When you enter Mattia Passarini’s website, you’re met with the phrase, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal.” After speaking with the photographer himself, I’d say those words are pretty fitting.
Mattia’s passion is capturing the beauty of what he calls “the great human race.” Though based in Beijing, China, he spends most of his days traveling to some of the world’s most remote areas to document their innate beauty, as well as the communities that inhabit them. His work focuses on disappearing cultures, ancient rituals, and everyday life in often neglected regions. And, just six years after he purchased his first camera, he landed a spot on the winner’s podium in the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest for a photo titled “Remote Life.” To put it simply, Mattia never stops moving or seeking adventures that broaden his perspective of the world.
When asked how his work has influenced his travels, he responded matter-of-factly, stating that photography is a complement to new experiences, that the two are intertwined. While he started his career by documenting his surroundings in hopes of preserving their memory, he became increasingly ardent about the medium once he was exposed to more remote populations and began to understand their cultures on a deeper level.
One of his more recent trips brought him to South Sudan, where he photographed the Mundari cattle tribe as a part of a project that focuses on the most remote tribes still in existence. Once there, he was taken by the lifestyle of the community that surrounded him and the sense of unity he felt there. “It was something you could not imagine,” he explained. “The atmosphere, colors, and smell mixed together to create a surreal and incredible quality.”
And no matter the size of the camp he visited — whether housing only a few cows or harboring up to 2,000 — the residents’ pace of life did not change, nor did their commitment to the animals. Mattia grew to understand the Mundari’s relationship with these creatures, and it struck him. There, cows represent love, commitment, tradition, livelihood, nourishment, and stability, and each of those values is felt in everyday life. Members of the tribe know the names of every cow in the area, and they’re proud of them. Mattia even recounted one morning when a member of the tribe took one of the cows for a walk while singing about how beautiful it was. It was an incredibly captivating, yet commonplace occurrence.
Although his travels often involve risky situations, peaks in adrenaline, and the occasional scare, Mattia only spoke to his lifelong fear of giant cows when asked about unnerving circumstances during his time with the Mundari. This speaks not only to the level of comfort he’s grown to feel when traveling through potentially dangerous areas, but also to the truth that his work pushes him in unexpected ways — even when childhood fears resurface.
Just as with any of his photographic endeavors, Mattia’s experience among the Mundari reinstilled his love of traveling to remote areas and capturing life where there is no electricity, running water, or modern comfort. It reminded him that we do not need these conveniences to connect to each other or to nature. We simply need to be present for our experiences.
As Mattia says, we should keep routines for our old age.
To view more of Mattia’s work or to follow along as he returns to further document the Mundari, click here.