For many nature and landscape photographers, the need to travel to distant exotic locations is paramount to the process of being able to create a diverse body of work that has a lasting impact, surprise, and depth. Surely trips to Iceland, Patagonia, Tibet, the USA National Parks, Greenland, the Faroes, and Indonesia can yield some incredible photographs; however, what if your home is a 167-square mile island and you choose to never leave your island for photography?
Cousteau’s influence on Andre’s work is quite prevalent not only in subject but also in how “exploratory” it feels to the viewer.
Do you think you can muster what it takes to produce a body of work that is compelling, personally expressive, interesting, and creative? The subject of today’s essay, Andre Donawa, based on the island of Barbados – a country with a population of just 287,000, has set out to do just that – create a body of interesting landscape photography solely from his home island.
Andre’s photography origin story is not unlike many of our own – in 2012, he picked up the camera to take some photographs of food for his family restaurant and the magic of pressing the shutter just overtook him like a virus. Armed with a degree in biology, Andre revisited local haunts on his island with a fresh perspective through the camera. His early inspiration as a photographer was Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanic explorer, filmmaker, and co-inventor of the modern-age SCUBA diving systems. Cousteau’s influence on Andre’s work is quite prevalent not only in subject but also in how “exploratory” it feels to the viewer. When I first came across Andre’s work, I was instantly transported to Barbados and visually invited to feast on the peculiarities of his discoveries on the coast and in the water of his island. To be perfectly frank, I was quite surprised I had not discovered his work sooner. Andre’s work is filled with personal expression and conveys a unique take on a place he has become quite familiar with.
Certainly, a photographer can gain a tremendous advantage through the intimacy of place. Andre is no exception to this idea; however, I think below the surface (pun intended), there’s more to discover in his work. Through his imagery, I see a passionate familiarity with the subject that enriches his photographs and exudes creativity and conveys a subtle playfulness. I strongly believe that revisiting familiar locations and subjects repeatedly, while potentially boring on the surface, can force a photographer to develop a long-term relationship that will eventually yield more creative work that feels personal and expressive to the photographer (and viewer!)
The advantage of this approach is that one never truly gets tired of making images, and there is always a new challenge to explore with a familiar friend in the landscape. I have done this myself with mountain and autumn photography in Colorado, and I never grow tired of engaging with these places every single year with fresh eyes. Andre’s approach is one to take note of. I encourage other photographers to implement something similar in their own work – either through revisiting the same locations or by photographing the same subjects. The results will come over time.
Through his imagery, I see a passionate familiarity with the subject that enriches his photographs and exudes creativity and conveys a subtle playfulness.
One aspect of Andre’s work that I have come to personally enjoy as a viewer is his wave photography, which seems to convey a multitude and range of emotions and states of being, from happy, excited, nervous, and curious. It is hard to believe that photographing waves and wave patterns from your home island can express such a wide range of emotions and feelings, but Andre has pulled it off! I’ve also come to enjoy his more intimate work that showcases interesting smaller scenes found on his coast, including stairs that seem to lead to nowhere, to a shoreline filled with a wonderful colour story and juxtaposition of the subject.
I would be remiss not to talk about two of his images that immediately struck me. The first is a visual power ballad of complexity and emotional impact showcasing massive crashing waves over a smaller wave. I was dumbfounded upon first seeing the photograph. The second is a very fascinating image of an oceanic sunset or sunrise that features waves and a wonderful colour palette.
These unique and expressive images are generally only obtainable when a photographer has a very good understanding of his or her subject and has an energetic attitude towards it. I highly encourage you to think about what subjects or situations create the same in your own photography and to focus more of your energy and attention on that thing because the result will undoubtedly be an improvement in the overall impact and quality of your work. The trick is that it takes time and commitment to keep going back repeatedly, but the payoff is monumental, in my opinion.
If Andre’s work interests you, I encourage you to take a look at his book, Edge of Bim, which features photographs all captured from his island of Barbados over a 3-year period.
These are the types of personal projects that inspire me, and I hope that it does you as well.
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