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There's something magical about cameras that I suspect many people are unaware of. No, I'm not alluding to the fact that they record light and capture moments in time, although that is pretty special. Cameras are truly extraordinary in that they have the ability to be your passport to new experiences in life. To take you places that may have previously been kept under lock and key had you left the camera at home. This may sound cliché, but here's why there's some substance to it.
Take me for example. I've always been a quiet person, but being a photographer has helped me override this natural tendency when needed. It has given me a reason to explore the world and meet new people. The camera is my permission for being in situations and events that interest me, but would otherwise feel too timid to participate in. Suddenly, with a camera by my side, I've been given a mission, an objective to not only document something, but to do it justice. It just so happens that it's harder to be self-conscious when you're focused on the responsibility of being a capable photographer. And this is where things get interesting.
I spent a year in China in late 2021 to the end of 2022, and during that time my comfort zone was stretched well past anything I'd ever allowed myself to encounter before. There was plenty of fear and uncertainty that I battled with on a daily basis thanks to Covid-19, a steep language barrier, and of course the initial shock of being immersed into a different culture. My intent was to photograph real people doing real things in their natural environment. Yet even though I was afraid, the camera acted as something of a safety blanket because it provided me with a purpose that superseded my own insecurities. It was essentially armour that I would put on when I'd venture out into the world. Photography became the vessel that enabled me to meet interesting people on a daily basis and travel to exotic locations.
Throughout this time it became clear to me that people will welcome you into their circles if they can see that you're looking to tell an authentic story through pictures. It is easy to make new friends when documenting people doing what they're passionate about. With the images included here, I started shooting the event from far away, but they literally pulled me into the action and let me capture the occasion without any restrictions. They understood that I was coming from a place of honesty and looking to understand. Curiosity goes both ways in that sense. When people see that you're genuinely interested in them, they will become invested in the photographic process as well.
The camera that you hold in your hand when travelling can actually be a catalyst to experience and understand different cultures, even if you don't speak the same language. The beauty of great photography is that it has its own universal vocabulary. This truth doesn't just apply to worldwide adventures either. Photography can even help you break into an industry that you're drawn to but not sure where to start. If you want access to talented musicians or the best skateboarders, embed yourself in the culture with your camera. You don't have to pose them or give too much direction. Just be there, ready to capture life as it naturally unfolds. There's magic in everyday moments, in the in between glimpses, you just need to be ready for them.
If the camera is a key to new experiences, then how should you start? Thankfully, you don't need permission to start a project, and the traditional media gatekeepers don't have anywhere near the influence they once did. As a basic example, if you are interested in the automotive industry, start making pictures of cars that you're passionate about. Show your work with like-minded people online or in person, and with some consistency something will happen. You never know where it will take you, or which doors will be opened.
Here's something to keep in mind when approaching a person, group, or industry that you're interested in. Don't forget the importance of making yourself useful, whatever that may look like in any given setting. Be humble, respect boundaries, but also don't be afraid to insert yourself into the action. The most memorable images are taken when the photographer is up close and personal. As renowned photojournalist Robert Capa once said:
If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough.
Yes, it can be a bit scary every now and then to put yourself out there. But it is also great fun to be out of your element and feel alive. At the very least, you'll walk away with lasting memories and a story worth sharing with others through photography. I'm reminded of Humans of New York, which is Brandon Stanton's incredible portrait project that was hugely successful because he tapped into this same approach. There's a story to be told in everything, you just need to find the angle that captivates you.
I've grown to love my camera for more than just the device that creates the pictures that I want to make. I've discovered that photography is a form of currency that makes the world more accessible. When sincere storytelling is the goal with your photography, you will see accommodations being made, friendships that are formed, and opportunities which were once out of reach will become available to you. Honestly, these days I often make plans with my camera simply as an excuse to connect with people that I'm fascinated with, to see places that I long to visit, or to dive into things that I'd love to learn more about. So in that sense it's not just a camera after all, is it?