Photographer of the Month Interview: Sean Bagshaw

Featured Photographer, June 2010:   Sean Bagshaw

This month, our featured guest is Sean Bagshaw, an acclaimed landscape, nature and travel photographer from southern Oregon. He began taking photographs about 15 years ago to document his adventures. Sean talks about his photography and style on his website: "For most of my images I strive to show the scene the way I saw it in my mind's eye at the time it happened and utilize the available technology to help me achieve that vision.... One goal that I have for my photographs is to include unexpected and yet natural elements that surprise and perhaps even confuse."

We want to thank Sean for taking the time to answer our questions, and share some of his insights with us! Please visit his site links to see more of his wonderful work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start in photography? ::

I didn't start out with the intention of becoming a photographer. In college I got involved with rock climbing and mountaineering. We started photographing our trips and expeditions because we wanted to have images of how cool we thought we were. The photos were completely documentary in purpose and we would give slide shows to our friends and families.

Over time, I became the guy elected to be the "team photographer" mostly because I enjoyed it, was willing to carry the extra weight and get up early to shoot the sunrise, and because I couldn't screw it up too badly. Eventually I went on some expeditions that were big enough to warrant public slide shows and I learned that I also liked sharing my photos with the public.

Around that time I started noticing that some of my images were more visually pleasing than others just by chance, and I became curious about what it was that made one image better than another. As I got more and more interested in photography as artistic expression instead of simple documentation, the more my trips into the wilderness became about photography and less about climbing something or trekking somewhere. Now days my expeditions are planned around and focused on photography.

:: You've done quite a few BIG trips to Denali, and the Nepal area...recently spent a month in Mexico. What's the next big trip you're planning? ::

So many trips to do and so little time! I'm actually hoping to spend the next year doing some concentrated photography here in the northwest. I have not done nearly as much photography as I want to in Washington and Idaho, and there are many parts of central and eastern Oregon and the Oregon coast that I want to get to.

Even close to where I live, I want to photograph more in the Cascade/Siskiyou National Monument, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the Trinity Alps. I don't have a distant trip planned in the next several months, but some places on my radar for when money and time permits are South America, Eastern Europe and China.

:: You've got a couple kids; being a father, how does that affect your photography? Do you have plans on having them follow in your footsteps? Do the kids show any interest in photography? ::

Being a father is awesome, and my kids were one of my biggest motivations for becoming a full time photographer. My boys are 8 and 6. Until almost seven years ago I was a science teacher and I loved it. However, when I had my own kids I found it difficult to divide my energy between them and 130 other people's kids. While I probably work as many or more hours as a photographer as I did as a teacher, my time is more flexible and my "kid" energy goes all to my boys.

They both love playing with any sort of gadget, and cameras are no exception. They enjoy taking photos and I take them out to photograph with me from time to time. They both have a pretty good eye for composition as well. Right now I think they like it mostly because it's what I do, but who knows in the future. I hope they follow their own passions. If that ends up being photography then I anticipate us having some fun road trips together.

:: What was the best piece of advice or tip that did the most to propel your photography to the next level? ::

My good friend and retired famous rock band photographer, David Alexander, has always pushed me to find a voice or personal vision for my photography, and that has been a guiding theme for me. Early on I spent time trying to emulate what I saw in other people's photos, which I think is a natural part of the progression. I worried that I didn't know what my voice or vision was. However, as time goes on I am starting to see my style emerge. Now I realize that it isn't something that you necessarily decide on, rather it is an extension of who you are and it comes through naturally as you gain experience, perspective and put in the time. I expect my vision and voice in photography to continue to develop and progress for the rest of my life.

:: With so many landscape photographers, so many iconic places, and everybody really having a good grasp of Photoshop nowadays, how do you go after photos to keep them fresh and exciting? ::

You are correct about the fact that there are so many excellent photographers out there these days. In some ways it's depressing because it feels like it is hard to do anything new, but in other ways it is exciting because with such a vibrant photography community and advances in technology and techniques, it can feel like everything is new. In the end I find that, while I draw a lot of inspiration from all the amazing work I see others doing, I don't get too wrapped up in chasing the crowd, the latest processing technique or the iconic landscape location of the week.

Like I said in the last question, I try to focus on my own personal perceptions of the world and let my internal voice guide me toward creating images that excite me and stimulate me creatively. Hopefully that will be the element that comes through in my photography and helps my images and body of work stand out.

:: What was the most miserable or frightening day you've spent in photography? ::

In 2006 I was on a three week solo photo trek in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal. I had just spent several days trekking above 16,000 feet in the Gokyo Valley and the altitude was starting to wear on me. I planned to cross an 18,000 foot pass into the next valley, but deep snow made it unsafe. Instead I had to walk a remote trail that took me the long way around mountains below the snow line.

I miscalculated how far it was to the nearest village and arrived late at night, completely wasted, dehydrated and out of food. I paid for a bed at the first tea house I found and immediately passed out. Twelve hours later the inn keeper frantically shook me awake. I had been laying so motionless for so long that he was terrified that I had succumbed to altitude sickness and died in my sleep. He was very relieved to find me still among the living.

:: Is there any trend in photography now that disturbs you? ::

For me, photography is all about creative expression and personal perception and vision, so there isn't any current trend in photography or processing techniques that disturbs me. I know people who have a very strict view of what photography should be and get very upset when certain rules of photography or post-processing are broken. To me, if someone creates something that is aesthetically and/or conceptually powerful, I'm not particularly concerned about how they did it as long as they are transparent about it. There are some trends in the business of photography that I have concerns with, such as the devaluation of image licensing fees due to high volume, low image quality licensing models and copyright infringements and rights grabs that are happening as the result of the way images are posted and used on the Internet these days.

:: Other than your camera gear, what are some pieces of equipment you can't live without while on a shoot? ::

The number one most valuable piece of non-camera gear I have is my 1995 VW camper van. I used to try to live out of the back of my truck on photo trips, but that started to get depressing as it was kind of like living in a coffin. The VW is perfect. I have a bed, music, a stove, a fridge, storage, a place to plug in my lap top, room to stand up and room to bring along another photographer. It is small enough to parallel park in the city and fit into parking garages. I can stealth camp in it parked on any residential street or highway pull-out and I can have it all packed up and on the road within five minutes of rolling out of bed at 3:30 in the morning. A close second would be my iPhone, from which I can pretty much run my entire photo business on the road with just a cell phone signal. I also use it to pull up tide charts, sunrise and sunset times, weather reports, maps and coffee shop locations.

Sean Bagshaw

Sean Bagshaw's Links

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