Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Chasing Shadows: The Photographer Interviews - Nicolas Marino

Nicolas Marino is travelling the world on his bicycle - over 80 countries and counting - and for the past 2 years has been circuiting Africa.

His photographic ability to capture the people he meets, and the environment they live in, is second to none. But for me, the most amazing skill he has is to present the other as not-other. No matter how different the culture, clothing or lifestyles, Nico always brings out the humanity in the people he photographs and you realise there is no us-and-them in the human race, only variety.

I was so excited when he agreed to take part in my new series of photographer interviews and he hasn't disappointed.

I apologise, but this is a really long article. Not only were his answers really full, but he has literally thousands of photos I could choose from and I struggled to narrow it down. On the other hand, I don't apologise - once you read this, you'll understand why it was necessary...

So, switch off your phone, make yourself a cup of coffee and immerse yourself in the world of one man, his bike, his camera and the kindness of strangers.

Nicolas Marino

Kim: Thank you so much for agreeing to take part in these interviews. I should probably get you to introduce yourself first, but before we start, I have to ask you about one of my early favourites of yours that never ceases to put a smile on my face - "Awaken"

To capture this image I can only assume you spent the night in the tent with the family - you have to give me a little bit of back-story on this one!

Nico: Yes, and it is one of my personal favourites as well. This was a very special time for me, as every trip in the Tibetan plateau was. I arrived at their tent at about 4400 m high at the end of the day. It was beginning of autumn already and temperatures go well below 0 during the night and it snows as well. I met their father and asked him for permission to camp next to them. He was concerned about his dogs (I can envision Tibetan mastiffs killing lions to give you an idea, they are THAT bad), and being Tibetan, there was no question about it, he took me to his own house, his tent.

They were nomads and lived in that high plain surrounded by massive peaks where I was cycling through. He lived with his wife and their three little kids who would play around while we had dinner around the iron stove within the tent. The five of them slept in the same big mattress, sitting right on the grass floor and I slept on the other side of the stove, they gave me my own mattress, which was possibly the kids'. When I woke up the next morning, it was freezing as usual, and the parents had been out already for a long time.

The kids were there, silent, just waking up, playing in bed under thick blankets. I saw the opportunity immediately, so I grabbed the camera (I had the 50 mm on and didn't want to waste precious time swapping lenses) I approached slowly to the foot of their bed and started shooting. They were all lying down, but at one point, two of them suddenly sat and there I was to capture it. The little girl with her hair all entangled is to me what makes the difference here, the little one was walking over the one in the middle who couldn't be bothered. It's a very fresh, very natural looking scene and I love them, they were my hosts, they were my family that night.

Here are a couple more from that morning.

Kim: Wonderful, thank you! Now to some introductory stuff... I've been calling you Nico for years, although I've seen others using different variants - do you have a preference?

Nico: My name is Nicolas Marino but I'm much more comfortable with just Nico or Nick for English speaking natives.

Kim: OK,I'll stick with Nico then. So, where is home?

Nico: I am originally from Argentina, but after more than 10 years since I left, and having been moving around the world since, I'm past the point where I feel comfortable saying I'm from this or that place. I had my base in China for about 5 and a half years, mostly in Chengdu, but the rest of the time I've spent travelling. From November 2012, I haven't had any base at all other than, I guess, my parents' back home, I've been living on the move since then.

Kim: I know you're a trained architect, but I'm guessing you don't do a lot of that these days. How do you see yourself - a photographer, a traveller, an adventurer?

Nico: That's a good question and one of those I am quite happy not to be able to answer in a very defined way. As years pass by I see myself more and more like a little kid who's main aim in life is to only do the things he enjoys. Yes, I am an architect by profession but as much as I was/am a 3D artist, a computer hardware technician, an adventure traveler, a photographer and more.

One of the beautiful things I've learned in life is that life doesn't have to be just one thing, it can be all the things we want it to be. Life doesn't end in this or that profession or hobby, it goes on adding all these things shaping who we are. So I guess what I am in essence is, an ever-changing entity that evolves over-time following my passions, my curiosities, and pursuing a life where I can do only things I love, because after all, that's where our true potential can come out from.

Kim: When we first met online, your trips would take you to one or two specific countries and last for a few months. This current one has been spanning the globe and been going on for a few years. Is there a limit on this one, or do you think you have now morphed into a permanent traveller?

