with Drew Hopper
Hey Drew, can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from?
I’m an Australian photographer currently based in the regional coastal town of Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia. My childhood consisted of travelling around the country in a motorhome with my parents and younger sister, before we discovered the beautiful Coffs Coast, and settled down. I’ve been a photographer for almost a decade now, specialising in nothing, but trying a bit of everything before deciding that my focus is documentary styled, with a somewhat more contemporary/conceptual twist. As well as photography, I regularly contribute to Australian Photography magazine, writing photo articles and judging monthly contests. In 2016, I was fortunate enough spend 2 months travelling in India, on assignment to capture and create images for an Affirmations publication, which was published in 2017, titled ‘Enlightenment’.
How and when did you develop an interest in travel photography?
I’ve always loved the idea of travelling to some exotic place, somewhere far far away, to get lost and discover life that I never knew existed. As a child, my imagination ran wild, still, today nothing has changed. For me, photography is about being imaginative, and for whatever reason travelling made me a more inquisitive observer. I prefer not to label myself as a ‘travel’ photographer, as I feel that would limit my niche. When someone asks me what I do, I simply respond with, “I’m a photographer”. My first trip with my girlfriend really inspired me to start venturing outside of Australia, and opened my mind to the world that inspires my work today.
How did you capture three of your best images?
I was wandering along the bank of the River Ganges in Varanasi, India, when I spotted this sadhu bathing in the holy waters. At first glance, it was just an ordinary sight. Hundreds of people come to pray and wash in the river each day, therefore I didn’t think much of the scene at the time. I continued walking around before noticing the ripples he was creating from his hands. I quickly moved in closer to get a tighter crop, filling the frame with the rippled effect, whilst focusing on the man. I like to say that this one of those ‘right place, right time’ moments.
I photographed this young Bangladeshi girl at work in one of the many rice factories in Bogra, Rajshahi Division, Bangladesh. The pink wall lit up in the afternoon sun was what captured my attention, however it wasn’t exactly engaging enough without some activity in the foreground, so I waited for the girl to move in front of the wall. Unfortunately, I was only able to take a couple of photos before the work was complete, therefore I had to move quickly without getting in her way as she swept the rice into piles. Fun afternoon, great light, and a photo to share the tale.
Shaped by Light
Here’s an image from one of my ongoing series from Vietnam, documenting the iconic Non la (conical hat) from a more conceptual or contemporary perspective. It’s all about light, shadow and shapes. The technical aspect of this series is to highlight the dominant shapes in the darkest area of the image, therefore allowing the shape and form to become alive. The series is mostly shot in black & white, as it eliminates any unnecessary clutter or distractions from the scene.
From where or whom do you draw your inspiration?
Over the years my own style has changed dramatically. Originally, I specialised in nature/landscape photography before getting into travel in 2013. I combined my my love for travel with street photography, which I suppose is somewhat contemporary some would say. These days I have been admiring the earlier works by American photographer Nan Goldin. The way she documents her immediate surroundings is definitely integral to her artistic expression that I truly admire. Golin’s book/slideshow ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ is a refreshingly intimate and profoundly personal series of personal moments that has given me inspiration to document those candid moments from everyday life. I love the idea of documenting those immediate moments, especially of those close to me. Another photographer who continues to inspire me is Magnum photographer and fellow Aussie Trent Parke. His work extremely emotive, lucid and always unique. My favourite series is his book ‘Minutes to Midnight’, which was the result of a two-year road trip around Australia with his wife Narelle Autio. The images are darkly dream-like – always hitting hard!
In all your travels, what is the most memorable experience you’ve had while photographing?
There’s many memorable moments, but one in particular that resonates with me was the morning I met BabaJi. Here stands BabaJi, staring down my lens with piercing eyes, inside his ‘Paradise’ on the steps of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. I first met BabaJi by the River Ganges. He came skipping down the steps to bathe in the holy waters of the Ganga. I still remember hearing his childish laugh as he made conversation with the locals on his way from his ashram. He approached Jess and myself with a big smirk on his face, and started chatting. His English was very good, as he’s travelled the world and spent a lot of time interacting with English speakers. He then invited us into his home for chai, where we became good friends. After our third visit to his house, I asked for his permission to take his portrait. I photographed this image inside his bedroom, using only a candle to create a natural ambience that illuminated his face and brought out the details in his eyes. I returned the favour by having two prints made and personally delivered them before we left for Kolkata the following day.
What do you love most about travel photography?
Being a travelling photographer has its ups and downs, but I’d have to say it’s the people and the relationships that I’ve established over the years that I value most. It’s always nice to return home from a trip with images, but it’s the people I’ve met that make travelling memorable. One of my good friends I met in Hoi An, Vietnam, actually photographed my engagement to with my fiancee Jess – that’s pretty special!
Here’s the shot that Phong Nguyen captured that morning.