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‘All too often we disregard local stories in favor of the more “exotic” but if you look there are always lots of interesting tales in your own back yard.’
Our series of interviews with inspiring photographers from around the globe continues with West Sussex-based photographer Emily Mott. After graduating with a degree in English Literature, Emily discovers her passion for photography and applies to Art Center College of Design in California. Since then she has worked for major publications such as The New Yorker, Vogue UK, Rolling Stones, Travel + Leisure, Esquire, Time, and has had impressive travel assignments. St Lucia, Amalfi, Borneo, Mali, Brazil, Mexico, and Sardinia are just a few of the fascinating destinations documented in her photography. Emily now lives in West Sussex with her husband, daughter and son, ‘surrounded by cows, owls and apple trees’ as written on her bio page. Let’s find out more about the inspiration and vision behind her travel work.
G.M. Could you please tell us about your first encounter with photography? What made you start as a photographer?
E.M. I came late to photography. After graduating from University with a degree in English Literature, I was an editorial assistant and journalist. It was only when a story about Cowgirls fell through because the photographer couldn’t make the shoot last minute that I decided it would be good to have total control over a story with both words and pictures. I enrolled in a night course and when my portfolio was sufficient, applied to Art Center School of Design where I studied photography for two years.
G.M. Your photography captures diverse cultures, people and places. How do you interact with your subjects? Is there a particular story or moment you’d like to share with us?
E.M. Perhaps one of my favorite stories was for Conde Nast Traveller when I took a boat up the Niger in Mali to Timbuktu. It was an incredible experience. We motored slowly up the river over the course of 10 days and each night stopped at a village to camp so there was plenty of opportunity to meet people and take photos. It was a good time to be in Mali—but now things are much more unstable.
I speak French and a little bit of Spanish and Italian but usually travel with an assistant/translator who can help me communicate.
G.M. What are your favorite destinations for your travel photography?
E.M. I have loved every single assignment from the far flung Borneo to stories in nearby Portsmouth. My favorite destinations have been Mali, Brazil and Mexico. All too often we disregard local stories in favor of the more “exotic” but if you look there are always lots of interesting tales in your own back yard.
G.M. How important is post-processing in your work? Is there an editing software you prefer?
E.M. I was trained on film which was good discipline. We worked with 4×5 negatives and had to get everything just right in just a few shots. With digital, I try not to overshoot but it is a challenge! I’d say most of the time spent in post is editing. I don’t manipulate much but I do try to tone down the saturation. I use Lightroom to process from RAW.
G.M. What camera gear do you currently use? Do you take with you any additional equipment on a shooting day?
E.M. I use a Canon 5D Mark 11 mostly with one zoom lens that I use for my travel work. Depending on the shoot and subject matter, I’ll hire lenses.
G.M. Where do you find inspiration? Could you name a few photographers that you consider influential for your style?
E.M. There are so many! If I had to choose, I admire Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Sally Mann, Pieter Hugo, Roger Ballen, Liz Hingley.
G.M. How would you define your photography in three words?
E.M. Simple, true, straight.
G.M. If you could start again as a photographer is there anything you would do differently? Are there any sectors you’d like to explore more?
E.M. I was really lucky to start working while I was at school and never had the opportunity to assist. If I were to start now I’d just go out and try to assist four different photographers for a year and then go to school. I am currently learning how to shoot motion and look forward to shooting a documentary.
G.M. If it weren’t for photography, what else would you do?
E.M. I would consider being a social worker or work for an NGO.
G.M. Any words of wisdom for photography enthusiasts at the beginning of their journey?
E.M. If you think of yourself as a witness to life, people, struggles, joys and you can share that in a beautiful way that increases understanding across generations, communities, religions, cultures, then I think it is all worthwhile.
G.M. Can you tell us a bit about your future projects?
E.M. I have an ongoing project working with Muslim women on identity/self in the UK. I’m also researching a story about the migration crisis in the Mediterranean and planning a story on that for this September as well as travel work in Morocco.
Thanks to Emily Mott for sharing insights into her photographic journey and passion for travel photography. Discover more of her work on her official website.
Image Sources: All photographs featured in this post belong to Emily Mott and are protected by copyright.