Nico: It's hard to say. When I started this trip, after having already taken a sabbatical year back in 2006 and having made several other shorter trips, I left with one main and very clear aim in mind, which was not to impose myself plans or dates but rather go as I would feel. I did leave with a plan in mind, my main aim for this trip was to cycle the whole of the African continent, but a plan is not necessarily imposing myself to do something I don't feel like if things change on the way.

I am flexible about all these plans but moreover, I am flexible with myself. I will continue as far as I feel like, and if I ever truly feel that I should stop, I will without hesitating, without any regrets and to be honest, that's the most beautiful thing... to have this liberty.

Do I see myself from here to 20 years still cycling? No way. As much as I love this life, there so so so many other things I want to do as well, and this is part of what I said above: life is not only one thing, at least it isn't for me, I have too many dreams!

Kim: I have to ask, have you ever been mugged and had your equipment stolen?

Nico: Only once, back in 2005 when I was backpacking in Colombia. It was much more the results of not being careful enough rather that having put myself in danger. That event pushed me (if by force) to finally jump from film to digital! haha!

Kim: So have you ever felt your life was genuinely under threat?

Nico: By human beings, never, and I've been through some of the most famous so-called "dangerous" countries. I did run into trouble, but objectively speaking, not even one where I would feel my life was at stake. Quite the opposite, I've only found hospitality and when people ask me about safety (which is a concern for all people in the world) what I answer is this: my feeling is that if there's someone around that might want to hurt me in some way, I feel there is a 1000 others that will try to protect me. Because that is how I feel moving around the world, this part of the world that so many governments and media outlets work so so so hard to demonize, I feel protected, cared for and that's one of the reasons why I do not fear.

Does that mean that nothing can happen? absolutely not, but I also believe that when something has to happen, it will happen and it can be anywhere, any time. No one is exempt of that. Security, is merely an illusion.

Kim: Here is the "civilised" West, we seem to live in a world of fear and suspicion. Every day we are bombarded with news images of wars, terrorists, paedophiles, corruption and global destruction, while politicians and newspapers captilise on this to create a sense of us-and-them: refugees are just terrorists in disguise or here to claim social benefits that takes resources away from our own poor and elderly, while anyone who is not Christian and White is barbaric or backwards. And yet, you travel the world almost entirely reliant on the kindness of strangers - just you on a bicycle - in a way that would seem to be very vulnerable. What is your general view of humanity?

Nico: Let me start by saying that I could write a book alone answering this question but I'll try to be brief. What is going on in the so-called "developed" world is terrifying and with this, I don't mean the bomb-attacks or the economic crisis, those are just consequences, not causes. What I find terrifying is the increasing sense of what you just have rightly said: the sense of us and them, the sense of fearing that other, the one that comes to take from me, to take what is mine, not his and because of this, they are threatening, they are dangerous.

What is terrifying is the growing lack of humanity in the general public in rich but also in all countries alike, this never ending growth of selfishness. All this, fed by governments to fulfil their own agendas, monstrous corporations that have no limits of any kind in order to profit without end, Media that is anything but independent pushing for one or the other and in the middle, there's all of us, being manipulated. Not as much as cattle, but in much more subtle ways, more dangerous and destructive ways.

The whole world we created appeal to our desires, we are not manipulated because they lie to us on TV or Newspapers, we are manipulated because they've created a world of desire around our material possessions. They lead us to love our stuff and want more things we want, not more things we need and when we find ourselves prey of these desires, it's very hard to quit and it's very easy to become defensive, protective. In this aspect, I feel humanity is lost.

That's when my way of traveling/living kicks in to bring me all the hope that I lose when I see where we got to. The way I travel puts me in a very intimate position in the countries/cultures I visit. I spend almost my whole life with local people and over and over, the only thing I find is the most beautiful hospitality.

I have got to a point to realise that without this wonderful hospitality, a trip like mine would not even be possible. I've received hospitality all the way, from local people, from the poorest who have nothing and yet give me everything, to the richest who are willing to share what they have. From the tribal lands to the capital cities, from locals to very wealthy expatriates working for the very evil corporations I mentioned above.

