August 26, 2014

Interview: Micky Wiswedel

A passionate and accomplished climber, Micky Wiswedel‘s love for photography was spurred by his desire to capture his friend’s climbing escapades. Now shooting full-time and working primarily internationally, he strives to focus on social documentary, where he meets real people with real stories. Micky’s dedication to living a life rich in meaningful experience and his down to earth attitude are just two of the many reasons we’re thrilled to be featuring him today. Below, Micky talks of mastering the “lost tourist expression”, the common desire among people everywhere, and why he shoots for Stocksy. He also shares his road trip mixtape!

// What was your path to becoming a professional photographer?

It kind of started as a result of my rock climbing. I’d always seen cool climbing photos in international climbing magazines, but had never seen anything as cool as here in South Africa. I bought a camera to try to take photos of my friends climbing and eventually some magazines started showing interest locally and then internationally. From there I realized that people liked my photos and maybe I could make a bit of money on the side as a photographer. Two years ago I was able to stop all other work and pursue a career full-time as a photographer. That being said, I hardly ever take climbing photos anymore because if I’m taking photos, then I’m not climbing. I now forcefully leave my camera at home so I can actually enjoy climbing.

// Your passion for travel is evident in your collection. How has travel impacted your work and style?

I wouldn’t say that travel has influenced my photography, but it’s influenced me. It’s made me learn to be a lot more accepting of different cultures and ways of being. It’s taught me to go with the flow and let go of expectations, to be in the moment and let things unfold in their own way. It’s also made me realize that everywhere you go in the world, regardless of what you hear in the news about a place being dangerous or conservative, the people you meet are all the same – everybody just wants to be happy.

It’s affected my style in that I’ve learned how to photograph with less. Often you don’t have the luxury of having all your gear, so you learn to work with what you’ve got. Essentially all you need for a great image is your camera and a lens. I’ve become quite comfortable traveling with minimal gear.

// Do you tend to travel light? Can we peek into your camera bag?

I do tend to travel light, as it draws less attention when passing through customs, especially in some of the more dubious countries. I try to keep things on a tourist level, I suppose. I also do the innocent, lost tourist expression – that bewildered deer in the headlights kind of look – nobody ever suspects you when you look naive and confused. And if that fails, I smile; a big cheesy grin and a jovial disposition will most likely get you through.

// We’re in awe of your extreme climbing/mountaineering imagery. Can you tell us what goes into a shoot like this?

I’d say that the most difficult part about photographing rock climbing is not the photography itself, it’s getting yourself into the right position to shoot. You have to be good on the ropes yourself, hike up a mountain with your climbing and photo gear, and then get a vantage point that is, for the most part, above the climber. This can take hours. And then after all that setup, you can get into position that doesn’t really work, so it’s back to square one and the day is a write off. This has happened more times than I’m proud to admit.

It’s also rare that a climber is climbing at his limit on a difficult route when the light is perfect. So as a photographer, you have a choice of staging a shot in good light or capturing the real emotion of the moment as it happens.

Also, the anxiety of changing lenses while dangling off a rope takes getting used to. I’ve never dropped a lens while climbing though, only while standing around waiting for something to happen.

// Have you had many harrowing experiences during these shoots?

To a non-climber, rock climbing and mountaineering seem extreme. Once you gain experience in that environment, it’s not so extreme – it’s an environment that you become comfortable operating in. If you understand your equipment and you have experience, it’s actually very safe. The gear is made not to fail. So in that way, I’ve never experienced something harrowing or life-threatening.

However, when you stare over the edge of a massive cliff into the void below, instinctually you react with fear. It just takes a bit of training to realize that fear is only in the mind and if you’ve rigged your gear properly you’re very safe.

I would say I’ve had scarier experiences climbing than taking photos of climbing. I’ve taken big falls and was once on a big wall route, casually hanging on with one hand, unaware that I wasn’t connected to the safety line. I then realized and connected myself. If I’d leaned back at that point, I would be a pretty red stain on the floor instead of a photographer.

