Trevor Cole - Ireland
1. Trevor, you studied geography, taught it in international schools and lived in many countries like England, Singapore, Togo, Italy, Ethiopia, Brazil and most recently in Ireland. Please tell us something about the paths of your life and how you ran into photography.
My interest in photography started at an early age when I travelled with my parents and they bought me a Roleiflex SLR. When I taught Geography in England and further afield I wanted to capture people and landscapes in different contexts. I love diversity and this includes both the human/cultural and the biophysical environment. A Geographer Photographer!
2. You once said: „My photography focuses on culture, landscapes and wildlife; images which reflect a spatial and temporal journey through life.“ Combinig different categories and styles seems to stimulate your work, something not many photographers are successful with. How do you think about it? Do you prefer shooting landscapes or portraits? What`s the main difference in your eyes?
I always like to think that humans are inextricably connected to their environment, hence I love to shoot people and landscapes. People adapt to climates and landscapes, therefore they are a reflection their natural habitats and this contributes to the immense diversity of humankind on this Earth. Sadly globalisation is reducing diversity and homogenising culture. I love to travel to more remote areas to see people in their true environmental contexts. The people of the Omo valley in Ethiopia, for example, or the Himba in Kaokoland, Namibia. Although even here there is constant change.
3. Looking at your portrait pictures means perceiving several kind of feelings: joy, apathy, sadness, embarrassment etc. How are you able to capture those intimate moments? Please tell us something about the relationship to your „models“? Was there any situation that was particularly significant?
Taking portraits of people in the marketplace, street or in a tribal village requires interaction. There are clandestine shots which are often taken with a longer lens and are discreet but most of my ‘people’ based photography is a product of inter-personal moments. I like to spend time, talk, get to know those who are being photographed. I always ask and even when my efforts are rejected I always respect their choice. Sometimes, even with difficult subjects, spending a little time and using a little humour can yield positive results. In Ethiopia most people are relatively easy to photograph except, perhaps, for those who are more conservative culturally and religiously. Even then, I relish the challenge and will certainly try! When the moment materialises I want to capture light, colour, emotion, insight, character and spirit.
4. In the countries you traveled so far you often found poverty and distress. How are you able to deal with those conditions?
This is a good question! I have lived in South East Asia, Latin America and Africa where poverty and inequality in society are commonplace. As a geographer I have a sensitivity to this and the reasons behind it. Whilst teaching in International Schools it was common for teachers and students alike to involve themselves in projects at ‘grass roots’ level and provide aid where feasible. I sometimes think I see more happiness in people who are in survival mode and who have little to compare their lives to. It serves to underpin the idea that we are very privileged in life and seeing poverty enables you to see the huge inequalities which exist and also helps you to understand the huge diversity in cultures that exist on this planet. I hope it enhances my understanding of humankind and it certainly highlights the degree to which I am privileged!
5. Cultural aspects also seem to be an important part of your work. Do you study the cultural background before you travel a „new“ country? What do you think about the concepts of sustainable tourism?
Yes, I do like to know something of the cultures I immerse myself in as a photographer. The more you know the more meaningful the interaction becomes and I think stronger bonds between ‘you and them’ emerge. I am very sensitive to the impacts that tourism can cause, hence, I will always try to make my visit sustainable and not promote ‘zooification’! Sustainable tourism is an imperative and I always try to use companies who are sensitive to catering for the future as well as the present day.
6. Let`s talk about your passion for landscape photography. Many of your pictures have been made in your home country Ireland but also in other countries of the Northern hemisphere, e.g. Iceland or the Faroer islands. Do you have a special connection to colder regions when it comes to landscape photography? Do you prefer shooting areas you`re more familiar with?
I think I enjoy landscapes almost anywhere as long as they offer the foreground and background interest. Iceland and the Faroes are particularly good for this but so too are the Canadian Rockies or the Danakil or Namib deserts. I like to shoot in my own area of Ireland but I also love the excitement of the ‘new’ as it provides stimulus and offers the photographer diversity in their portfolio. Location, light and a little luck can make an ordinary scene extraordinary and that is what makes the difference.
7. Your photographs have been published in several magazines, calendars and exhibitions. What does it mean for you making your work available to the public this way? How important is the internet world for reaching a wider audience?
I like to get my work published as it is a means of being seen and getting a wider audience and the internet has of course facilitated this. Nonetheless, there is a lot of competition out there and when running and organising photo tours there is a need to be ‘seen' and this is a real challenge!
8. Which artists have been your biggest source of inspiration? Can you easily inspire yourself again and again or is it sometimes hard to find meaningful approaches?
I think the person I admire the most is Sebastiao Salgado, the Brazilian photographer. His project ‘Genesis’ which connects indigenous people to their environment is truly admirable. I also love the photo-journalistic work of Steve McCurry and the portraiture of Lee Jeffries
9. How important is creativity for yourself or for people in general?
I think to be a photographer of any worth you have to be creative. To have an eye to see composition in Landscapes, or qualities in a face that make it photogenic. I used to always say that geographers use both hemispheres of the brain to see patterns as well as to be analytical. I think photographers have similar skills and they are essential in getting the ‘shot’ that makes a difference. It is important to be self critical and there is also a need for others to appraise your photography through their ‘new’ eyes.
10. Final Question: This project is called "Vision and life". What do the terms "vision" and "life" mean for you, Trevor?
My own website and our photo tour company is called ‘Alternative Visions’ so the ability to see, to capture and to create something which captures an inimitable moment today to reflect upon tomorrow, is imperative. Life for me has to be sustainable and something which integrates all living things in a complex web. The photographer in me wants to take photos in a context which makes them meaningful and contextual. We are here for a short time so to make the most of life we need to have a vision which passionately captures the beauty of the ‘humans and their planet’ in perpetuity.