All this experience, based on days, months, years and hundreds of people that I spend my life with proved me one thing: below all the veils, there is an underlying good in everyone regardless of the material wealth. I realised that we might have created a world that is leading us to self-destruction but paradoxically, and here's the very trap we are in, most of us are willing to do good.

Yes, there's evil as well but I'm sure it amounts to very little in comparison, even when it might have much more visible consequences than the good. It's quite a conundrum if you ask me and I'm not too optimistic either about our ability to get out of it, however, the fact that the potential is there, within each one of us, is essential. The rest will depend on us.

Finally, is what living in this world, close to people that mean well, is the only thing that restores my faith in humanity.

Kim: The first photos of yours I saw were from a trek across Tibet, I think about 5 or 6 years ago. At first glance with their costumes, facial features and dwellings they were so alien to my everyday experience - and yet you also captured their absolute humanity: I could immediately connect to them as fellow people. This was other as not-other.

Whether it was a child with a snotty nose and red cheeks, or a father looking a bit tired and weary after a long day, or a mother looking faintly embarrassed at someone pointing a camera at her - they were all expressions I could immediately relate to. And this has been almost a defining aspect to your photography, to my mind.

There is always a reality and a dignity - you never look down on, or adopt a superiority towards the people you photograph. How important is this to you - to convey the other as not-other?

Nico: You hit the nail with one word: dignity. Dignity, is exactly what I strive to convey above everything. I want viewers to be able to transcend the superficial differences, I also want them to transcend all the visible lack of material possessions of most of the people I photograph, I want them to connect directly with another human being that has the exact same feelings as them and not in hierarchical way so to speak, but in a more equal way.

I feel strong respect for the people I photograph and I have always a connection with them in different degrees, I do not photograph people for their exotic looks or to exacerbate their material poverty, I photograph them out of genuine interest. They can tell how I feel about them and so they open themselves to the camera. They are not-other, they are like you or me.

Kim: Most of your images wouldn't look out of place in National Geographic, although I would also imagine them being snapped up by travel, photography and even cycling magazines. Do you make any money from your photography - magazines, prints, sponsorship etc?

Nico: Right now, I am making money with photography, FINALLY!, However, although I like it and I am putting energies in trying to generate revenues out of it, I don't put my life into it as in - I have to make a living out of it. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is, I fear that working as a full-time photographer would undermine my love for photography itself, that is, when you have the stress of having to do something for money, it changes your whole feeling about it. It happened to me with 3D animation in the past, it started as a hobby I loved to bits, and then I turned it into my full time work, which was very profitable for me, but after a few years of real success, I didn't want to sit in the computer to see another 3D Software again. I really don't want that to happen to my feeling about photography.

The second reason brings one of the drawbacks of what I just replied above, when you live to do what you love to do, you do it for love, you don't do it for money, thus I have a really terrible (if I have it at all) business drive. To make money out of anything, at least independently, you need to have a very strong business drive ,and that's something that in essence, contradicts my spirit of doing things for love and passion. But I'm working on this, as I understand it is necessary if not as essential as having the passion.

That being said, I am currently getting revenues from stock photography sales, I am represented by Aurora photos in the U.S and Novarc images in Germany. From prints sold through my website to people who mostly find me via Facebook and want to support me. From magazine articles that I write from time to time or photos I sell to them e.g TRVL magazine. From websites that want imagery e.g. owlcamp.com or companies who use them for marketing e.g Redbull Adventure. It all comes from different streams.

Kim: I did wonder if your travels were paid for purely by your photography, but from that reply it would seem to only be a recent addition to your revenue. How else do you finance your adventures?

Nico: I may not have the business drive as I said about, but I am really really good at saving, because since I am a teenager all my mind was set into saving for traveling, and it still is.

So, in addition to making some money out of photography and writing articles The financing of my adventures also consists of:

Savings: I do have them and they are my main backup so I don't end up begging when I settle somewhere. I had a very good job as an architect in China, well-paid and in a city where the cost of living was very low. For someone like me, I was able to save up to 85% of my salary every month. I have a very simple yet enjoyable life. I know how to have fun and do the things I love without emptying my wallet every day.

Traveling in the most austere way. This is not something I necessarily have to do these days because I have more money than when I was a student thus more leeway in many aspects, However it's more like a way of travelling, a way of life that I developed for myself over the years. I used to save up to the smallest coin when I was studying in order to be able to travel, and when I finally traveled I had to count every single coin I spent and even skip on meals because being on the road made me so happy that I couldn't care less about being a little hungry.

