Michael Clark is a world traveler, explorer and photographer focused on cultivating his relationship between photography/videography and the cultures he explores. After graduating from college, Michael took nineteen months to circumnavigate the globe - traveling to places such as Kenya, Myanmar and Laos. Michael currently works at the Chris Burkard Studio and travels whenever he can. He is about to embark on a road trip of a life time from Mexico to the Arctic Circle and continue to explore his passion for film and photography.
How did you get interested/started in photography?
The first time I picked up a camera, it was actually to film myself and my friends doing Parkour on a flip video camera. At first, filming was just a way for me to refine my technique and get better with my movement, but when I started filming more, and upgrading my camera equipment, I realized that creating videos was a way I could express myself in a way I had never realized. I began to understand how much I enjoyed creating, and how important it was for my life. I filmed for about 6 or 7 years without taking a single photo in manual mode, until I served as a deckhand for a Spanish captain in Vanuatu. He was stoked on photography, and he opened my eyes to what was possible with photography when I took the time to learn camera settings for my stills and not just my video work. I’ve been shooting both ever since!
Can you chat a bit about your travel journal our mention in your posts (ie why do you keep it/what do you write about)? How does that help you reflect on your travels/adventures?
I keep my travel journals for a variety of reasons. The places I enjoy traveling to are usually places where it is hard to get a bearing on the situation. Places like Africa and Asia are constantly a shock to my perspectives, comfort, and intuition, so I find it is really important to take some time to stop and recenter myself, to decode the craziness of the situations around me. I am also currently writing a book about my nineteen month circumnavigation of the world, so a lot of my entries are simple bullet notes with this in mind. Quotes on the road, currency exchange rates, key word language translations, I even have used it to draw pictures to try and communicate with taxi drivers. Further, a guiding project, in this case, writing in my journal, helps to keep me sane whilst I’m on the road for long periods of time, and everything around me is unfamiliar and hard to fathom.
How does your personal style translate into your photography?
Photographic style is something that I am still trying to wrestle with! Some of my photos come from journaling, brainstorming, and careful planning, but others just involve being receptive to the environment that’s around me. For me, at the end of the day, it’s all about placing yourself in situations that lend themselves to unique and powerful photos. One photo in my portfolio is a man carrying a leg of a cow that I had just seen him kill with a machete. If I hadn’t been camping on a remote island in the South Pacific, and been receptive to taking part in a traditional Vanuatuan funeral, I would never have been in a place to take that photo. In this way, I try to place myself in the most difficult shooting situations, because I believe this adds drama to a photo, and allows a greater chance for unique imagery.
Are there any photographers your look up to or that inspire you? Why?
I have a lot of photographers that inspire me. Most of the time it is people that are willing to push themselves to the physical limit to capture what is around them. People like Chris Burkard, Renan Ozturk, and Paul Nicklen are people that I look up to. This is because when things get uncomfortable, they gravitate towards taking the photo, instead of putting the camera away. I believe that often, the harder it is to take the camera out, the more valuable of an opportunity it is to capture a unique and powerful image.
What have been some of your favorite places traveled to and why?
My absolute favorite places usually involve a few factors. First, they are usually difficult to get to, secondly, they are relatively untouched by outside influence, and third I’m a real lover of searching for dramatic locations. Yes, I love to find details in the small things, like laying in the grass, or the rolling hills in my home state of New Hampshire, but I am drawn to places that blow my mind with their uniqueness or power. This power can be though the drama of the landscape itself, or simply by learning cultural outlooks that shock me and cause me to think differently. Places that encompass all of this for me are the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Sahara Desert, Myanmar, and Northern Kenya.
What is your dream location, person or thing to shoot or travel to?
This is a hard one! Something that has been on my mind a lot lately is going back to Eastern Africa or SE Asia, to explore more of what I missed, and explore the potential for a surf film tied in with the local culture. As far as places I have not traveled to, the remote mountain towns of the Himalaya have always drawn me, and I would love to travel to the Middle East, maybe somewhere like Pakistan or Oman.
What are some of the best local foods eaten in your travels? Anything to steer clear of?
My favorite food I have eaten is lamb Tagine in Morocco. It is a couscous and vegetable dish, cooked in clay pots. Every time I ate this dish in Morocco I was engulfed in steam, and it’s the best kind of food after a long hike. I also really enjoyed the curry in Thailand.
When traveling in places that have a low economic status, I would steer clear from anything that involves unboiled tap water. This includes dishes like salads or drinks like juice.
Who is your dream travel companion (living or dead) for a trip to your dream location - and where would you go?
My dream travel companion is and always will be my beautiful girlfriend Chelsea Higgins. All of my greatest travel memories have been with her by my side, and we’ve spent more of our relationship on trips than at home!
Chels and I are currently living in a van we built out ourselves, and are planning to take the van from Mexico to the Arctic circle, up through Alaska. That’s the dream right now, and we are stoked to head up soon!
Please tell us about your 19-month trip around the world. Did that change your perspective on what you wanted to do in life/out of a career. How was it meeting so many different cultures?
When I was at University in Boston, I decided to spend my senior year abroad. I had just met Chels at that point, and by an odd stroke of luck, she had decided on doing the same thing in the same locations. Living in Ecuador, and then New Zealand, we graduated in New Zealand and decided to take the long way home. I did a 1,200 mile passage on a sailing boat from New Zealand to Vanuatu as Chels was taking her final exams. She met us in Vanuatu, and we proceeded to live on the boat in Vanuatu for 2 months. After that, we spent a month in Indonesia, and spent the next 3 months in South East Asia. She went home at that point, and I spent another 5 weeks traveling solo in Africa. I walked through my home door on Christmas day, surprising my family. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mum cry that much in her life!
That trip is everything. I went into it hoping I would grow and change, but it completely changed my life’s trajectory, and provided me with a baseline of perspective I can use as I try to piece together the rest of my life. Before that trip, I was going to teach high school English in the U.S for the rest of my life. I think about that trip every day. Faces I thought were inconsequential at the time are etched into my memory, I briefly dipped my toe into the raw power of wild places, and the trip helped me understand how little I know, and how little I will know for the rest of my life. I learned so many stories, some were beyond my level of comprehension in how tragic they were, and others were heartwarming. Now, as I look forward into my career, its those stories and experiences that push me forward, and are the driving force for what I do.