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The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 22
Around the World with Andrew Main Wilson - Part I
Gillian Greenwood introduces us to Andrew Main Wilson who launches the first of his unique seven-part World of Wonders Series. Andrew highlights the fruits of his epic journey in Part I: Asia.
Andrew Main Wilson, a dedicated Nikon user and a subscriber to Nikon Owner, dreamed as a child of visiting and photographing every country on Earth, creating a unique photo-library and telling the story of Planet Earth's most magical travel experiences.
In this completely unique seven-article series, which begins in the current issue of Nikon Owner, we will feature some of Andrew's most memorable images and stories from 125 countries, continent by continent. Andrew will share his photographic tips and techniques in seven different aspects of travel photography, which will encompass portraiture, wildlife, culture, cities, nature, architecture and the environment.
Born in London, Andrew was educated at Dulwich College, Birmingham University and the Harvard Business School. A passionate traveller, photographer and writer, he also has a detailed understanding of the global travel industry, having formerly been the Marketing Director of the world's best-known travel agency, Thomas Cook. An experienced presenter, Andrew has also interviewed many of the world's leading stars, sporting heroes, business gurus and political leaders, and was granted the last ever filmed interview with Lady Thatcher.
He is well on the way to fulfilling his childhood World of Wonders dream. Andrew has scoured the world to capture the most beautiful, astonishing and unexpected images and adventures. He has so far travelled over a million miles on the road to fulfilling this ambition to photograph every country on Earth, undertaking assignments in all seven continents and shooting over 50,000 images so far, in 125 of the world's 193 countries. This is a monumental accomplishment.
We launch the series in this current issue with a feature on Asia and Andrew's odyssey to discover some of the most unusual and colourful people on Earth.
When did you first become interested in photography?
I developed a passion for travel photography and writing early in childhood. As an 11-year old boy, I started accompanying my television producer father Dennis Main Wilson on film location shoots. Dad was the producer of many of Britain's most famous comedy and music programmes, including The Goon Show, Hancock's Half Hour, Six-Five Special, The Sammy Davis Junior Show, Till Death Us Do Part, The Marty Feldman Show and Citizen Smith.
What was your first camera?
My first camera, given to me at the age of 11, was a Kodak Instamatic, soon replaced by a Russian Zenith SLR and then a medium format Pentax 67.
Why did you decide to use the Nikon system?
I switched permanently to Nikon with the launch of the Nikon F4 in 1989 - a camera that remarkably never let me down once on any of my assignments in almost 100 countries, from the icebergs of Antarctica to the sandstorms of the Sahara. I resisted the switch to digital until 2005, when I felt the image-quality could match the finest transparency and print films. I believe the launch of the 12.4 megapixel Nikon D2x was a defining moment for both Nikon and professional and serious amateur photographers. Actually, I haven't shot a single film image since.
Which photographers or artists influenced you the most in your early years as a photographer?
I have been a life-long admirer of David Attenborough and his camera crews - ironically he was my father's boss at the BBC many years ago. The quality of film footage is always stunning. Thank goodness no-one has equalled him in stills photography or my dream might already have been achieved! To be honest, while I have tremendous respect for Ansel Adams and his genre I don't regard the work as awe-inspiring genius in the same way as I do the great television artists.
In recent years, Yves Arnauld Bertrand's The Earth From The Air has been a superb project, beautifully executed too. World of Wonders is perhaps even more extensive, in that I plan to feature every country - in a way The Earth From The Ground, I guess - all 193 counties of it!
What particular images excite you photographically?
My definition of a world-class image is very simple - any photo which creates the emotional response "WOW!", from the majority of people who see it. The World of Wonders logo (bottom right) reflects that philosophy.
What has been your biggest challenge so far as a photographer?
Of the world's 193 countries, a surprisingly high percentage of them require caution when you travel with cameras. I am constantly having to reassess the risk: reward balance. On one hand I am trying to track down unusual people and inspirational locations, yet on the other I am trying to avoid excessive danger. For example, in 2006 I visited Kuwait, Macedonia, Mozambique, El Salvador and Guatemala in fairly quick succession. I realised that despite stunning scenery and extraordinary people, all five countries had suffered brutal civil wars or invasions during the last 15 years.
The imagery of your work is very rich and evocative. How has this been achieved technically?
I love to create images in glorious rich technicolour. I have used Fuji Velvia and Fuji Reala films in the past to capture those colours as vividly as possible. My initial reservations about digital photography were as much to do with accurate colour reproduction as they were to do with image quality; however I find the D2x captures contrasting colours beautifully. I then combine contrasting, saturated colours with dramatic or beautiful subjects - a winning formula in my opinion.
I believe in principle you tend towards forward planning as a photographer, yet the images themselves seem remarkably spontaneous. How have you been able to accomplish this?
Ironically the better prepared you are, the more spontaneous you can be. Fulfilling an ambition to shoot world-class images in every country in the world demands very precise planning - the logistics are complex and potentially dangerous. I meticulously research each country in advance, to identify its greatest sights, sites and people.
On location I often sit down the evening before each shoot and draw my ideal images. With lenses, angles and lighting partially prepared in advance, all my shooting attention can be focused on creativity and spontaneity. That said, a third of my best shots come from speed of reaction to an extraordinary sight. If something happens suddenly, for goodness sake fire the shutter! You can always perfect the shot a few seconds later … if your subject is still there.
World of Wonders is a phenomenal concept. Was there a specific catalyst that caused you to embark upon this project?
I live my life believing that true life-fulfillment can be measured by how many "soul-stirring moments" you experience each year. As a child I watched many of my father's most talented stars inspire audiences across the world, using their unique talent, dedication and years of hard graft. Life is too short for second-rate ambitions! WoW reflects my personal motivation to create something truly unique and spectacular, which may inspire, educate and entertain people worldwide.
What you would like to achieve with World of Wonders?
I hope the brand will become an inspiration to photographers, travellers and children worldwide. WoW will champion stylish photography, highlight the most magical places to see on Earth and crucially emphasize the pivotal role travellers can play, promoting friendship and tolerance amongst our Planet's 6.3 billion inhabitants.
In Part I of this outstanding seven-part series, Andrew Main Wilson takes us through his extraordinary journey across Asia as he focuses on a selection of the portraits he has shot of people living in some of the most remarkable and often inaccessible places on Earth. In addition, he offers photographers interesting insights into the portraiture aspect of travel photography and shows us with clarity how to maximize the potential of situations we might find ourselves in, both with the kit we choose and the preparation we make.
For me, Asia is all about colourful characters - sixty per cent of the world's population crammed into just thirty per cent of the world's land mass.
From the oil sheikhs of Saudi Arabia to the beggars of Bangladesh, Asia also provides the most dramatic contrast between rich and poor.
The Water Baby
Brunei's Kampung Ayer is the world's largest water village. Here on the outskirts of Bandar Seri Begawan, the nation's capital, 30,000 people live, literally, on stilts. A labyrinth of wooden walkways connects the wooden houses of a community always on the lookout for two dangers - fire and water. Every child is taught to swim almost before they can walk - otherwise one slip off the walkways and you may well drown.