I don't indulge in fancy hotels or restaurants unless I'm invited, I don't take transportation anymore since I travel by bicycle. My pleasures are basic so is my life as a whole and I feel comfortable with it, it's not that I feel that I am depriving myself but rather feeling truly happy with as little possessions as I have. All this to say that my travel expenses can be as low as 60 usd per month or in extreme cases 300-400 usd per month, which doesn't happen very often but still 10 bucks a day is something I feel comfortable with and can afford.

And here's Bonus key point: I don't drink! It might be a very funny thing to say and I started saying it as a joke to people who asked me how I could afford travelling, but it does tell the real dimension of where we put our interests into.

What I mean is this, you have no idea the amount of times somebody came to me in a club on a Saturday night with a glass of beer or even more expensive drinks to tell me in a judgmental way: "you have to have a lot of money to travel like this". Those very guys spend 50-70 maybe even a 100 usd per weekend in their own towns, just drinking. Think about what I spend per month of traveling and do the math. With their monthly weekend's expenditures on "fun", I could travel for months in a row. Most people don't see this... most people tend to think of travelling as luxury but travel is not tourism, not in my case. I am a traveler, not a tourist.

Kim: Is there a limit, do you think? Can you imagine stopping and settling?

Nico: There's only one kind of a limit, at least to Africa this year, a bureaucratic one. I have permanent residency status in Australia and in order to preserve it, I should be there before my visa expires in July this year. So once I reach Europe I will fly to Australia, not necessarily to settle but to see how I feel living there again ( I lived there for a year already). However I will cycle the whole country for 8-10 months before even thinking of settling, so yes, Australia is next.

The settling part is a difficult one though. Although I acknowledge the benefits of living in a developed country and that's possibly why I became a resident of Australia, the truth is, is that I thrive in the third world.

Maybe it's because I come from it and maybe it's because comfort or security are things that became very relative to me. So when it comes to settling, the next dream I have in mind (which I've had for years now) comes in, and that is to have my own guesthouse or some kind of cool space where I can create the conditions to share this kind of life with others. The place for that which is at the top of my list is Indonesia. But as I just said, it's a dream for now. (everything I do in my life, it always started as a dream though)

Kim: So if you did settle down, would you return to architecture or take your career in a different direction? Perhaps set up shop as a high-street portrait and wedding photographer...? ;)

Nico: I love architecture, I'm passionate about it, but much more in academic/empirical ways rather than in real-life. I found out that the practice of architecture isn't nearly as much fun as the way to become one. That being said, my guesthouse idea above is compatible with this, as I would obviously be the designer for it, and the place would be also a place for my photography. In there I could combine many of my passions. We'll see.

Kim: You won't be short of photos to put on the walls of your guesthouse... :)

Right, photographer to photographer, I have to ask you a couple of technical questions (non-photographers might want to skip the next couple of questions...). To begin with, What camera & lenses do you use most often or are your favourite, and why?

Nico: I've always used Nikon. I currently have with me a D800 body and 14-24 mm f2.8 - 24-70 mm f2.8 - 70-200 mm f4 and 50 mm f1.4. The 14-24 mm has been by far my favorite since I bought it back in 2009. Its quality simply has no rival, it is mind-blowing all over.

Environmental portraiture is what I truly love and try to perfect with every shot and I frequently find myself shooting in very basic and generally small places, with very little available light. That's one of the uses where the 14-24 performs like no other. The other use is night photography. I do a lot of camping photos at the end of my day, usually in some truly stunning places that abound in stars, again, the 14-24 has no rival.

All that being said, I have increasingly been shifting more back to the 24-70. I've been on the one hand reflecting about the huge distortion of very wide angles on on the other I've been rediscovering the 24 ish 35 ish range, which I am rapidly falling in love with. As with everything, it evolves, it changes and my photography of the last months is changing as well. I am using wide angles less and less towards the more prudent mid-range focal lengths.

Kim: Another techie question - I'm always impressed by the dynamic range you seem to achieve, especially in you indoor shots. You bring out the detail in the shadows and don't appear to suffer from blown highlights. Your post-production editing skills are clearly to be reckoned with - nothing ever looks over-cooked. In essence, they don't look edited, which is the sign of a master editor.

