The mythology of flying

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As I keep working at my craft of photography I find myself increasingly curious of finding WHY I’m drawn to the elements and stories I want to photograph.

Where does this pull to certain subjects, places and moods come from?

My upbringing? My life at the moment or some innate longing that is part of my, or maybe even the collective, subconscious?

Why this gravity towards some of the consistantly recurring themes in my images?

And why can’t I just break away from them and start a fresh new look to my work?

There’s the obvious answers of how one is shaped through experiences and how, through our art, we relive these and our longings over and over…

So instead of trying to completely renew I seek to understand my visual foundation and shift on steady ground rather than reinventing.

 

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I just finished another series of images with hang gliders poetically floating through landscapes.

I have photographed this floating/flying theme several times through my career. It’s fun for me to see as they are all similar yet different. To me they all stand on the pillars of my visual identity but very much reflect where I was as a photographer at the time of capture.

Erik Almas Photographer past flight imagery

 

The new set of images I find to be more organic and less heavy-handed both in the concept and execution. I like to think it is a reflection of me personally as well. That I now have come to an age where I don’t need things to be so much more than they are…

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So why this fascination with flying?

Turns out the idea of flight is ingrained in our human psyche and, throughout our history, one of the more common mythological themes.
Free as the bird is a saying we all know and a sensation we visit in our dreams.

My older images had a dream quality to them for sure. In 2016 I’m still fascinated by the sensation of flight but the approach more grounded. (Pun intended)

 

 

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Till next time I feel the itch to go flying again and capture the sensation of flying…

Is the trail steep enough?

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A few months back I was hired to travel to Spain to capture a set of 12 photographs.

I was truly excited as Spain, and its people, are very special to me. Work has taken me to this great country more than any other and I have been fortunate to travel across it several times to photograph ad campaigns representing their tourism industry.

 

This time I would not only go back to a place I love but also learn a good lesson.

 

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One of my primary efforts in my photography is to tell a story.

A story that is compelling enough for its audience to pause for brief moment and take it in.

I start with my own experiences and find a way to relate emotionally to the campaign I’m about to shoot. This so I can stand in our location and capture an image that feels honest and authentic.

I think big brushstrokes;

It’s a grand landscape set in the tones of the blue hour. Up the hill comes 3 generations; father, son and grandfather.

That’s the picture.

I then ground myself in memories of me hiking with my own grandparents as a kid and what that felt like. I build an emotional frame of reference that greatly informs the image we are to create…

 

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We have arrived on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. It’s 4.30 am and we are setting up in the dark.
With the cool color palette we want to achieve we have to shoot during dawn, prior to the sun comes up. It’s a small window that requires all prep to happen in the very early hours before the sun illuminates the landscape. After hours in the dark, wading in the way to plentiful cow dung, we are pretty much set to go.

I got my memory bank filled with hiking memories when the client shows up and says; “The trail is not steep enough.”

I quickly went from a quiet focus, being in flow, to an adrenaline driven focus of getting things done. It’s a massive scramble; When the sun hits the landscape our shoot window is over…

We have less than 30 minutes to find a new spot and set up again.

 

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It was much later, when sitting down with the experience, I realized I had to ask better questions. I have heard it many times over: The key is not to be the smartest, but to ask better questions. In that moment I learned what the better question is:

What is the client’s story? How do they see it? What is their memory of hiking and what does their market research tell them about the grade of our hill?

I believe all photography in some way has to be personal to be successful but other peoples’ memories can visually be just as intriguing as my own.

I learned from my mentor early on to always listen to my clients, understand their idea and what they try to accomplish.

Now I also ask; what does this look like to you?

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The best place you have yet to visit.

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Through photography I have been lucky enough to visit a great amount of cities and countries around the world.


Some of these travels are now reflected in images within a new Travel category on my website. I have chosen 12 locations from 6 different continents that all in some way have shaped and influenced how I see the world and myself. After more than a decade of extensive travel the biggest shift however is in realizing WHY I find it so intoxicating to travel, and why this can be found anywhere…

 

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My travels often come up in conversation and a very common question is: What is your favorite place among the one ones you have visited? My answer has always been; the one I have not yet been to.

