Interview by Corin Ashliegh Brown
I first came across Dan Bachmann’s travel photography at Virgina Khuri’s satellite group about four years ago. The eye-catching clarity, colour vision and strong composition of Dan’s work reminded me of my own passion for travelling with my camera. As I’ve got to know Dan over the past few years I have learnt of his deep love for travel and how it changed the way he lives his life. In essence he is a photographer’s photograper but I think he would like to be defined as a traveller first and foremost. In his latest project Dan shares the remoteness of Troms, Norway and the magical northern lights with us.
LIP: When did you join LIP and what keeps you coming to the meetings?
Dan: I found out about LIP in my second year in London. I was welcomed into the Kensington satellite group, then run by Virginia Khuri who is one of the LIP founders. I thought the people were wonderful, skilled and artistic; however, at the time their artistic vision seemed more advanced than mine. And now, I think I am just starting to see how those early days at LIP challenged me and my approach to photography. It made me ask more questions about evolving my own vision. I would say that the image below reflects this:
In my pursuit of learning more about photography I have joined other photographic groups such as The Camera Club where I have access to a studio, and this is a fun platform for exploring studio photography with other members. I also attend meetings with London Photographic Meetup Group (LPMG) and The London Strobists. All these groups give me a chance to enjoy the process of learning and sharing with other photographers.
LIP: When did your interest in photography begin?
Dan: My mother loved travel at heart and planned some great family holidays for us. I don’t think anyone fully appreciated it at the time and I picked up the camera as something to pass the time. My father was encouraging too, by buying me an SLR for my 15th birthday. It was a Pentax K1000 with Pentax A 50mm f/2.0 lens, a 70-200mm zoom, a small flash and a Kodak pocket guide. For at least eight years there really was nothing else I wanted or needed in a camera.
Ironically when the travel bug first hit, I put photography to the side. At first the bulk of the SLR and the fear of damaging it caused me to leave the camera behind, but now this has changed and I have brought my two passions together. I do travel light, my kit has at times been spared down to a toothbrush, an extra pair of underwear, my SLR with a wide lens and a short telephoto lens. I mainly shoot prime lenses as I love the sharpness they give you. My travel philosophy has always been travel light and to be honest this carries on into my philosophy for life too.
When I left America, I wasn’t very happy. Life was looking very good on the surface, but inside I felt I was dying due to lack of stimulation. All I needed was to see a different viewpoint, to be surrounded by a place that could challenge me. Walking into other people’s everyday lives and surroundings lets the mind wander into different life stories and helps one find alternative realities. I’m all for traveling low to the ground – the cheaper places have their own flavour and characters and they don’t isolate you from the place you are in. Because of that, you talk to people more and come across unique and genuine human experiences.
LIP: Your work seems to focus more on landscapes than people, why is this?
Dan: Images of people are very powerful, but I do have trouble taking them. Sometimes people are a part of the place, and they have their own important stories which puts a context of time into the scenario. One of the main themes I’ve developed in my work is to capture the sense of a place. Landscapes can change over time, but generally many generations would recognize the features we see now. When gazing on a scene one can begin to feel small and insignificant in a world so vast and magical, yet the act of seeing somehow makes us a significant part of history. My first photograph displayed at a LIP exhibit was called “Insignificant Significance” and that was the thought behind this.
LIP: What hints or tips can you give to those wanting to go photograph the northern lights?
Dan: My biggest tip is take it all in. Your photographs will be something special, but not what you see and not what you experience. Photography wise, use a tripod and put heat packs in your boots.
LIP: Working in a cold climate puts a strain on a photographer’s equipment – how did you overcome this?
Dan: The cold can cause film to become so brittle it breaks. With digital cameras, the batteries don’t last very long, the life span shortens in extreme cold so make sure you have extras. I kept a spare battery under my coat in the warmth of my armpit.
LIP: Who has been a great influence on your photography?
Dan: Darren Melrose who is based in Taiwan is a primarily influence and his work is very people-orientated, but it’s his ideal of sinking into the local back streets that inspires me and the way I choose to work. I hope I can meet him someday. For each far away influence, I have a local counterpart. For travel people photography, it’s Jamie Marshal. It’s always inspiring to talk to Jamie and find out how he gets around problems.
For lighting techniques it’s loosely been Joe McNally, David Hobby and the local photographer I know Quoc-Huy. For wildlife, it would be Chris Weston who gets some great shots by doing things that no one else would dare to try.
But when it comes to landscapes, there is no single photographer of significance to me. Perhaps that is because the drive to capture landscapes is in my blood, coming from the paintings of my grandfather and mother who both had a deep connection with the landscapes of Scotland. This is one of the reasons landscapes dominate my travel photography.
LIP: What other things are you working on or exploring photographically?
Dan: My big thing this year is not to worry about the perfect photograph. Technically I can do that and it is not a big deal for me. Now I want to go beyond that. What is the meaning? Is there a message? To say something with a photograph by understandng how the mind reads visuals – I mentioned this whilst driving with a famous wildlife photographer and a psychologist I know. “What do you call that?” I asked. The psychologist said, “cognitive psychology”. Psychology was another interest I’ve never pursued – photography is going to let me explore that in practical way now.
Apart from that I am planning on working with The London Villages Project which has recently launched.