Whilst you may know him for his multiple exposure technique, and combing landscape, nature, and silhouettes, Canadian photographer Luke Gram, presents his new series of portrait meets documentary as the University of British Columbia graduate travels through Ethiopia documenting culture, heritage, and human rights just when Ethiopia’s former deputy intelligence chief Yared Zerihun is arrested amid investigations into corruption and human rights abuse.
In an Exclusive for FGUK Magazine, we look closer at Luke’s new series and catch up with him during his exploration. His work has brought him to 60+ countries and seeks to examine the intricate balance between people and the places they inhabit.
Read in Full Below and see more in our gallery.
Thanks so much for talking with us, First of all, can you tell us where your from and based currently?
I was born and raised in a small farm town north of Toronto, Canada. It was a peaceful, simple place to grow up, but left wildly unaware and unprepared for my travels around the world.
I wasn’t subjected to abject poverty, to danger and violence, to pollution or toxic environments, nor the struggles to survive that many people face at the core of their existence. At the same time, I was isolated from the beauty of the world too though. I missed out on different cuisines, to racial diversity, and to the intricacies of the vast amount of religions and cultures.
To its defense, however, it’s plainness and boringness was what fed my hunger to see all that this world has to offer and was enough of a kick in the ass to get moving.
As for where I am based now, I like to believe I live a bit of a nomad life, but I’ve actually spent the last 11 months back at home where I grew up. I needed to see my mum after many years on the road, and I finally took the time to make room in my life for that. That being said I’m writing these responses as I’m on a plane from New Delhi to Kuala Lumpur, so the nomad tradition lives on slightly.
How did you get into photography and how would you describe your style in 1 sentence?
My mom got me into photography, undoubtedly. I remember during the first trip we took to visit my grandfather in his remote house in northern British Columbia she bought me a disposable camera, and from that moment on I was hooked. I can’t describe enough how grateful I am for that wonderful woman. Everything good in me comes from her.
Not only was she always buying me disposable film cameras, but she was feeding my growing curiosity with books and National Geographic’s, and over my childhood that blossomed into something that would be best described as a photographic-Indiana Jones wannabe attitude.
As for my photography style, that’s a very good question. I don’t have a definitive answer, but I can tell you that when I edit I pull from my love for romanticism-era paintings and vintage film photos found tucked in the pages of aging National Geographic’s. I would like to say that it blends into this washed-out, colorful, semi dream-like aesthetic.
You’ve recently completed a year of Soul searching and even stepping away from social media, how did this impact your visual story and your outlook now?
Stepping back from social media was probably the best thing I’ve done, for both my mental health and for my artistic vision. I deleted my Facebook, my Snapchat, and all I kept was my Instagram which I stopped checking almost entirely. It provided a lot of clarity, in many ways. It brought me back in tune with the normal rhythm of life. I began to appreciate the details of my every day at a level you just can’t achieve if you’re constantly being over stimulated by the outside sources of the cyber world.
I got a job on a horse farm by my house and canceled my data plan. My life began to revolve around the working hours of daylight. I rose with the sun, and I set with it as well. I stopped to appreciate the little views during my day that made me happy, and this, in-turn, helped me hone in my artistic vision.
Looking back, I realised that Instagram began to seep into my mind in a way I’m not that fond of. You begin to curate your artistic expression based on likes and followers and that is the absolute wrong way of doing it, and it’s quite sad. I began posting things and taking photos that I thought others would like. This is where I was wrong. Photography is, and always has been, about taking photos that I like. They’re for me, and they’re my memories, and my experiences and they need to be free from outside influences if I want to give the most authentic expression of my passion.
I’ve come back to posting now with a much clearer mind. I disregard likes and losing followers when I post photos that aren’t you’re ‘classic’ Instagram vibe. I don’t need to feed other people’s interests, I want to feed mine. And for me, capturing the faces of the people that I meet along the road is what is most important. I enjoy the diversity in the people I’ve laid eyes on, to the people that have invited me into their homes for tea. To the people I’ve sat with in silence during long bus rides or in between waiting on the sides of roads, their faces have been imprinted on me, I’ve taken them in my mind and I want to capture their expressions and beauty with my camera.
I left my hometown for a reason, and that reason turned out to be to meet other people.
Culture and people play a huge part in your work was this intentional but what is this also teaching you about yourself?
This was absolutely not intentional, but it’s probably the best thing that has happened to me. When I originally left on my first trip I was quite nervous because I was primarily a landscape photographer. It’s the only thing I knew how to photograph and I had never even experimented in portraits or cultural photographs.
Stepping into the streets of Cairo, Mumbai, Bangkok, Istanbul – I was totally overwhelmed. I had never experienced such diversity in cultures and I frankly had no clue what to point my camera at. I couldn’t frame anything with the craziness of all these places. It took me a long, long time to find my vision, but I’m beyond glad I put in the effort. This ignited in me what I believe to be the passion for photography I was looking for all along. I now am absolutely overwhelmed with my desire to see everything and everywhere that this world has to offer. I want to capture all the faces of people from places I never dreamed I would be. I want to see the diversity in life and lived experiences that cultures from all the continents provide their inhabitants. It feels to me to be my most authentic passion, and it’s the thing that keeps my feet wandering.
Do you look at your work with any political message?
At a base level, no. That being said, I find that I get frustrated when I see travel photographers masking the reality of a lot of situations. Let me give you some specifics.
I adore India. It’s the place that has captured my heart the most out of any of the 60+ countries I have visited. It is the embodiment of the entire spectrum of humanity. All of the good, mixed with all of the bad and infused with everything in between. Yet I despise when I only see these immaculate, beautiful photos and that’s all that people post from there. It’s not the reality. It simply isn’t.
The reality of India is that in between those beautiful places is a lot of misery. People in between are the beggars with no limbs or no eyes. It’s the polio victims forced to crawl on a wooden cart in between traffic begging for change. It’s the woman who’s 80-years-old, with deep wrinkles on her face stuck in a permanent frown from years of hardship. For me, that is India, and it’s important to share. It’s those people who have shaped me the most, and left me with the deepest impressions that taught me the most about what it means to be grateful. It feels fraudulent to leave those photos left to the dustbin of Instagram.
What’s next for Luke?
I’m not sure. I never have a plan, I don’t feel I need one, and that’s the way I want it to remain.
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