Travel photographer interviews: Cameron Karsten
PHOTOGRAPHER Cameron Karsten is currently traveling around East Africa, documenting the work of various communities and nonprofit organizations. With a unique eye for composition and lighting, Cameron is capturing particularly soulful images. According to him, “he yearns for expansive adventure of the deepest value in order to express the tales of humanity.”
Cameron Karsten has also written a series of spiritual and health travel articles for Brave New Traveler. He left his formal classroom studies to indulge in dreams of travel at 19 years old, and has been wandering ever since.
Over the past few months, Cameron has also contributed to MatadorU’s Travel Photography Program. Matador Goods Editor Lola Akinmade and Matador contributing editor Paul Sullivan took some time out to ask Cameron a few questions:
How long have you been a professional photographer?
I’ve been practicing photography for six years. It was only two years ago I decided to convert the hobby into a passionate career.
What – or who – got your initial interest going in terms of photography?
Travel. At the age of 19 I left my comfort zone with backpack, journal and pen, and my camera. I began writing and photographing in order to share my experiences and inspire other individuals to follow their passions. Today, with diligent practice and belief, I continue to develop and evolve my skills to create the life I desire.
What were your first photographic experiments or experiences?
The first time I mindfully began photographing was on the first day I landed in Bangkok, Thailand at 19. The new culture, architecture, environment and faces sent my eyes spinning along every street. I was enthralled with the new surroundings and found every detail, from an old shirtless man to the spires of a golden temple, worth photographing.
My family and friends had to see what I was witnessing. It became a way to transport my followers into my traveling adventures and become a part of the journey.
How would you describe the work you do now? Are you involved in the commercial world also? Any stock photography?
I am continuously building and expanding my photographic styles. Currently, I work as a professional portrait, wedding, and event photographer. However, my drive is to develop into a full-time commercial, travel and editorial photographer with fingers in lifestyle and fashion. The possibilities in the industry are limitless, and these options keep me inspired as I move forward.
Which other photographers – old or contemporary – inspire you most?
Ansel Adams with his patient lighting. Ricard Avedon with his brilliant creativity and stylistic eye. Annie Leibovitz through her skill of caricatures and personalities. And Steve McCurry for his wanderlust.
You seem to have an eye for shapes and working with patterns. Is this a fair assessment?
Shapes and patterns are where my eyes are drawn to. Within my surroundings, through my lens and into my brain, I see the world as shapes creating patterns. Everywhere, there are arrangements of order built within a format of forward-movement. From whatever cause, whether my practice in meditation to my careful observations abroad or at home, I have adapted this technique as my first and foremost.
Like jumping into a stream and letting the current take you, I pick up my camera only when the moment feels right, only when that inner fuel burns and that surge of inspiration sears.
When you are approaching subjects to shoot, how do you set about it? Do you chat and explain what you’re doing? Or shoot first, ask questions later?
As mentioned above, when there’s inspiration, I shoot. When there’s none, I leave it alone and keep truckin’. Often, I leave my house, hotel, or camp without my camera.
There are many scenes, subjects and settings that are so captivating, there’s no reason to try and capture it. Then and there, I soak it in and use that moment for my inner fires.
Pick and choose selectively. Don’t shoot everything. Beauty is everywhere, all the time.
When approaching a human subject I wish to photograph, the situation varies. Sometimes I sit down and create a conversation before photographing; therefore, the image will have a deeper story in my memory and in print. Other times, I make eye contact, smile and politely ask/gesture for a photograph.
Other times, when in the zone and feeling the comfort of the atmosphere, I shoot and shoot and keep shooting, moving my feet while snapping the shutter. I go with my instincts photographing, writing, traveling, and daily living.
What’s the craziest or most inspiring encounter you’ve had in general?
Most inspiring moments are when I find myself in nature. I spent four weeks backpacking from Giri to Everest Base Camp alone, without a guide or porter. That time by myself was intense during the off-season. I met locals. I sat alone atop granite spires overlooking the Khumbu Valley. I walked through sun, wind, rain and snow. I sat with locals and heard their tales of The Yeti.
I bumped into Maoist rebels and experienced the tension of a violin string coarse thru my veins. And I drank chai with Royal Nepalese soldiers over conversation about the region’s struggles.
Those memories will live on forever.
What kit do you use / carry with you / can’t do without (camera make, lenses, flashguns etc.)?
Nikon for life. I used to carry two lenses, a 55-200mm Nikkor and a 28mm. Yet, I’ve liked the challenge of cutting out the zoom and forcing myself to get into the scene, closer and more intimate. Therefore, I’ve sold the 55-200mm and dove into the photograph with my 28mm.
Finally, what else are you working on right now and what are your ambitions for the future in terms of your photography work or anything else?
Currently, I’m finalizing a new photography website that will enable me to sell and distribute my work online to a wider audience, which can be found on PhotoShelter. This site is combined with new websites for my writing and multimedia projects. I’m off to East Africa in January 2010 for six months to document the visions and progress of various communities and nonprofit organizations through these mediums.
My ambitions are to continue creating a lifestyle of travel with photography, writing, and multimedia as an outlet to educate and bring awareness to the world about different cultures, their current issues, and how we can preserve their environments for sustainable well-being.
To see more of Cameron’s work visit his site, www.cameronkarsten.com
Check out more interviews in the series:
MatadorU Travel Photography Program
MatadorU’s upcoming Travel Photography Program gives you direct feedback on your work, and lifetime access to the most supportive, dynamic, and fun community of Travel Writers, Travel Photographers, and New Media Professionals on the web.