However, you must be doing something right with the camera settings to allow you that degree of editing capability. Do you have a trick or set of techniques when you are shooting in these low-light conditions?

Nico: I'm humbled that you feel that way :) . I think it all comes down to three things. The most important by far, is understanding exposure as a whole. The more you practice the more you get better at "reading" lighting situations, after all, light and exposure is what all photography is about in technical terms. That's when the second most important comes into place: gear. My camera's original selling point, the D800, was its terrific DR. I can say it lives up to this, because until this day, almost 4 years using it, its DR never ceases to amaze me.

Then you need to combine these two. You have to apply your artistic, theoretical, empirical and practical knowledge to adapt to the gear you have, that is: it is critical to understand what your gear can or can't do, know its limitations in order to understand how far you can go. Finally, to wrap it all up, there's the editing, which should be done following your vision.

Now, with all this in mind I shoot. So when I shoot, the first thing obviously is to evaluate the scene based on its brightest and darkest spots and evaluate how I can pull off the widest DR possible without losing detail. In cases where the DR is very wide and I consider the brightest parts of the scene are so important that I want to preserve its details, I will expose for that to make sure no detail will be lost (needless to say, shooting in RAW always). Now, once I take that shot I will review the histogram and see if shadows are clipped or how clipped they are. If the whole rest of the scene is very underexposed but nothing is clipped and I'm not on very high ISO settings, 100-400, I will leave it like that and I will bring up shadow detail in post-production. This, to me, is one of the wonders of the D800, the high amount of detail it is able to preserve in underexposed areas.

If I'm at very high ISO's the situation is different and the opposite happens. To preserve the highest quality, I will expose for the shadows first and foremost, again, another wonder of the camera, as long as you expose to the right, even ISO 6400 will look magnificent. In that circumstance though, highlights will inevitably be lost. In that case I will evaluate if its worth it losing the detail and the highlight spots won't cause major distractions in the composition. If they don't I won't worry, if they do, then I work hardly on recomposing and even rethinking the whole shot if possible, in order to get bright spots out and narrow down the DR of the scene.

Kim: OK, I can see where you're coming from. I think many fear blown highlights so much they will expose for them rather than the shadows, and thus lose too much detail in the darker regions of the photo. But what about your editing?

For the editing, I work very hard for the photos to look natural. I do not like over-cooking the images and yet, it is surprising how easy you can start over cooking if you stay too long working in one image, especially if that image is not really great in terms of natural light. In any case though, what I found very useful is to do a whole batch of editing, but not upload it right away. I will leave it for a while, and then I will come back to it.

I'm amazed at how my vision on the editing changes. Not drastically, it is always subtle, but those subtleties end up making a lot of difference in the final outcome. For you to be able to find them, you have to take breaks within your editing process.

As you can see, in the end, it is all mainly about understanding the most basic technique of photography: exposure. It all revolves around that and your life as a photographer should do as well.

Kim: Thanks for those insights, Nico. Tell me, as your photography advanced, was there a particular image where you felt you crossed a line and made a significant move forward - in your sense of what you were able to create with the camera?

Nico: This is extremely hard to point out. Once you enter a process of becoming serious with one thing, in this case photography, as long as you put a little bit of your life into it every day, it's like a slow and steady climb where each day you are becoming a little better. It was like this for me, so I can see how I have gradually been evolving rather than having had one image or one story that has been a breakthrough.

I could say there were stages in which I improved more rapidly. My time in Australia when it comes to landscape. My time in Tibet when it comes to people.

There were parallel things happening. Once upon a time there was this terrific online gallery called 1x where you could put up your work to have it critiqued by other great photographers interested in helping others improve (you were among of them). Unfortunately, that spirit died and that 1x ceased to be what it used to, but during the golden years there, I met a lot of amazing photographers that helped me a great deal to improve my work. Some even became great friends (you among them) I'd say those years were critical. Australia, Tibet, China all happened parallel to that so I had quick feedback on everything I shot.

Kim: I remember those days very fondly - the level of honest (and sometimes brutal) critique that was available to us certainly helped me to advance my photography.

Did you find there was a particular image which you feel propelled you into a much wider audience and recognition?

