For photographers (or anyone really) at the beginning of a career, there's a nagging thought that hangs around like a shadow: "Am I doing it right?"
Sometimes the best reassurance comes from the masters — the creatives who have paved the way and set the bar for those to follow. A new podcast called "No Filter" hosted by conservation photographer Robin Moore provides this very resource.
Launching this week, the podcast has already interviewed big names in photography, such as one of the planet's most popular ocean photographers, Brian Skerry, the incredible and trail-blazing Annie Griffiths, and the intrepid and compassionate Pete Muller.
We talked with Moore about how this new podcast can help anyone with a creative spirit, what lessons he's learned while building the podcast and what can be gained from listening in.
MNN: What made you want to start a podcast?
Robin Moore: Curiosity, mainly. And a desire to connect with fellow photographers and storytellers on a more intimate level. Just as my camera acts as a vehicle for connecting with people when I am in the field, I thought that an audio recording could do the same with fellow photographers.
I am by nature a shy person, and so committing to recording my conversations with people I look up to forced me out of my comfort zone. I chose an audio-only format because it lends itself to intimacy. During hour-plus long conversations, and in the absence of cameras, people tend to open up and become more reflective. You can move past the prepared answers to connect on a deeper level, and this is where I think the most interesting insight comes from.
How do you decide who you’ll reach out to for interviews?
I wanted to start with some well-established photographers driven to use their images for social or environmental change. I started reaching out to fellow photographers represented by National Geographic Creative because of my existing relationship, because the name is synonymous with excellence and authenticity, and because the good people at National Geographic Creative offered me room space when photographers were in town to conduct my interviews. It has then been a case of being opportunistic.
What has been the most memorable moment in recording an interview so far?
Sitting down with Lynn Johnson was a really special moment because I knew she didn't enjoy these situations. She has to feel very comfortable to open up in a public forum, and so it felt incredible when she opened up — she was so candid and honest that it was a goose-bump moment. I felt enormously privileged to be sitting in the National Geographic headquarters having this heart-to-heart with her. She emanated kindness and wisdom.
Another memorable moment was sitting down with my first interviewee, Pete Muller, in a basement apartment in Washington, D.C., with new recording equipment and realizing that what I was capturing was something special. Pete was someone I had known for years, and yet here I was, learning about his story — intimate details that I never knew — and he was not only sharing them with me but with anyone who wanted to listen. It was the moment that this podcast idea that I had been sitting on might just work.
A man delirious and suffering from Ebola is escorted by medical workers. (Photo: Pete Muller)
You’ve set this up for photographers as a place to listen and learn. What have you learned while crafting this podcast?
I learned that the biggest barrier to doing great things is often self-doubt and fear of failure. I sat on the idea of doing this podcast for over a year, unsure of whether I could pull it off. I found that leaps of faith characterized the paths of many established photographers. Pete Muller was scared out of his wits when he was offered the Ebola story for National Geographic — but didn't skip a heartbeat in accepting it. Brian Skerry took his first assignment with Nat Geo though he was told had a 98 percent chance of failure, because he knew the opportunity may never come again.
I learned that even the most respected and revered photographers suffer from self doubt — and it may even be important to staying hungry and striving to improve and innovate.
I learned that the same revered photographers are incredibly candid about their own self-doubt.
I learned that the staying power of images often comes from the critical thinking behind them and how they are contextualized in broader conversations. You have to start on the inside and work out rather than the other way around, as Lynne Johnson put it.
I learned that curiosity is our greatest guide as photographers and storytellers.
I learned that, even in these fast-paced times, that you can still shoot film and snag big assignments with the likes of National Geographic and TIME. Rena Effendi shoots with a Rolleiflex and, while people sometimes think she is a hipster, her choice forces her to slow down and be deliberate with every frame, free from the temptation to shoot on rapid fire and undistracted by the immediate feedback of digital cameras. I found it a very refreshing approach.
I learned that being successful and fulfilled are not the same. It is too easy to chase the former at the expense of the latter. I see those photographers that have found fulfillment are those whose work brings them a sense of meaning and purpose that is bigger than themselves. It has made me think a lot about my ambitions and what will bring me fulfillment rather than the narrow definition we often ascribe to "success."
And finally, I am reminded repeatedly that the path is as important as the goal when it comes to photography. As Annie Griffiths says in her interview, "Attorneys don’t start out at the Supreme Court. For some reason with photography, there can be an unrealistic focus on the goal and not the path.”
We all want a shortcut to becoming a National Geographic photographer. My hope is that this podcast series will provide an insight into the paths that people have taken to get there and use their words of wisdom to inform their own path. There are no clear roadmaps in this rapidly evolving industry, but there are role models and examples to learn from.
What will non-photographers gain from listening?
Who doesn't want to know what it's really like to be a National Geographic photographer? All of the podcast guests have led exceptional and fascinating lives, and I believe their stories and nuggets of wisdom should appeal to anyone with an inkling of curiosity. Many of the topics covered — dealing with self-doubt, carving a career as a woman and a mother in a male-dominated industry, leading a fulfilled life, and having your expensive strobe chewed off by a shark — will resonate with people who do not live their lives through a lens (well, with the exception of that last one!).
Annie Griffiths says in her interview: "Your expectations should be high of yourself, but not of the world and the path that should lay before you," and I think it is such an incredibly powerful statement to live by, regardless of how you make your living.
A piece of advice that Tyrone Turner was offered by his father when he was young: "Things are never as bad as they seem. But they’re also never as good." This is as powerful as it is simple. It's a reminder to keep everything in perspective even if — and perhaps especially if — you are a National Geographic photographer.
A man takes a moment of reflection at the top of Victoria Falls. (Photo: Annie Griffiths)
Who's on your dream list of photographers to interview?
I would love to interview Sebastião Salgado, and may have an opportunity to meet him in Brazil in November. I am currently trying to get time with Ami Vitale, as well as Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier. There are many others on my list — I don't want to name too many for fear of making others feel left out. We photographers are a sensitive bunch.
A key focus of your own photography is conservation, and several of your guests also focus on this topic in their own work. How do you think 'No Filter' might shift the perspective of conservation photography among listeners?
I hope that "No Filter" attracts a broad base of listeners interested in photography, inspiring many to use their talents to advance environmental and social causes. One of the things that motivated me to start this podcast was being asked by numerous people: "How do I become a conservation photographer?"
I don't believe any one person has an answer to that question, but I hope to create a tapestry of stories that illuminate the different paths others have taken. I didn't want to limit the podcast to just conservation photographers because I think it's important to reach outside of our own genres for inspiration and ideas, because many of the challenges are the same.
Even for those without a background or interest in conservation, it is hard not to be moved by the passion and the commitment demonstrated by photographers such as Brian Skerry and Annie Griffiths. Through their stories, Brian, Annie and fellow conservation photographers paint a compelling image of what we are doing to our world and why we should all care.
I hope that "No Filter" can serve as a platform to inspire others to harness their talent and passion for visual storytelling to grow the constituency of people determined to be good stewards of our only planet.
You can see Robin Moore speak at the upcoming WiLD Speak conference, hosted by the International League of Conservation Photographers, in November in Washington, D.C.