Cam Cope is a 29-year-old Australian travel journalist and photographer, recently named Australia’s Travel Photographer of the Year. When he’s not sailing in Patagonia, riding horses with nomads in Mongolia, lurching on the back of a truck in the Bolivian Andes, deep sea fishing in Samoa, hitch-hiking in the Canadian arctic, island hopping in Indonesia, scaling volcano craters in Vanuatu, or out exploring Australian Aboriginal culture, he can usually be found at home in Melbourne.
Here, Cam shares some of his insights and experiences from his life on the road, and even offers tips for the aspiring travel photographer.
Congratulations on being named “Australian Travel Photographer of the Year” by The Australian Society of Travel Writers. What aspect of your work sets you apart from other travel photographers?
Thanks, guys! I’ve been slogging it out for the last four to five years, trying to build a body of travel work against some really tough professional obstacles, so it’s really satisfying to be able to celebrate through this award.
I suppose the documentary style of my work is what sets it apart; it is largely observational and I almost always make use of natural light rather than using flash. That can be hard at times, but I find that it forces me to spend a greater amount of time in one place, allowing me to get to know communities and build relationships with locals. Serendipity plays a hand too.
I’m also always looking for a story and asking myself: “How does this image help me communicate what I want to say?” I’m most interested in history as a canvas for stories, particularly colonial history. People’s identities, lives, struggles, traditions, and movements are often tied to broader contexts and experiences; photography personalizes those often abstract or misunderstood forces in our world by putting forward a face that people can relate to. That’s a really powerful thing.
What advice would you give to amateur and aspiring travel photographers?
There is no substitute for spending the time on something and you should always ask yourself: “What is this photograph about?”
What brings you to a specific place? Is it an assignment you’re particularly excited about, a strong urge to explore a specific region, an aimless wandering, or something else?
I usually travel to a place in search of images that illustrate a story, though sometimes I’m not really sure what that story will be before I get there and start looking for it. If I’m on assignment and I have a specific brief, it’s usually simpler, but other times I’m just kind of prospecting for good light, action, and people doing interesting things.
Of course, I’m also just super curious about the world, music, dance, languages and food – so I try to keep my passion for photography going by exploring those interests behind the lens.
How does being a photographer and witnessing lives through a lens influence the way you move through the world?
My photography is essentially a passport to incredible experiences and into equally incredible people’s lives; without that, I would have fewer excuses to explore. My work introduces me to people and places that I likely wouldn’t connect with otherwise.
I also see my photojournalism as a responsibility; it’s a rare opportunity to share tangible, meaningful insights and experiences of the world and to inspire curiosity in others. I see what I do as breaking down much of the fear, ignorance and mistrust that exists because too many of us have a limited world views. I try to keep that in mind when I travel to remind myself that what I’m doing is important.
Do you have a favorite city or country or region of the world?
If I want to party: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For trekking: Peru. For hands-down-the-friendliest-people-on-the-planet: Vanuatu. For crazy fusion triple-transatlantic soul music: Senegal. For play-acting in a sustainable yet stylish urban future: Copenhagen, Denmark. I could go on…
Where’s one place you have not yet been that you’re dying to visit? Why is that place particularly appealing to you?
I really want to explore Central America and the Caribbean. I studied the colonial history of Latin America when I lived in Chile and am fascinated by what is essentially the making of the modern world: the creation of a trans-Atlantic civilization that still shapes so many of our lives today. Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic are high on my list and I think will help me better understand some of what I’ve seen and experienced in places like Europe and West Africa.
Oh, and mainland USA! I still can’t believe I’ve never been there.
Would you still travel if you weren’t a photographer? Why or why not?
Absolutely. I think travel is an essential part of the human experience. When you think about it, the desire to venture into the unknown and explore new territory is pretty much the great story of how we all got here. Travel is important: it can broaden your experience and understanding of just about anything and anyone – and it’s a lot less hard work without a huge camera backpack!
What are your next travel plans and how can we continue to follow along on your journeys?
In a couple of weeks, I’m off to Kangaroo Island in South Australia on assignment for a magazine and early next year, I’ll be working a story in the remote Furneaux islands in Bass Strait. After that, I’m taking some time out in rural Australia to work on a personal art project, and then I’ll be heading to Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe. If you want to stay posted, you can join me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and on my blog and website.