Nico: The photo of the Tibetan kids we discussed at the beginning of this interview won me a very decent award at that time. I think that was some kind of turning point.

There were also a couple landscape images of Tibet as well, one of them with my bicycle, that started having positive repercussions and people started seeing and getting interested not only in my photography but what went behind them.

Recently, my story of gold miners in the Sudanese Sahara was published in Maptia.com a site that it is becoming rapidly a very prestigious place for photo essays from around the world. This is also opening new doors as I move forward in this world.

To read the article and see more photos from this series, click here:

Kim: I think most photographers have a different sense of taste about their own work than the public at large does. Do you have any photos you are particularly fond of that you feel never really got the recognition they deserved?

Nico: Well, it's an interesting question and it's hard to answer. What I realised clearly over the years is that we can never ever be fully objective with our own work. Even if we deliberately decide to be harsh on ourselves at the time of being the editor of our own images, in my mind, it'd be much more out of a forced attitude rather than out of pure rational detached criticism.

I realised too that I am very emotionally attached to many of my images, especially when it comes to people. So it isn't difficult for me to think that this or that shot or piece of work aren't getting the attention they deserve because I cannot get out of my own head and see them as though I hadn't taken them.

The moral of the story is, that having your work seen by lots of people is essential for improvement or to give you hints at what truly has impact and what doesn't. Ideally you'll have it seen by photographers (ideally ones who you respect) and by the general public. You'll get different reactions and both with tell you different things, but from both you can learn.

Beware though, It can be a VERY harsh experience and you have to be emotionally strong, when you see that only very few photos of a collection or none at all get to the impact you wanted or imagined

Kim: Back to the practicalities of travelling - I know you're fluent in Spanish and English, and if memory serves me you are in German and Chinese too. How many languages do you speak, and how many can you get by in?

Nico: Yes, I love languages. Everywhere I go I feel this huge urge to communicate with the locals through their language so I learn a lot. Yes, I speak those four and in the last 2 years I added French and Portuguese. So it's 6 in total that I am fluent in different degrees but in general I speak all of them very well.

Aside from those, I can also deal very well with Bahasa Indonesia and some Italian simply because it is the same root as the other ones I speak. On top of all those, I can (or at some point I was able to) communicate on a basic level in maybe 10-15 other languages and dialects that I learn while I travel.

Kim: Do you pick up languages fairly easily?

Nico: At this point I pick them very easily. The more languages you learn the easier it gets, at least to get up and running with it quickly. You find things in common between some of them or sometimes all of them.

Kim: So do you always try and learn a few words of the local dialect wherever you are?

Nico: The first thing I do when I enter a new country is to ask how to say the basics: Hello, How are you? (I'm fine), thank you, where is? what's your name? (my name is) , and so on.... I write a list of those, now on my Ipod, before on my notepad, and I start using them right away. If at the border, say the officers teach me how to say "hello" in the new country's language, then I'll be the rest of my first day in the country greeting people in their own language... and throughout the journey I will keep adding words out of interest and out of necessity as I go.

I truly enjoy it. It changes dramatically your interaction with local people anywhere you are, either it is in a European capital, or a tiny village in Africa, Asia or the Americas, people will mostly react in a nice way when they see you putting an effort into communicating.

Kim: Given you've now travelled through more than 80 different countries of the world, even the most talented linguist is not going to be able to learn every language there is, so how do you communicate in places where you don't speak it at all?

Nico: You start with sign language, the most essential and most human of all languages. You have no idea how far you can go with it in understanding other and making yourself understood. In the meanwhile, you have a lot of fun, no matter how frustrating it can be at times. As soon as I find anyone who speaks a word or two in any of the languages I know, I will start my "basics" list, and will slowly build on that until I will be able to have some degree of interaction. It's a really beautiful experience, and great exercise by the way.

Kim: How easy do you find it to get people to agree to have their photos taken? Does it vary from country to country or culture to culture, or are there a just handful of different reactions that are pretty universal?

Nico: It definitely changes across cultures, especially these days when virtually everybody has a digital camera, either a DSLR or a cheap phone camera and the reactions to them are so radically different.

Generally speaking, I find it increasingly hard to take photos of people especially in materially rich countries, those that are called "developed", a term that I would only use to define their technological achievements and not their humanity. People in many European countries, the U.S or Australia, especially in their cities can get incredibly nasty.

