On Wednesday 9th March, we warmly welcomed two photographers to share prominent photography projects and the stories of their travels.
It is said that images speak a thousand words; with the ability to tell stories, alter perceptions and document previously unseen corners of the world. Photographers use their cameras as tools of exploration and instruments for change, and the most poignant images are made when there is a deep understanding and respect for the subject matter. On Wednesday 9th March, we welcomed a pair of photographers to share tales and images from their trips around the world.
London based Tina Hillier told the story of her voyage to the Antarctic to shoot Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans, left untouched and relatively unchanged after one hundred years. Famed British explorer Scott, and his party of brave men, used this hut as their base for over two years before their ill-fated journey to reach the South Pole. The lack of dust and pollution in the polar air meant that the hut and all its artefacts were almost perfectly preserved, and Tina was able to spend time capturing the stories, personal details and surrounding landscape to be compiled in a book marking the 100th year anniversary of the expedition.
Matilda Temperley has spent much time photographing areas and issues across the African continent and on her last assignment to East Africa for the London School of Tropical Medicine, she heard whispers of an area in Ethiopia untouched by the modern world. Matilda told us about her travels to the fabled Omo Valley — which turned out to be at the forefront of a global movement towards industrialised farming – and how her time spent among semi-nomadic tribespeople was an opportunity to document traditions of stick fighting and lip-plating. She also recounted some of the cutlural changes that are swiftly taking hold in the area as a result of ongoing agricultural development.
Here are some of the things we learned from the two photographers on the night.
Out of pressure comes focus
Tina shot her images of Captain Scott's hut after a fraught voyage to the region. The journey was originally meant to last five days from Hobart in Tazmania to Antarctica, but the ship found itself stuck in ice floes for over a week. By the time passengers had arrived there was just a meagre four hours of exploration, instead of the planned ten days. With only ten minutes to photograph inside the hut – and a storm on the horizon – Tina had to focus quickly to find and document intimate personal details, such as a stuffed penguin left on Captain Scott's desk, and perfectly preserved instruments left behind by the crew. "I suddenly had this weird thought that for one minute I should just forget, be present, and realise what I'm actually looking at, because it's amazing and I was lucky to be in that space," said Tina. "I tried to find the stillness in the room, and focus on some of the more personal intimate details of things than get a room shot. It felt more tangible to get something more tactile."
Commercial work can offer opportunities for personal projects
Tina's trip to the Antarctic was originally funded by a cruise company, but also became a chance for her to pursue her own interest in Scott's abandoned hut, and the area surrounding it – referred to by the photographer as "the last wilderness". After travel conditions meant her client had to rethink its commission, Tina had the unexpected freedom of documenting her own narrative of the region. "It's all about multi-tasking and making a trip pay for itself," she said. Similarly Matilda helps fund her ongoing work capturing the changes in the Omo Valley with fashion photography, explaining that it gives her the freedom to pursue more journalistic projects.
Travel photography depends on originality
During her talk, Tina emphasised the importance of showing a different side of the Antarctic, rather than approaching it as a typical travel story – even if that was what the client wanted. “I felt the pressure of how you photograph the region in a way that's unique," she said. "I was trying to do a story that felt different and personal. I wanted to bring something back that felt like I had connected with it."
Photography can give voice to the voiceless
Matilda's images from the Omo Valley are accompanied by anonymous captions from the individuals shown. With many people in the region forced to sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from speaking about the ongoing changes, or in some cases sharing their names, Matilda's photographs are an opportunity to record and present these unheard voices to the world.
Travel photography can be an important historical record
It can function as a record of change, bringing to light political developments and human rights abuses that much of the world is unaware of. “When I first went to the Omo Valley I was told it was an area that was forgotten about and untocuhed by globalisation, and what I found was it was very much at the forefront of an indutsrialising push by the government to make it a commercial hub for international farms," recounted Matilda. Her work traces changes that are a direct result of the construction of a major hydroelectric dam, which will introduce industrial farming to the region. Scientists predict the dam will negatively affect the area's annual floods, which many tribes rely on for farming. Matilda's photographs show the precariousness of their situation, with tribes' livelihoods linked to rapidly disappearing water resources.
There can be a negative side to travel photography
As the Omo Valley becomes more touristic, Matilda recounted how the influx of visitors is influencing the behaviour of tribespeople – with individuals affecting dress and face paint solely to satisfy tourists taking pictures.
Documenting people is all about mutual respect
“I started with a totally voyeuristic eye – I'm a photographer and I'll always have that – but as I carried on I felt I had a responsibility because I had taken people's time," said Matilda. Publishing her Omo Valley book was an opportunity to pay respect to those people, but also their stories. “The important thing is not about the pictures, they're just a hook. It's the words of the people talking about their human rights abuses," she added.
Tina seconded Matilda's comments, describing the responsibility that comes with photographing people. "You get access to something intimate and that's a privilege, so you have to take that role with respect," she said. "For me the camera is secondary. I take it seriously, and I make an effort to exchange with people before the camera comes out."
A little bit more about the speakers...
Tina's approach is personal, intimate and diary-like — lending the viewer something of the experience of being there themselves. Her personal approach has attracted a diverse range of clients including Monocle, BMW and Airbnb. Whether shooting personal or professional work, Tina treats each project with integrity and originality, approaching her subject matter with a sensitive and thoughtful eye that seeks out the unexpected and the beautiful.
Matilda was born in 1981 on a cider farm in Somerset. She trained at the London School of Tropical Medicine and worked in East Africa in Malaria control for two years, before turning to photography. She divides her time between her commercial work, and personal projects inspired by marginalised societies.
Location:72 Rivington St,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:9th March, 2016 at 6:30pm
End:9th March, 2016 at 8:00pm