This however is beginning to change and I’ll share with you why.

 

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What have enticed me so much about travelling, putting me on the road for 200 to 250 days out of the year, has been this intoxicating feeling of newness.

As I come to a new place the mind somehow quiets. There’s no thinking about what I should have done different in the past or what I need to do in the future. All the thoughts my mind is busying itself with are gone and the mind get’s in the flow of observing, seeing and getting to know. It settles into the present and engages fully in what happens in the moment. As it is all experienced for the first time I, like a kid, soak up all the new impressions.

The exhilarating feeling of seeing and experience something new awakens us and puts us in a sensation, or a rapture of being alive.

At least it does for me…

 

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As this newness fades it does not take long before I again crave to travel and access this experience of appreciating anew. Of being in the moment, present, and soaking up all a new place has to offer.

 

This is a part of what the Buddhist calls “the wanting mind”. As soon as we have or understand something, the mind craves something new. It is at it’s worse when we over consume, but it also applies to my experience of travel.

I have realized that I don’t have to travel to find this intoxicating newness in a place. It exists everywhere and can be accessed everywhere. One just has to approach it from a “beginners mind”, as if the familiar is experienced for the first time.

 

My work has always been location driven and early on I chased new places to create what I thought would be better pictures. I have realized however that it was not the new location that was better; What it did was to put me in a better state to create.

Travel still excites me like a kid, but it has taught me a very valuable lesson; To approach the familiar in the same frame of mind. That my treasure is everywhere and that I just need to know where to look.

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Years ago I saw an interview with Paolo Roversi, a photographic hero of mine. I’m paraphrasing here, but he in essence “pray each day for the divine to enter his studio and to allow him to create something special”. At the time I didn’t understand this for more than a simple saying; Today I think it one of the more valuable lessons I have learned. Unless I connect to the place or the person I try to photograph and am present in the process I will never fully allow myself to see it and to understand it.

 

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So now I pause, I breathe, I say my own prayer and try to ground myself in the space I take pictures.

This process have made me a way better photographer. It also helped me realize that there is no “best” place.

All the places I have been have offered their own, very unique experiences, and I now know this full awareness I experienced while creating in a new location is with me all the time.

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So, if you’re a young photographer reading this I would love to impart one small lesson. Go travel, see, absorb and be inspired, but do not let yourself fall in the trap I did starting out; Believing a different place or a better location is needed to make a better picture.

Look around you and the place you live in anew. Dig into your memories and find stories of growing up which you can retell in your images. Find what you love about the place and see it from a traveler’s perspective. See it as if for the very first time…

 

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I hope this series of travel imagery, most of which are taken within the past 2 years, are just as much a refection of me as the places I photographed.

If so, then, maybe, my prayers have been heard…

 

 

 

 

A dream assignment

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A few days ago I met up with two younger photographers at a coffee shop in San Francisco.

 

I have always seen myself as a young, up and coming photographer, but after two decades in photography I guess I’m now among the established, “older guys”.

Hanging out, it was refreshing to hear their perspective on an industry I have been a part of for so long.

One of them, a truly talented photographer with a large social media following, had shot one massive advertising assignment, and decided he did not want to do advertising work at all going forward. There were “too many meetings and too much politics.

He decided to now only create work for himself, and use it to bring social awareness to environmental issues in order to create lasting, positive change.

Inspired, our conversation drifted into using photography this way.

 

What I didn’t get to share was my experience with advertising photography, because it is NOT always like the experience this young photographer had.

Being an advertising photographer does not have to be diluting your work and conform it to a clients needs. It can be extremely fulfilling and rewarding…

 

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” Confucius once said, but this is just a small part of it.

The bigger part for me is filling what I at times feel is a collaborative void. I talk to friends in smaller companies and they are in an environment where they all collaborate and push each other to both do and become better in their field. As a photographer there’s no expectations of me in my daily effort, but for the ones I put on myself. There’s no business partner to bounce ideas off and help move the creative effort forward.

 

This do however happen when an advertising agency calls you up and say; Hi, we have these ideas and would love to collaborate in making them into images.

At its best, the world of advertising makes me a better photographer. I then get to work with amazing creative and art directors to push and shape ideas into images better than I could on my own.