In Sydney, I was bullied once, because I was shooting the perspective of an escalator going through a tunnel into a subway station. I waited for a person to add some sense of scale and not to make an image of the person itself. I shot and when the guy reached the bottom, he was so pissed off that he almost punched me.

Same goes with the paranoia existing in Europe about photographing kids. As much as I despise paedophiles, I think the reactions are way way over the top, let alone having any real effect on protecting our children from them. In general, this never ending selfish individualism that takes the sense of privacy to the extremes prevalent in the rich West, makes people nastier, more aggressive and less humane.

In Asia, where I spent almost 9 years of my life I never had a problem. Only people that are very shy would run away or refuse, but generally speaking, they like it very much.

In most of Africa (except for very touristy spots where they want you to pay them) it is magnificent, people adore photos, they usually feel honoured that you'd want to photograph them, sometimes they come to you to be photographed. On the flipside, they like it so much that it is incredibly challenging to get natural looking candid shots.

Kim: For all your beautifully composed, amazing photos, I have to say one that put the biggest smile on my face was this one -

That combination where some are relaxed, while others smile a bit too hard, one tries to open her eyes wide, probably because she worries about her eyes being too small when she smiles, while another is tight-lipped, a bit embarrassed and probably hates having her photo taken but was talked into it by the rest of he family. It's the kind of family photo we've all been a part of. Can you give me any back story on this one?

Nico: Indeed, those are the kind of images I enjoy the most, those that stay in my heart because they make me smile every time I look at them and remind me of the experience.

It's a very similar story as that first one of the kids in the bed. It was also in the Tibetan plateau but on a different trip to a different region. I arrived at that tent at the end of the day while going up an incredibly hard climb to a 4600 m high pass. Well before the pass, I was hit by a sudden blizzard. It started snowing so badly and the gelid wind was so strong that you could see the snow going almost horizontally. I thought I was going to freeze to death, it got all dark, and the surface was so icy and snowy that I had to start pushing. I pushed up to try to find some place to camp and to keep my body warm.

After a while, I spotted the tent of these nomads herding yaks. They received me with their arms wide open, served me tsampa and very greasy Tibetan butter tea, the traditional Tibetan staples. I sat by the oven and had dinner with them and once we were finished, photo session began. They ADORED being photographed. They made faces, later I would show them the photo in the LCD and laughed their asses off and wanted more.and more. Right up there, in the rooftop of the world, inside a flimsy tent surrounded by dozens of yaks and 6000m+ peaks, being struck by a blizzard, it was all warm, it felt like being in family. It was a truly memorable moment.

Kim: As a traveller - always on the move, never staying anywhere too long - there's clearly a restlessness and/or a hunger for something. What are you chasing?

Nico: Wow, so many things I guess. I would say though, that one that unifies them all is: learning. You travel and you learn, you go through beauty, through hardship, through wonders, through miseries, through easy times, through awful adversity. You meet people, the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, you relate to all of them, sometimes by choice, sometimes by being forced into the situation. And out of all the experience as a whole, you learn. You learn from others and about others, you learn from yourself and about yourself. Being on the move is an endless learning experience, is like putting yourself up to never stop learning.

Could I say that in the end I'm chasing some kind of ultimate wisdom? I don't know but ultimately, I think that learning through an experience like this, enriches me as a person, it brings down my prejudices, it teaches me to see the world in as many ways as the people that I find in my way, it humanises me. It connects me on a deeper level with the world, with myself, with those around me. It is a beautiful thing.

Kim: I've loved this interview, Nico - thank you so much! I really don't want to bring it to a close, but I must. So - my final question - when will your travels bring you to Scotland?

Nico: I really hope to find some time to get there by the time I reach Europe later this year, before I have to fly to Australia :) If I can sort out a few critical things I might get seriously close to finally make it! Get me one of those male skirts though and no whisky. I'll take my ipod to learn some Scottish as well, that is one hell of a dialect, aye? :)

Kim: Aye, well, here in Scotland, the lasses are bonnie and the weather is dreich, but don't be getting up to any hochmagandy when you arrive... ;)


If you've enjoyed this interview, then please come back for more - the plan is to do them more or less monthly with different photographers I respect and admire.

