Mike McGuire is a travel photographer from Colorado and is one of the recipients of the Fort Langley Air bursary to the Triplit Conference 2019. At Fort Langley Air we are also keen travellers and we support TripLit’s Conference Theme of “positive impact through adventure”.

The conference will bring together people and organizations who are trying to make a positive impact on our community, society and planet. Mike took some time out from his travels to answer some of our questions about photography and trying to make a difference in the world through visual stories. 

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What is it that drew you to photography?
I come from an incredibly creative family. My mother is an award-winning watercolor painter, my brother an award-winning creative technologist and while my dad doesn’t have any awards he makes some amazing artworks like giant steampunk kaleidoscopes. We’re all naturally driven to try and learn new things. I’m naturally a visual thinker and for me, photography was something new to learn. As a millennial, it was a creative medium that afforded instant gratification. I’d played with old vintage film cameras like the Holga, which inspired the default Instagram filters. 

I started shooting concert photography for my friends and really started honing in my skills. 

When I took my first trip as an adult out of the US to Paris. I was beyond excited for the images I was capturing. After I got back I decided to travel full time for a year across Europe, Africa, and South America. That is where my passion blossomed and I really came to understand that travel photography is something that sets my soul on fire. 

Genuine connection is important to not only overcome prejudices but to truly have enough empathy that we as different cultures can cooperate and trust one another.

How can photography and storytelling impact our society today, given the amount of content produced on social media?
This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about and this is the way I see it. Fifty years ago if you were a professional travel photographer, you probably came from an affluent family. You could afford the camera gear, the darkroom/chemicals, the education needed to understand how to develop film, and the money to travel. The creation of creative photography was produced by a smaller amount of people than today. Because of this a lot of imagery from the 20th century was known by the entire world and became super iconic. This factor is the groundwork for why companies like National Geographic gained such an amazing reputation, having a collective of some of the few incredible photographers.  I often have to recognize, just because someone has an Instagram account doesn’t mean they know who my favourite photographers are, and imagery is less iconic now. 

Fast forward to today and everyone can be a photographer and share their photos with the world and National Geographic writes sensational blogs about Kanye West and Justin Beiber. More is certainly not always better, but on the positive side, more people can tell their stories,  which means there’s more knowledge to gain about the world. A large portion of my followers are from countries like Morocco and Iran, whom 20+ years ago I just wouldn’t be able to engage with. Right now the world is facing problems on a global level and we need to be able to engage with each other at that global level if we have any hope of solving problems, and that starts as individuals.

Aerial photography presents life on a grand scale. How can this be used to further positive action in the world?Aerial photography is an aspect of photography that has for a long time been something only afforded to the affluent. With the advent of drones, aerial photography has seen a massive boom in the last few years. With the now increased accessibility to aerial photography, a lot of incredible scientific and creative applications have opened up. 

What better way to be able to capture and share with people the impacts humanity has on the world than showing the sheer scale of it. Photographs of shrinking ice fields, the urban sprawl of megacities like Mexico City, or the scale of the impact an oil spill, has in the Gulf of Mexico. These are all perspectives that aren’t easy for the average person to obtain, by capturing these types of images we can help people understand the scale at which we exist as a species. If we can’t take a step back to see the bigger picture we’ll never properly address these issues.

I also think [aerial photography] is an incredible tool for inspiration and wonder. The best thing I can compare it to is the first time you step to the edge of the Grand Canyon, the sheer scale and beauty of it makes it look surreal. All at once you are faced with your individual insignificance in the world and the beauty of nature. Aerial photography opens a door for photographers to share these types of emotions in incredible locations. 

What will attending Triplit Conference 2019 do for you going forward?
I am overwhelmingly stoked about this conference and what it will bring to my future. Here are the main things I’m really hoping to get out of it. 

  • I am really looking forward to the mentorship aspect of the conference. People like Chelseakauai had a direct impact that led me to begin traveling and pursue my photography, the ability to meet some of these people alone is worth it for me. 
  • I really hope to gain a community out of the conference. I hope to come out of the conference with people who become future collaborators and fellow travellers.
  • I can’t wait to get inspiration on what steps I can to take to grow my photography.
  • I am super stoked at the opportunity to photograph British Columbia. Its been at the top of my list of places I’ve wanted to photograph in the world for a while now. The immense and stunning natural landscapes that exist there are unreal. Fingers crossed I capture some epic shots!

Why do you think humanity can’t seem to get past some cultural barriers and do you have advice for someone who wants to make a difference? I think there are overarching things we can all do as individuals to break down prejudices, false narratives or aggression. First, know yourself and give yourself the right to be happy. Society can sell us on some pretty weird ideas, like “you don’t deserve to be happy”, “good things only happen to X people”. If we can nurture ourselves and our internal dialogue we can have the mental resources to approach the world with an open and curious mind.

Embrace the fear: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the amazing opportunity to shed prejudices I didn’t even know I had, by doing things/going places that were uncomfortable for me and just going with the flow. 

Meet people from other cultures and exchange knowledge, food, and drink with them. Chances are if you go to places that aren’t just catering to tourists and you ask someone what is great about where they are from, they will show it to you. I’ve asked my waiter at a restaurant where I should go in his city. That resulted in me having breakfast with 3 generations of his family and spending the day exploring delicious local food I wouldn’t have found otherwise. And now there is an entire family that had an enriching experience with an American and I with them. This is not only good for just them and me, but it will also reflect on our direct communities. Point being, genuine connection is important to not only overcome prejudices but to truly have enough empathy that we as different cultures can cooperate and trust one another.

Find Mike on Instagram here: @mikemcguire_ 

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