Welcome to 10.Q Interviews.This section usually features interviews to Humanitarian, Cultural & Travel Photographers, their work and photography.
This week in 10.Q Interviews, Mario Mattei:
“Mario Mattei, visionary, social entrepreneur, independent photographer, & family man. He is the President, Creative Director, & Co-Founder of the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP) & serves on the Advisory Council of Focus for Humanity.” [More about Mario...]
1. Tell us about you and your photography. How long have you been shooting? What kinds of shooting have you done? Can you name any current or former clients?
Photography captured me in 1998 in Photo 1-2 my senior year in high school. I quickly dropped a course and enrolled in Photo 3-4 at the same time. My dad gave me his old Minolta X700, some lenses, a strobe, and a tattered Domke bag from the 80s. I spent hours in the darkroom after school and graduated with a Letter in visual arts.
Over the years, photography was an on-and-off way to express my creativity. About 2 years ago I finally realized just how fitting it was for me. Now living in Turkey I enjoy cultural photography and visual peacemaking on a weekly basis—coffee drinking still holds the lead as a daily affair.
I’ve done fine art photography, cultural, humanitarian, engagements, and editorial. My favorite NGO client was the Preemptive Love Coalition. They provide life-saving heart surgeries to children in Iraq. And more recently Peace Catalyst International
My most memorable project happened in my home state, Arizona. In 2008, we were caught in a ravaging flood while camping inside the Grand Canyon, and then helicopter-rescued out. Nicole Gibson, friend and winner of a Vincent Versace Guru Award, was also a part of this adventure. Shortly afterwards, I put on a fund-raising exhibition to support the Havasupai Native American tribe. Their livelihood was negatively affected by the devastation. I sold prints of the event and of Havasu Falls. CNN interviewed us on our way home, and later a local Arizona news station interviewed me live on their morning edition. This current interview is much less nerve-racking!
But in all honesty, when you think of making a life and living as a cultural and humanitarian photographer, I shouldn’t be the first to come to mind. I’m mid-swing on an interesting career journey. My path—like everyone’s—is a patchwork. I view myself first as an artist and social entrepreneur. Photography is a means to expressing those with passion. Following my example in principle could lead you to a place that’s original for you, and adventurous, but it’s no sure way to enter the field of cultural and humanitarian photography in the variety of ways that that career is typically understood.
2. How did you get into Cultural/Travel photography? Where did you get your vision for it, and what are your dreams?
After 4 years of professional web design, I headed off to Kashmir, India in 2004 to get involved with Matt Brandon’s Frontier Treks & Tours. That changed everything. Between Matt’s example and the inspiring culture, my photography was re-awakened from it’s dormancy since high school and Art School. I got my first Digital SLR and quickly re-discovered the photographic way to express my creativity, but this time with more passion and interest in my subject matter—Kashmiri, Gujjari, & Ladakhi people! I owe much to Matt Brandon’s friendship and mentorship.
My dreams are being lived out now in the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP) www.visualpeacemakers.org I co-founded this movement alongside highly competent friends and exemplar world photographers, now our Guild members . The other founders are Logan McAdams, John Machado, and Jim Mullins. Our Guild members are Gavin Gough, David DuChemin, Ami Vitale, Matt Brandon, Matt Powell, Jeffrey Chapman, Nicole Gibson, and Kerry Lammi. It’s a high honor to be working with and for these photographers. Together we’re uniting photographers around an ethical code and raising awareness about what it means to view images and media responsibly. See our Charter for Visual Peace.
One of my personal dreams as a visual peacemaker is to see peace between communities at odds within Turkey. Also, I desire to see bridges of understanding and appreciation built between my American family and friends and Turkish friends—as well as between Christians and Muslims across the globe. I’m also passionate about resourcing visual peacemakers to make a life and living out of photography. Focus for Humanity (FFH), by awarding grants to select members in the Visual Peacemaker Community (VPC), is contributing to this aim. Again, it’s a wildly providential honor to have linked IGVP with Marco Ryan and FFH.