If you missed last month's interview with the amazing Bill Gekas, then click here:

But in the meantime, you can find more about Nico by following these links


If you'd like to read about his experiences first hand, he has a blog full of the most amazing tales, which you can find here:

And if you'd like see his backlog of hundreds, possibly thousands of the most amazing photos, then visit his Flickr page here:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Last of The Winter Leaves

Over the weekend there was a real smell of Spring in the air.

A hint, a suggestion, a promise maybe, of new growth to come.

I went for a walk round Dalbeattie Woods, camera in hand. No real sign of new buds yet, but there was still a small handful of the last leaves, hanging on despite all the winter winds and storms.

Soon they will be replaced by fresh green foliage.

But not just yet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Life is like a box of chocolates

The Cracked Man recently played at Auchencairn Village Hall, along with Under The Hammer, to help raise funds for MOOL (Massive Outpouring of Love) - a local organisation dedicated to helping refugees by "organising the collection and delivery of supplies and human kindness to those in need at home and abroad. So far, we have helped locally, and in Calais, Lesvos,Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Hungary and Jordan."

We were delighted to be a part of an event that raised £750 for such a deserving cause.

Just before we started our set I handed my camera to my friend, photographer Allan Wright and asked him if he could attempt to grab a few shots of us playing. Below are some of the ones he got.

Not bad for a landscape photographer...


As I was leaving the house to head for Auchencairn, Maggie handed me a box of chocolates to put into the raffle. We've been eating healthily since Christmas but have struggled against its siren call several times. This was a good opportunity to remove temptation and contribute to raising a few more pennies for MOOL.

Unfortunately Maggie wasn't too happy when I returned with an even larger box of chocolates that I'd won in the very same raffle...

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Roots Cahoot Photo Shoot

Last autumn I created a Givember offer for local bands to get a professional photo shoot - you might remember the one I did for Café Largo). Another group that took me up on the offer was Roots Cahoot, who describe themselves as a funk and groove band.

In our initial discussions, an outdoor scene was mentioned, but given the appallingly long, wet and miserable winter we'd been having, I was quick to push for an indoor shoot instead.

As it turned out, the actual day of the shoot was dry and even sunny some of the time, but by then we were committed.

Auchencairn village hall was booked to give us plenty of space to set up. Their idea was to create a sort of semi-domestic scene, where the band would be getting impatient, ready to play, while Nikki and Rebecca were still dealing with chosing and ironing dresses. On the day, this developed into Rebecca doing up her shoes while Nikki was ironing a guitar...

Once I felt confident we had a good image in the bag, I played around with the wide-angle lens to see what variations I might get.

As a quick bonus image we went outside to a wee shelter down in the gardens where I did a close up head shoot. Back at the hall I played with a couple of editing effects to show what could be done and they liked a partially desaturated version, which Rebecca said gave it a Scandinavian Noir look

All in all a fun afternoon with a great bunch of people. I'm looking forward to the next time I get to see them play live.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Recording for Blue

"If you ever need a slide bouzouki, give me a shout," I said to Blue back around Christmas, when he was telling me about the new album he was recording.

I then promptly forgot all about it, as I say throwaway comments like this all the time and no one ever follows me up on them.

However, a few weeks back Blue got in touch to say that while he'd more or less finalised the arrangements for most of his songs, he still had a handful that weren't completely pinned down yet and if I wanted to see if I could add anything with my bouzouki to them he'd be interested to hear.

I played around with a few ideas, then met up with him to run through them.

This resulted in me heading out to Chris Lord's recording studio, near Thornhill, last week to lay down some bouzouki sequences - some picking, some strumming and some with bottleneck slide.

Although both Blue and Chris were complimentary about what I was producing, I'm fully prepared for all my bits to end up on the cutting room floor. I know from my recording experiences with Marcus for The Cracked Man that ideas can be enthusiastically recorded, only to be dumped later on when the mix starts being fine tuned.

Sometime over the next few months I'll find out if my stuff has survived the final cut and either I'll be loudly promoting Blue's new album, or quietly never mentioning it again...

Nevertheless, it was a fun afternoon, and also interesting to see how Chris had created a recording studio out of what was basically a converted garage - with one room for playing and the other for mixing.

Here are some photos from the day.

Chris at his mixing desk

Blue and Chris listening back

Blue took a shot of me in action...