A Stamp Collector in South America

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Sunset at Punta Sal, Peru – one of my latest pictures

I came across Adam Blenford’s blog StampCollector and I was immediately intrigued by his posts about Argentina, especially this one and this one. They’re interesting, well researched and intelligently written. It’s no surprise then that he turns out to be a journalist on a six month trip around South America.

Interview

Why did you choose South America for your trip? What are you hoping to achieve while you’re there?

Coming here has been an ambition of mine for several years now, ever since I first realised that because I studied Spanish at school I would be able to get by and hopefully communicate with people in their language. My passion for photography has grown since I first thought of coming here, so it’s a perfect opportunity to travel with my girlfriend for six months, improve my Spanish and improve my photography.

Photographically the aim of the trip is to come back with a bunch of sellable images.

What’s your most memorable photographic experience so far in South America?

There have been lots, not all of them memorable because they were great. Overall, the sheer difficulty of dealing with changing or unfavourable weather conditions has been a real education for me. I’ll never forget trying to fix filters to the front of the camera in gale-force Patagonian winds, or lugging my tripod up to the summit of the Torres del Paine before sunrise, only to be forced down again by a vicious hailstorm at 5.45am.

As a one-off event, though, running through the Good Friday parade in Quito, Ecuador, snapping the thousands of marchers wearing purple hoods ranked pretty highly for me.

How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look/atmosphere/feel do you try and create in your photos?

I blanch a bit a questions like that – I’m still happy if the shot is well-exposed and in focus, but of course I know what you mean. I shoot a lot of different type of subjects, so the specific aim changes, but in general I take a photojournalistic approach to the world, even if the subject isn’t journalism. I want to portray the world as it really is, not staged, not artificial, not Photoshopped.

When did you start taking photos and why? What attracted you to photography?

I’ve always travelled with a camera, ever since I was a teenager, but I didn’t start getting serious about my pictures until I tried a stint as a freelance reporter in the Middle East in 2003 and it seemed sensible to be able to provide images as well. Since then I’ve steadily taught myself the basics and gradually worked my way up through different types of consumer digital cameras to the Nikon DSLR and the bag of lenses I’m currently heaving around South America. It’s addictive, and because I still love to travel there is always more motivation to take better pictures.

How does your journalism experience affect your photography? I see a definite story-telling approach on your blog.

To me it’s almost impossible to separate the two. Although I began life as a words man, I now see exactly how easy – or important – it is to tell a story through the right pictures. And while some of my pictures are “just” landscape images, which should stand or fall on their own, to me each day out taking pictures or each town you visit has it’s own story. I still love to use words so if I’m competent with both it’s a great combination for storytelling.

Tell us a little about your lomo photos? What attracted you to this style of photography?

This one I can’t claim to be my own fetish. Several of my close friends have shot Lomo for years now, and I saw enough very cool pictures to put one of their cameras in my bag for this trip. There’s a lot good about Lomo pictures – using film, for one, gives a totally different feel, and the fact it is so small makes it easy to take candid street shots. Plus it’s the colours and the whole look and feel of the images – everything looks different when you use a Lomo, and it almost feels more honest than the digital image.

What’s your favourite place for photography that you’ve been to so far in South America?

I went crazy just the other day when we found a square in the centre of Guayaquil, Ecuador, which is overrun with free-roaming iguanas. It was like being in the Galapagos Islands (something we passed on) in the middle of a city. They were crazy, ugly, ancient looking things, and they had no problem with a zoom lens shoved right at them!

How do you approach people to ask to take their photos? It’s my experience that local people can be hostile or suspicious to westerners with cameras. How do you overcome this?

It’s tough, and it varies from country to country. In India, for example, people rarely refuse a photo, and a little smile usually wins them over. Here, though, people can be touchy, especially indigenous or native people. I’m not keen on offering money, but I’m prepared to do it if I think the picture will be outstanding. Otherwise I like to ask, in Spanish, try and build up a little rapport with them or their friends, and get their permission. I don’t take pictures of people who say no, although I do occasionally use the long lens or shoot from the hip if I don’t think they know I’m looking. Trying to catch people acting natural is one of the hardest skills. I probably don’t have as many good portrait or people shots as I want, to be honest.

What advice would you give anyone planning a six month trip in terms of planning and photographic equipment? How does one make the best of the opportunities?

Don’t neglect all the “other bits” – I have a computer to process and store the images, a backup hard disk, an iPod as extra backup, sensor cleaning equipment, rocket blower, tripod, filters, the whole lot. And that’s before you count the camera, the lenses, and the bag. Work out what you want out of the trip, look at what you can afford – one all-purpose lens, or several specialised lenses? – and do your research properly.

It can get tiring on the road constantly seeing new photo opportunities, but I’ve got used to not carrying my DSLR all the time. Sometimes it’s just not photo time, although that’s when the Lomo comes in useful…

Who are your three favourite photographers and why?

I love Robert Frank’s black and white street photography and I admire the photography of people like AP’s Vietnam veteran Horst Fass, who I interviewed last year for the BBC. Of course there are others, but I’ll skimp on choosing one and say the online community at Flickr, many of whom are supremely talented and inventive and who either work simply for fun or for very little reward. Just having access to that body of work for free online makes us all better photographers.

How has your trip so far changed you? What have you learnt and how do you see the world differently after your experiences so far?

I’ve learned a lot about my photography, especially that things aren’t always going badly when I think they are, and I’ve improved my technique and honed my eye a bit, I hope. I don’t know about seeing the world differently but I’m not too keen to live out of a backpack for six months for a while!

And finally…your dream journalistic/photographic assignment. What would it be?

I’m on it at the moment – I’m editor, journalist and photographer all rolled into one!

Adam’s blog:  StampCollector

Good Friday parade in Quito, Ecuador

Colombian soldier in Popayan – I had previously taken his portrait with permission and then took this shot as well.

Macro shot from the forest near Banos, Ecuador

Lomo shot taken while at lunch on a dive trip in Colombia – cross-processed film

All photos Copyright © Adam Blenford. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.

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2 Responses to “A Stamp Collector in South America”

  1. Jen says:

    Looks aweomse! Good way to spend your free time. I should learn from you 😉

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