The speed of light is a mind boggling 299,792,458 meters per second. In the length of time it took you to read that sentence, light could have travelled the distance from the Earth to the Moon twice. The stuff buzzes around the universe like it owns the place. The challenge of capturing the fastest known substance under just the right conditions and circumstances seems impossible at its worst, and audacious at its best. For skilled professionals, like Mark Hemmings, it’s just a walk in the park.
In 1997, Mark was hired by the University of New Brunswick, Saint John, as a recruiter for the school’s ESL program. He embarked on a five week trip to Japan, and coincidently his career as a photon collector, or in layman’s terms: a photographer. “That was the first time I ever took a picture, to be honest, with a real camera. I didn’t know anything about it, but when I came back, the photos were awesome and everyone encouraged me to become a photographer. I said, ‘Well, sounds like a great career’, and I went for it.”
The event of travelling to the far side of the planet often brings to light certain necessities; common place items that might seem an unnecessary luxury at home, become practically essential when travelling abroad. For Mark, it was the sudden need for the most basic of tourist requirements: a camera, and the immediate challenge of learning to operate it was a hands-on education, “It was my grandfather’s, it was a Nikon. I was going on the trip and I had no camera. I didn’t know a thing and I had to practice with it, but I also brought slide film. Because the exposure has to be perfect compared to print film,I was very careful with how many pictures I took while in Japan. That sort of diligence of setting up the shot, and thinking about the exposure really helped.”
It was also enough exposure for Mark to really catch a serious travel bug. In 2000, he and his wife moved to Japan for a year where he learned how to become an advertising/commercial photographer. Having already spent the last part of the ’90s working as a photographer during Saint John’s brief love affair with Hollywood films, he had developed the skills to tackle some serious international jobs in both commercial photography and as an educator. In 2004, he travelled to South Korea to teach film making and photography. “That was sort of the start of my teaching career where I branched out teaching photography workshops. Not only South Korea, but also Japan, Hungary, Transylvania, England, and Mexico. That’s the side of the business that I really love. Teaching.”
Now an accomplished traveller and photographer, Mark coolly crosses international boundaries like a pro. “What I usually do now is rent in the country that I’m working in. When I go through customs, I never bring a bag with me. I never check a bag under the plane, it’s always carry on, and I rent everything. I may take a Canon DSLR. I certainly always take my Fuji Rangefinder, but everything is rented.” Perhaps what is more surprising is his choice of equipment when it comes to this travel photography; he’s done away with lugging around heavy gear and, for the sake of ease and convenience, he has converted to being a disciple of the iPhone. “That is strictly with my iPhone because I don’t usually carry my favourite camera, the Fuji Rangefinder, around with me, but I do carry my iPhone. So when I walk to the car, or to the bank, I’m always seeing, always looking, trying to find a cool background, or a person that’s unique. I’ll photograph them. I don’t plan it, I’ll just walk.”
Every winter now, Mark returns to Japan, and San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico, to teach photography courses, including a course designed specifically for the iPhone. The continued travel allows not just an escape from the snow, but opportunity to shoot in his free time. “Even though San Miguel is a fairly small town, it is absolutely amazing how every single ten meters, there’s a new brilliant photo to be taken, and it’s because of the colour, and the people, and the festivals. Every night, there are mariachi bands roaming the street, playing. It’s all the best of Mexico rolled into one little town, so you never get bored. I love to shoot black and white for travel photography, except when I’m in Mexico. There’s colour everywhere there. That’s definitely a place for colour, and really the only thing I’m concerned about is exposure for faces. Everything else can be exposed that the way that the camera meter decides, but I have to make sure the faces aren’t blown-out, that they aren’t too white, or too dark. Fortunately, cameras are getting so good that if you make a mistake you just dial it down a little bit, but having learned in the slide-film days, that’s how I grew up in photography, you had to have the exposure perfectly, so I tend to still have good exposure techniques.”
For more information about Mark Hemmings and his photography visit his webpage.