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Interview with Keith MacIntosh


09 December 2016

Posted by Anna Fraser

Hi Keith! Tell us about yourself in two sentences - who are you?

Home is London, but I like to wander some of the wilder corners of our world and try to understand and express what I see. I often find it hard to edit my images, because each one also represents the memory of a moment, person or place. I struggle to pick favourites and discard others. We live on a wonderful planet and I never try to get too tricksy with lighting or effects - there are enough fantastic sights out there in the real world, and I’m happy to try to capture them as they really are. And then I aim to use the images to raise awareness of issues and some money for organisations who do good work - at least 50% of money from each sale goes to charity, and it’s 100% for all my images from a recent visit to earthquake-hit parts of Nepal.

QWhat's the weirdest situation you've found yourself in while taking a photograph?

AWeird situations are in some ways the ones I try to get myself into. A couple of weeks ago I found myself digging a water pipeline through the Nepalese jungle, along with Tamang villagers and a few armed police about to deploy to South Sudan. That was fairly random. Others have often involved animals (close encounters with mountain gorillas, white rhinos, and a wild cheetah determined to lick the sweat from my forearm). Or I remember one time I was up to my waist in the Indian Ocean as tens of thousands of people around me ran into the waters, at a festival in honour of Lord Murugan. Dressed in local clothing at a Shia shrine in Kabul, hoping my beard would convince. And there was an awkward moment slightly stuck up a cliff in the Libyan Sahara - a little overambitious, as I looked for undiscovered rock art to photograph. Lots of slightly bizarre situations, and hopefully lots more to come in the future.

QWhat do you shoot on? What's your favourite set up?

ANothing fancy - the main priority with kit is that it’s light and can go wherever I go. So the biggest lens I’ll take is 200mm, and if that’s not enough then so be it. That plus a fast prime for indoors. Nikon, relatively cheap and robust, the kind of thing that can bump around over a shoulder, on a packed local bus, or up a mountain. If it’s too heavy or precious then I won’t get to the places I want to reach. My favourite set up, by far, is to have a clean sensor.

QWhat's your number one tip for an aspiring photographer?

AThere are a few obvious things - carry a camera, doesn’t really matter what kind. Get close, rise early, stay out late. Always look around the next corner or over the horizon. Invest time and effort in a place or a person, and have empathy for your subject. But I’d also say there are times when there’s something more important than the shot. Sorry if that’s a slightly unhelpful tip. But occasionally it’s better to put the camera away - to show respect for a situation, to fully appreciate it without worrying about your shots, and to keep yourself safe. For example, when being greeted by the Dalai Lama on a visit to post-cloudburst Ladakh, worrying about photos was simply the wrong thing to do. Or when on foot, alone, up close with a startled white rhino, it’s better to leave the camera alone and focus on the present. Yes, get a couple of quick shots - but make sure you experience the moment as well. Because before you’re a photographer, you’re a person, and some moments may never happen again.

"* The Lucky One" stock image

This one’s recent, from late November. The close-knit village of Langtang was destroyed in the Nepal earthquake last year. Just one house was untouched - over 500 died, though nobody will ever know the exact number for sure. There are a lot of heartbreaking stories from the few who survived. But they’re incredibly determined, and rebuilding their homes and lives on a nearby ridge. I’d spent the night with a family who’d lost eight members (in just a few minutes). This is their spirited daughter - a newborn at the time. The most important detail is the caring hand of her mother - she doesn’t want to lose this one too. All my images from Nepal will raise money to help such people recover - right now, they’re getting zero support, and have a brutally cold winter ahead of them.

"Evening Dune" stock image

Night after night I’d been sleeping under the stars in the sand seas of western Libya. The dunes are incredibly graphic - what appear to be simple lines keep changing as the sun moves through the sky, and the fine detail slowly evolves. It’s not easy to travel here (or to keep sand out of the camera) but if you enjoy curves, contrasts and elegant lines, then head to the desert and see what you can see.

"Crossing Blue Waters" stock image

In the high-altitude deserts of Zanskar, any colour is welcome. So it was something special to emerge from the mountains and reach the intense blue waters of the Tsarab Chu. Clouds played along the walls of the canyon, as I made my way towards the clifftop monastery for afternoon puja and a place to sleep - and I was not the only one heading in that direction.

"The Beach of Murugan" stock image

Few things can prepare you for the colour and noise of an Indian festival. I thought I was just going to explore a quiet temple on the shore, on my own...

"Sunrise" stock image

As ever, it pays to get up early and see the sunrise unfold. The previous night’s full moon had now gone, and the sun was coming up over the waters. This is on the western borders of occupied Tibet, a land of goat-herding nomads and a few tiny settlements whose people are finely-tuned to the landscape within which they live.

"Safety in Numbers" stock image

At nearly 5000m above sea level, protection comes in the form of the group. The shepherdess will live with these animals for a few summer months, in an tiny chamber warmed by the goats. Living off barley flour and curd, she tends the animals for all her village, and when winter comes they’ll descend and hope to find pasture lower down the valley. As well as staying warm, if they huddle together they’re also relatively safe from the 'grey ghost' - the snow leopard.

"Ladakhi Flowers" stock image

This one just makes me smile. It’s a monastery rooftop, and the monks have worked hard to bring a little piece of joy. I love colour, and against the deep blue skies, the simple flowers are stunning.

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