick instance. So when I was in high school in Hawaii, I saved up money working part time to buy my first camera, which was an Olympus, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since.

You have been blogging about food in the Bay Area and beyond for ten years now on Focus Snap Eat where you also post a lot of your food photography. How has blogging changed over the past decade?

People’s attention span has definitely shortened in the time that I have been blogging. For me, that means less writing long prose and more focus on having a lot of engaging images in my post to catch the eye of visitors.

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

Yes, I am self taught. Early on I took a few beginning photography classes but never found them necessarily insightful. I got a few good pointers here and there, but the end result I learned was that you get better photos when you can invest in better equipment and lighting. In terms of the soul of a photo, it still rests with how you frame the photo and see it through your eyes. And that you can not really learn.

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Aside from food photography, you also engage in other types of photography i.e., nature, sports, and travel.  What do you enjoy photographing the most and why?

I think my photography site, benseto.smugmug.com, best demonstrates my main areas of interests, which you correctly point out as food, travel, nature and sports. I equally enjoy photographing all but each provide a different satisfaction. With sports (especially baseball), I enjoy the challenge of capturing that moment of action. Things can happen so quickly so it is really prepping for the right moment and then getting lucky. Travel is really trying to find moments in a foreign land that convey how I felt when I was visiting, and nature is really just enjoying the beauty of flowers (plus flowers, like food, don’t move). And with food, it’s both the excitement with how beautiful food can be sometimes, and then trying to tell a story through how I present the food. I really enjoy that challenge.

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How is food photography different from travel photography?

Food photography mostly deals with a smaller space, mostly a table, while travel photography can involve an entire mountainside. So both offer different challenges in scale. But what is most exciting to me is when I get to do food photography while traveling! That’s my biggest joy because you see the beauty of the food that is different than what we see here, and then there’s the challenge of conveying that country’s vibe and story through the photo.

Tell us a bit about these wonderful and vibrant street scenes from your trip in Vietnam. Which cities did you visit? What was your experience like photographing there?

When I travel, I typically go to one place and spend some time there instead of going from city to city, trying to squeeze in a lot of experience into a short period. When I stay in one place, it allows me to really absorb the culture and help me understand a place.

My Vietnam trip was a 10-day stay in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. There’s really not a lot to do in Vietnam, and I go mostly because I love the freshness of the food. But in-between meals, I mostly found myself walking and walking and walking, just people watching and exploring the city. Because Ho Chi Minh City is not as interesting as, say, Hanoi with its historical buildings, I spent most of my time photographing the street scenes, especially the markets.

What I find exciting about visiting places like Vietnam, where the country may not be necessarily prosperous to produce slick skyscrapers or fancy restaurants, is that it feels more real to me, more authentic.

 

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Any photographers who inspire you?

I’ve been inspired by many photographers over the years, like Herb Ritts and Ansel Adams. My current fascination is Vivian Maier, who worked as a nanny in Chicago but took black and white photographs of the street scene of Chicago in the 1940s. She never became famous as a photographer when she was alive, but became famous when her old negatives were discovered by an art student who purchased it at an estate sale. I just loved the fact that despite not being recognized for her photography when she was living, she still continued to take tons and tons of photos (this was all on film before digital) because she just loved to take photos. And I really enjoy looking at her photos because the street scenes are always capturing moments in people’s lives. It may seem invasive to some, but to me it chronicles life at a certain moment in history. And every moment should be memorialized, I believe. Because every moment means something to at least one person.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?

Well, since I am obsessed with Vivian Maier, it would be to follow her around Chicago. Of course, I would hope she leaves the kids with their parents.

What is your dream food & travel photography trip?

There are many places I would love to go and visit and try their cuisine. But at the moment I am not obsessing over any cuisine or destination. I think the ideal food-related travel for me would involve someplace near water because growing up in Hawaii I have a need to be near water like a coastal destination, and a place where the food offers a taste that I have never experienced before, something that tickles my palate and makes me feel that excitement of discovering something that maybe no one else (but the locals) have experienced. If anyone knows a place like that, I am open to suggestions!

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What is your next project?

I do not really work project to project. In my head, there are different photo themes I think about tackling or I would like to do. It is really just finding the time since this is not my full-time job. I wish it was. So on my free time, I am mostly focused on taking photos for my food blog. So if I really have a “next” project, it will be my first.

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

For more information about Ben, visit his blog.  All images © Ben Seto.