A creative and gifted visionary, Richard Bernabe has been among the very few photographers who not just capture beautiful pictures but are able to tell a story and share an experience with it!
An artist at his core Richard Bernabe is the live example of a “master of all.” He makes the transition from Photography, to great writing, to exceptional orating and much more so effortless and smooth that it just feels like one whole great experience.
A profession developed and nurtured from his hunger to soak in as many experiences and capturing their nostalgic memories, finds it’s crux in just a simple term- as he puts it, “happiness!”
It’s easy to capture the world but difficult to empathetically strive to reduce the harm caused to it. Richard Bernabe has not just spoken but acted upon very strongly about his love for the planet and the flora and fauna on it!
Richard Bernabe, a name loved, respected and idolized by many is a person who loves his solace, and as he states further in the interview, “remote areas still intimidate me.” has carved a niche for himself in this ever-growing sector.
If you would like to know more about him, you can always visit his website here. In this interview, we had a chance to connect with Richard Bernabe via email and to ask him a few questions.
1. Being a multifaceted person, you are widely known for photography, traveling, educating, orating and writing. What among these brings you the utmost joy?
Well first, I want to thank you for the opportunity for me to answer questions for your readers as well as the very kind compliment.
Photography and travel give me the greatest amount of pure joy, although the other things you mentioned all help make a fulfilling, creative life where no two days are ever the same. Creating images with my camera, preferably alone, in some far-flung corners of the planet, is wildly intoxicating. Freya Stark’s observation about the sensation of waking up alone in a strange city comes as close to capturing that feeling as anything else. Teaching is incredibly satisfying and rewarding – much more than I ever thought it could be – so I carve out some time in my schedule for classes and workshops. Talking in front of live audiences around the world is equal parts crippling fear and exhilaration. I like the walking-the-tightrope vibe it gives me. Writing, on the other hand – well, to paraphrase Hemingway here – is like sitting at the laptop and bleeding, except I’m pretty confident he said “typewriter” instead.
2. Your work with National Geographic exhibits your love for the environment. What has brought you to feel so strongly about these issues?
Tolstoy had a powerful line about “the first condition of human happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.” And there it is – at least for me. Nature and wild places make me happy and they are the creative inspiration behind my work – my muses if you will.
Wildlife conservation and the protection of endangered species is another passion of mine and I devote much of my time, energy, and finances toward helping preserve these animals for future generations. The statistics are grim, particularly those that show how precipitous the decline in wildlife populations has been over the past 50 years. It’s just heartbreaking. I could go on about the ignorance and greed of animal poaching and the arrogant, egotistical, vain, selfish, megalomaniacal, and psychotic “trophy” hunters, but I think I’ll stop right here.
3. Tell us about your journey from being a photographer to a global influencer and a highly sought- after teacher and orator? Did you always envision it, or did things happen for you?
I didn’t envision any of this, to be honest. For the past 15 to 20 years, I’ve simply focused on doing what I love and what I’m passionate about while letting all of what others might regard as “success” take care of itself. I believe, perhaps in some small way, that not focusing on the rewards of success was key for me. It allowed me to stay focused on doing happy things. Success can be measured in several different ways but isn’t doing what you truly love an important measure of success already? Maybe the most important? It’s certainly enough for me.
Being labeled as an influencer is a function of how many social media followers you have – another yardstick of “success” that doesn’t really concern me very much. I’m flattered, of course, that people do follow me and they enjoy my work but most of this influencer business is just a distraction.
4. From among the 10 books you have written, which for you has been one of the most challenging and which one did you love to work on?
My first book was released in 2006 and it was a coffee table book that featured photographs from my adopted home state of South Carolina titled South Carolina Wonder and Light. It’s now out of print, but there are some ancient copies floating somewhere around my office. You never quite forget your first, right? The first one is special.
My most recent, Wildlife Photography: From First Principles to Professional Results involved producing 45,000 words of text, almost all of it completed during the summer of 2017 while traveling through Africa – writing whenever I had any downtime on planes, buses, cars – in tents, hotels. It was exhausting. The book was released last year, and my publisher tells me it’s been a commercial success, so thanks to all of you who bought a copy.
5. You being one of the most popular orators, influencers, and photography authors which is your favorite platform or medium to communicate with the masses on?
I like Twitter, even if it does represent both the best and worst the Internet has to offer. If you’re there to argue politics with other humans, it most certainly is a dystopian hellscape that will make your life a dark, dark place. Don’t do that, ok? But even if you’re not a content creator, it’s the best and easiest way to consume news and information that touches on your life’s interests. Just remember to stay narrowly focused on the things that make you happy. If you want to wade into the planet’s biggest virtual town square and discuss world events, do so gently and don’t take anything too personal.
6. With the immensely diverse yet focused globetrotting experience, which has been your favorite photography destination for wildlife, adventure, and cultural photography?
For wildlife, Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains. Serengeti National Park is Africa’s premier location for viewing and photographing the continent’s charismatic megafauna. Runner up for favorite? Antarctica. Or Yellowstone.
Adventure? Alaska. Despite at least a dozen trips I’ve made to different areas of the state, the more remote areas still intimidate me. The wilderness is so big and unforgiving. My runner up would be the Southern Andes of Patagonia.
For cultural photography, I’d go with India. Morocco is a close second.
7. With experience and expertise like yours, what is the top piece of advice you’d give an adventure photographer?
This would be useful for any photographer or artist, I believe. I used to teach a class on Photography and Creativity in a formal college classroom setting. On Day One, I would go around the classroom, from student to student, and ask them a question: aside from photography – which is merely a mode of communication and expression, if not creative expression – what was their first thought each morning and what was the last thought they had before falling asleep each night? I wanted to know their passions. I wanted to know what made each of them tick.
I never explained why I asked the question until the very final class when I reminded them of their answers. I remembered them all. By then, they should have understood that their answers would provide a personal roadmap as to where they should focus their photographic efforts. If it was nature, then that’s where they should direct their creative energy. Children? The same. Cars, flowers, travel, pets, hiking? Go for it. Let those interests be your muses. In those passions, you have something important, special, and unique to share with the world, so use the skills you’ve learned with the camera to express them. You can’t inspire others with your photography if you – the actual owner of the experiences you’re trying to express – feel ambivalence. It’s nearly an impossible task. In order to inspire others, you, yourself, need to be inspired. Make that your job – to be inspired as much and as often as possible. Be receptive to inspiration so you have something unique and interesting about yourself to share with other people. In that vein, your photography will say much more about you, the photographer, than your subjects, which is the way it should be.
8. To sum it all up. What is photography for you? (What does it remind you of?)
I’ll use this opportunity to expand on my last answer. My job is to go out and be inspired: That’s it. The important thing here is the experience of being inspired. The experience, to me, is everything. I want to have as many apex experiences as possible where I am literally moved to tears by the overpowering beauty or the devastating sadness I see and feel. And it’s what I feel – not what I see – that’s important. That’s a strange thing, perhaps, for a photographer to say. The emotional content of a scene is the vital core around which I’ll build my image. Without it, it’s just a pretty picture. I want my viewers, who might be thousands of miles removed from the physical scene and experience, to feel what I am feeling, not necessarily what I am seeing. That is photography for me.
We are glad to have got the opportunity to interview such a superfluous creative, Richard Bernabe!