 

The epitome of this is in the assignment I just did with Y&R and Crystal Cruises.

Creative Director Trevor Oldershaw hired me and made me a partner in creating a series of images I’m truly, truly proud of.

 

The assignment:

 

Create an experience in all the major places Crystal Cruise lines visits.

To design a campaign encompassing all the wonder of traveling the world in the utmost luxury that is inclusive, and exclusive, to a Crystal vacation. To transport the viewer to another place, somewhere on a vacation of their dreams…
So off I went, visiting 10 countries on 5 continents to make dream moments, having an experience of a lifetime…

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Among all the adventures I had in creating this campaign for Crystal, the one capturing this moment in New Zealand stands tall as the most extraordinary experience.

We had landed in Queenstown, on the south island, and from there drove four hours towards Fjordland, where we had a helicopter waiting to get us to our location. During our travels into New Zealand, the forecast had turned for the worse and when we arrived, our helicopter was grounded because of weather. In looking at the forecast and weighing our options for our four days in New Zealand we returned to the North Island and headed to Napier where the weather was better. Spending two days capturing images in what felt like The Shire from Lord of the Rings movies, we again turned south hoping for a clearing between the storms rolling in.

We arrived in Queenstown to massive rains and at this point, we were running out of time. Our last chance at capturing our moment on the mountain peaks was the very same morning as our flight onward to Argentina.

On that last day, we woke to a stunning morning and I boarded the helicopter with a big sense of relief. In our last three hours in New Zealand it would happen…

During our 90 minute helicopter ride, however, the clouds started rolling in again, pushed forward by the next storm. As the pilot let me down on the ground, the sky had clouded over with snow flurries in the air, but just as I stepped to the edge of the cliff the skies parted and the sun came through, creating what might be the most extraordinary moment I have had as a photographer.

The light and the drama unfolding over the next 20 minutes was just extraordinary. All the travel, waiting, and anticipation were worth it when standing among these lakes and mountains watching the sun trailing in and out of the clouds.

It quickly turned into dark clouds and the sun disappeared. But, those moments were all we needed and we were off to make our plane to Argentina.

 

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Photographed to represent all the wine regions Crystal visits, this vineyard moment was captured right in my own back yard.

I’m from Norway, but I have established myself in the California Wine Country of Sonoma.

It was fall of 2015 and the harvest had taken place for most grape varietals in the northern hemisphere. Shortly after harvest, the vines lose their leaves and become barren. This is not ideal for a romantic moment, so it was with a true sense of urgency we needed to find the location and make this image happen. The very best option, when short on time, is to stay close to home. A 15 minute drive away from my house is this magical vineyard that became our location and representation for a very special Crystal moment.

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This image is to me the biggest visual surprise in the Campaign.

We arrived in Rome to create our photograph at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, but found them fenced in for renovation. The Trevi Fountain, however, had just finished its renovation and been unveiled the week prior. So, we joined the crowds to look at what might be one of the most spectacular landmarks of Rome. As we got there, there was barely space to walk on the streets, let alone get a glimpse of the actual fountain.

So, we set our alarm clocks and went back at 4:00 in the morning. With the fountain to ourselves, but for a few other photography enthusiasts, we got to create an image that, at night, lent a depth and mythology to the fountain and the surroundings that I found perfect for our moment on the scooter.

In improvising there’s always room for surprises and creativity and I feel this photograph speaks to this.

 

 

So, needless to say I’m grateful to the world of advertising. Yes, there are phone calls and meetings and a lot of pressure but most of the time it is worth every bit of it.

The balance of art and commerce is in the approach. My advice to a young photographer would be to find a personal anchor in every commercial assignment so that the photo is honest in the execution. This will allow your esthetic to be a part of every image, commercial or not, and for a collaboration to happen that might push your work to something better than what it would have been on your own…

 

A massive thank you to Creative director Trevor Oldershaw, Art buyer Miriam Lee and the rest of the crew at Y&R California.
Also a big, big thank you to the marketing team at Crystal Cruises. What and amazing team with a vision and mission to make the experience of vacationing with them and extraordinary one.

 

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