Thanks to everyone who sent in questions for Michael! As said previously, Michael is a world traveler, photographer, videographer and friend who’s work I enjoy following myself. It’s not hard to see why people are captivated by his work as it so often brings you right into the story he’s documenting. Rutheah’s comment on the previous post put it well when she said “thanks for letting me live vicariously through your images. :)”
An with that, Michael takes a short moment to say “hi” from Dublin, Ireland!
1. Did you ever have problems getting you gear across borders?
No matter where I go, if I am flying, I always get nervous. A few times it’s been an issue but the worst is always trying to get out of underdeveloped countries. In Congo, Africa they decided we couldn’t board the plane with any AA or AAA batteries – and because of the lack of reliable electricity in the Congo, we had more batteries than usual (mostly expensive rechargeable batteries). Although frustrating, you must pick and choose your battles.
2. What got you started in photography/videography and especially doing it internationally?
I started photography/videography on my own for fun because of its freedom, creativity and ever-changing elements that can be captured. I also love to travel and have spent much of my time the last 5 years traveling around the world. Through my travels I have met many people who at some point needed photography/video work done. It’s all about keeping yourself out there for people to know who to call if they need anything.
3. How many foreign languages do you speak (not necessarily fluently)
I’m really terrible with languages. Not that I don’t want to learn other languages (like Spanish, French) but many times it’s simply not necessary to be fluent in a language to get around. Most people speak a little English and mix that with the few words I’ve absorbed along the way, we can generally communicate. Much of the time, people who know a little English want to talk with you so they can practice.
(images in this post copyright Michael Nyffeler)
4. Have you ever visited a country that is more concerned (i.e. paranoid) about foreign media (photographers, journalists, etc.) misrepresenting their country? If so, how was this accomplished and was it done without paying bribes.
Great question! Bribes are a quick fix to an issue that will just create more problems. I think a great way to diffuse that tension is making friends. A smile and a friendly hello can go a long way – and not just walking up with a camera ready to take a picture. A friend that can walk with you and ask for you is a great way to get some honest photos without bribes or sneaking around. Trying to have a conversation with people will show them you care, and they usually (but not always) respond the same way.
5. How has being exposed to a variety of other cultures influenced your work? Were there ever any differences between these other cultures and American culture that made your work more challenging or interesting?
I think it has greatly affected it. Being exposed to different cultures makes you think in a different way – a more global way…to see the world as it really is. And you cannot help to let it affect your photography. The world isn’t what you read and see in the news – it’s much better in some places and much worse in others. There are always differences between cultures that make it interesting and on occasion challenging. I haven’t been to a place yet that the culture has made it difficult to shoot, but I haven’t been to places like China, the Middle East, or Eastern Africa where other photographers claim to have had issues.
6. What is the most unique photograph you have from your experiences overseas and what’s the story behind it?
There are too many to mention! One off the top of my head is an image I got at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in 2010. I was shooting in the “photographers pit” between the stage and crowd, looking up at the band on stage. The band was Weezer and they are known for having fun, lively songs and an energetic lead singer Rivers Quomo. As I was looking up he stepped right in front of me, reached down, and snatched my camera right out of my hands. I managed to snap a photo just before he grabbed it (pictured below). He then continued to act like he was taking photos of the band, the crowd and me. Unfortunately, he didn’t push the shutter button for any of the photos – otherwise THAT photo would have been the one I’m talking about, haha.
7. Are there any other places you still want to photograph but haven’t been to yet? If so, which ones and why?
Of course! I’m interested in every place I haven’t been. Taking photos will always give you a good reason to get up and head out to explore!
8. It says on this page you’re a “seeker of truth”. Could you explain that statement further?
Photography/Videography captures reflections of people – small moments of honesty and truth. We see those images and interpret them, comparing them to our own life experiences, and they speak to each of us in a different way. This creates another truth in our own life and that’s what gives an image its power. I think that’s what every person who has a camera is striving towards, more or less.
9. I’m curious about your gear and how you carry all of it around.
One very heavy backpack, with wheels. I also have a few smaller day bags to break things up but the large rolling backpack is just small enough for most carry on luggage compartments.
10. What’s been the highlight of your photojournalism career? If you had the choice of staying in one country forever what would it be?
I would say I have two highlights and they are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. One would be hiking the Himalayas (pictured below) up to the foot of some of the tallest mountains in the world to document a wireless Internet relay station. The mountains looked so close, it was as if you could reach out and touch them. The other would be the time I was asked to shoot a music festival for the first time and was on stage with Pearl Jam, Metallica, and Jack Johnson in front of 80,000 people. The energy was incredibly high and being able to be live on stage with of some the most famous musicians of all time is an incredible experience. I would never choose to stay in one country forever. There are too many to just stay in one place!
11. Where did you learn videography and photography?
I am largely self-taught in addition to podcasts, online training, books, magazines, other professionals and a lot of trial and error.
12. As an artist, what keeps you going, what fuels the passion for your art? That’s something I struggle with.
For photography, it’s putting myself in different situations and circumstances, and around different people. These challenges happen innately when you travel but you can create them in your everyday life as well by exploring your surrounding and looking at them in a different way. Inspiration comes from other photographers, filmmakers, designers, entrepreneurs, and my girlfriend’s writing.
13. What is the greatest thing you feel you’ve learned while traveling?
It’s OK to not always be in control and that sometimes when you let go of control, something amazing happens that you wouldn’t have imaged. Go with the flow. Every setback is an opportunity to look at something in a different way. You also don’t need a million dollars to feel like you are living like a millionaire. Interpret that anyway you’d like ☺
14. Any advice for videographers/photographers just starting out? What about for those also wanting to travel?
Same answer for both – GO. No excuses! If it’s something you want to do, there should be nothing stopping you from doing it.
15. What do you feel is your greatest challenge in your line of work?
Oddly enough, for me, it’s not taking pictures, it’s learning the business of marketing my work and services. Some may say “making money from my photos” and sure, that’s a challenge if you’re stuck in only one type of photography. But if you’re not making at least some money on your photos it’s your own fault. Trying to get noticed by clients, publishers, and project investors is a more difficult matter if you ask me. You have to know how to sell your story, if you don’t, no one will hear it.