// How often are you on the road versus at home in Cape Town?

It feels like I’m mostly on the road. Almost all of my paid work is for international clients and when I’m home I end up going on climbing trips or camping. So, I tend to feel like I’m traveling all the time. I do wish I spent more time in Cape Town, though. To me it’s the most beautiful, vibrant and exciting city in the world. And the more I travel, the more I realize how special Cape Town is.

// What is your favorite part of your job?

There are a few. The one part that I really love is that I never really feel like I’m working. I feel like I’m riding a never-ending wave that takes me all over the world to meet amazing people and see amazing things. What’s not to like?

I also love that it challenges both my artistic and technical sides. It’s a passion that is a continuous learning experience. Sometimes it feels like the more I think I know, the more I realize I need to learn. Seeing amazing photos on Stocksy everyday inspires me to learn more and grow as a photographer.

// Why Stocksy?

I hadn’t been doing stock very long when I decided to change over to Stocksy, but my time with other agencies made me realize that Stocksy is something different and exciting. It’s the kind of place where you can be proud to say that you’re a stock photographer. You feel like you’re part of an anti-establishment movement in the industry. And I think that rocks.

I also feel that as a creative person, it’s important to surround yourself with positive people who encourage you to grow through sharing their passion and experience. I find that at Stocksy people aren’t afraid to share their knowledge, which can only be a win-win for everyone. It just grows and the energy grows with it.

// Of all the stunning images in your Stocksy collection – which is your favorite?

I think every photographer probably finds it impossible to choose just one image – which is why I’ve chosen two. For me, it’s very difficult to choose one because they all have such varied experiences tied to them, whether it be people I meet, places I see or just simply amazing times with good friends.

A lot of what makes a photo my favorite photo is the experience behind it. In this photo I was in a very remote, rural part of northeastern Namibia, called Caprivi. Our guide took us to a small village, which could only be accessed by 4×4 across some pretty rough and sandy terrain with no roads. There has been an ongoing drought throughout Namibia, so our guide advised us to bring essential food items as a gesture of thanks. The response was overwhelming; the family started singing and dancing and shaking our hands. However, the most moving part of this experience was when I shot the portrait of the father in front of his homestead. He was hard of hearing, didn’t speak English and was a little skeptical of what I was doing. That was until I fired a few test images and showed him on the back of the camera. Immediately his face lit up and his entire demeanor changed, which is when I got the next shot – of him beaming with pride in front of his home.

The second shot is also from Namibia. A year ago, I took one of the most amazing road trips of my life through this stunning country. Along the way, my girlfriend and I spent a few nights in this surreal desert landscape called Spitzkoppe. Apart from it being one of the most remote, beautiful places on Earth with more stars than you can ever imagine, whenever I think back about our time there, it’s a reminder of how content you can be with very little – a tent, good company and a bottle of fine wine. Coincidentally, a few months later I was hired to work on a climbing film in the same place and while rigging for the shoot at sunrise, I managed to take a shot as the sun was coming up of our old campsite with a film camera that I’d been carrying with me. While it’s a great shot in terms of lighting and it’s cool that it’s on film, it has special meaning for me because it’s literally a picture of my campsite and a special time and place to me.

// Any tips for photographers starting out or looking to join the Stocksy team?

I’ve had a few friends ask me for tips and what I say is, “Don’t shoot stock.” Create awesome imagery instead. As far as I’m concerned, Stocksy isn’t a standard stock site. They’re focused on great imagery, which is what people want nowadays – [clients are] tired of boring, staged stock photos. Don’t think of being a stock photographer, just be a good photographer.

// From brews to books, Micky shares some of his favourites belo!

1. Photographer: Brent Stirton.  2. Dune. “This is probably my favorite cover of all the Dune editions. BTW, Dune is the best book EVER!!!”  3. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. “This is my goto beer. My rock. The beer I come home to after my taste buds have travelled far and wide. You never quite get over your first love and this was my first true beer love. I have no intention of getting over it!” 4. Daila Ojeda, I love her.”  5. Being outside with good people.

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