3. How do you see the Cultural/Travel photography industry today?
Well, I’m still learning it. That’s for sure! I’ve mostly done other creative work professionally and kept photography as a hobby. However, I think successful photographers think creatively not just behind the lens but also in how they market and present themselves. Each is an art. Each necessitates creativity, originality, and something to give.
Also, those who give more, end up gaining more, especially when they’re not thinking about the gain—consider Matt Brandon’s Depth of Field podcast, a free gift that has helped him gain a following. Or these 10Q interviews. But this applies to all aspects of life, throughout all ages. Jesus said two thousand years ago, “Give. And do not expect anything in return.” Giving doesn’t mean you’re not shrewd, or lack enough sense to make a living; it means you’re seeking every opportunity you can to be generous with your talents. Go above and beyond for your clients!
4. What are the characteristics that a good cultural photographer needs to have?
Vision. Heart. Humility. Hard work. Then, I think “good” breaks down into at least three categories: 1. good artistically; 2. good ethically; 3. good at marketing.
I’m still on my own journey to discover what it means to be a good cultural photographer though. I’m looking to our Guild members as examples—Matt Brandon, Gavin Gough, David DuChemin, Matt Powell and the others. And I believe IGVP’s Ethical Code sets a high standard for point 2 above.
Underpinning all of this is the axiom: You gotta be a doer and not just a talker. You won’t be handing in a resume or punching a time sheet; your own passion and resourcefulness will determine your limits. Seriously, go read VisionMongers by David DuChemin.
5. How much do you travel every year? How do you manage your family and time?
I try not to travel more than a full week every couple of months. We have two small kids and one baby. I don’t like to leave Angela alone with all that work too often.
I try to spend 80% of my time on the 20% most important things. I create my priorities by evaluating four factors: 1) my personal values, like family, 2) unavoidable requirements, 3) what’s giving me the greatest value-return on time and energy , and 4) what’s giving me the greatest value-return in satisfaction. This keeps me focused and balanced, which maximizes my time with my family. To execute it all proactively and not reactively, I prioritize my action items.
6. Who’s been an inspiration for your photography?
Most inspiration is inward. But after that, Matt Brandon for sure. Then all the Guild members in IGVP. Gavin Gough and David DuChemin have rich content on their blogs and personalities that match the heart of visual peacemaking. I can honestly say they’re examples to me. Guild member, Kerry Lammi, is one of the most genuine and good-hearted people I’ve ever met. His work in the villages of Turkey to document our common humanity has definitely inspired me to build bridges of peace within this country. My wife, Angela, inspires me when she believes in me and makes sacrifices so that I can pursue my passion. That inspires not only my creative work, but also my character growth.
Whatever person or tribe orally passed down and later wrote the cuneiform tablet, now called The book of Genesis; they inspire me because they believed all humans are “created in the image of God.” In the Creator’s likeness we love and create. This inspires me to appreciate the infinite worth and dignity of every human being.
How do you stay inspired?
By doing! I make photographs almost every week. By thinking. I reflect on life, faith, and my work and how they interweave. By reading. Read the blogs of our Guild members and you will see what I’m talking about. I also read about 7 books at a time. By writing. Journaling and blogging are integral in my journey to discover meaning and share it. By interacting. Hanging out with people, asking good questions, being social on the web, and making stories with others.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones would you recommend?
I read too many to list, but some of my favorites are:
Thedigitaltrekker.com, Pixelatedimage.com, The99percent, Seth’s blog, Michael Hyatt, Monitor Institute. A lot of the blogs I read are to stay up to date with friends’ and colleagues’ lives.
7. Who are the main clients for cultural photographers? How is today’s economy affecting this industry?
Honestly, I’m a learner on this topic—a student and not a teacher. Obviously NGOs and certain publications, but I do think new avenues are opening up and can be created by those who are creative both behind the lens and with their business. Perhaps the word “clients” limits our thinking here…
With industry in general: The whole economy is shifting as more tools are put into the hands of individuals. Jobs are dwindling, so we create our own. Big corporations and top-heavy institutions aren’t needed like before. Consider patientslikeme.com; they’re not a laboratory, but have empowered a global community of patients to create more data, faster than science labs. Or consider Scott Harrison’s Charity:Water, light weight, efficient, huge impact. Look at how Wikipedia (5,000 volunteers) snuffed out the cultural power of the Encyclopedia Britannica (100 well paid scholars). Some print magazines and newspapers snoozed for too long and are now scrambling to be relevant within today’s technologies.
The big self-interested commercial models are slowly crumbling, or drastically re-shaping—e.g. the record label and publishing industries. Consumers’ appetites are being met by more fragmented markets and spin-off technologies. You can more easily own a fragment of the market now.
More and more, people want to reclaim their humanity, shake the hand that made or invented their new product, read the personal blog of a transparent CEO, and see how their dollar gets spent on the good of the world, even it’s just buying shoes, like Tom’s Shoes or Buy Shoes Save Lives. Frankly, I dig it. This is just the beginning. I’ve been dreaming of a world like this since I was 13 years old—1993. Now I get to be one player in the changes that are happening. Overall, these trends can and will intersect with cultural and humanitarian photography in a multitude of ways.
8. Is social media/Internet important in promoting your work? If so, how? Is it over rated perhaps?
I’m grateful for all the new friends I’ve made through twitter. They’re people in places I haven’t even been to yet. But we’ve found a connection that’s real, and we get to share a bit of life around that common ground. It’s fun!
People are people with or without SM: well connected through friendships, acquaintances, and networks. Word-of-mouth phenomena has always been unrivaled. Social media just freed these elements from geographic barriers, and the limitations of email only. I’m over simplifying here, but that’s the gist of how I benefit from social media.
Our visual peacemaking movement is built as an online tribe, connected and given various tools to leverage for good, some of them social. We’re a sort of “house” social network. SM overall is certainly one avenue to our community’s ability to make a positive impact. But, at the end of the day, it’s just a tool. More important are the general principles of human relations, communication, offering value, and being a real friend.
9. Tell us about the last piece of gear that you deemed important enough to buy. How about the one that’s been most important in your career?
The last memorable thing I deemed important to buy was my Black Rapid R-strap. Now that I’m shooting two camera bodies, I’d like to try the RS DR-1 Double Strap. Most important to me is my workhorse lens, 24-70mm f/2.8 L series. I shoot a Canon 5D MkII & 50D, but would invest in lenses over a camera body any day. If I had to get stuck with just one lens, this would be it. I’m crazy for 50mm primes, too.
10. What would be your advice for a photographer who is just starting out in this field? What is the biggest obstacle you see facing new photographers who want to work on this type of photography.
Well, I can say what I’m trying now. We’ll see if it works! Always be “just starting out.” Do it for the love of it. Learn from others while discovering your own unique vision, and give back what you learn. Weave your personality and other interests into your vision. Set goals, evaluate, adjust. I do this by journaling. Be content with sucky gear at first if that’s all you can afford. I did it! To make money, don’t think about money too much; focus on giving and sharing and spreading (without undermining the market, please). Attractive financial opportunities may or may not always present themselves—seize them when they come, but insulate yourself from this vulnerability. Create in community.
Let limitations and handicaps become your super-powers. Don’t make it all about you; it’s not nice and people can smell it. Understand communication and people skills, branding, and finding your niche. Know yourself. You are the biggest obstacle you face (if you’re living in the free world). Market yourself and your work in ways that feel “right” and original to you! Networking is meaningful and essential. Bring others with you on the ride of success. These are ideals I strive to live up to and often don’t measure up. That’s why it’s important to Fail Forward.
Mario in Twitter: @visualpeace
Mario in Facebook
Mario in LinkedIn