Dan Sadgrove doesn’t have a future in motivational posters and he’s cool with that. He shoots a fair bit of travel-inspired photography, but you’re not gonna catch a yoga pose at sunset or a faux-pensive stare into a foreign landscape in his Instagram feed.
Sadgrove is a photographer from New Zealand who travels around the world, settling into character-ridden places for months at a time. His photography can hardly be separated from how he lives his life, because for him, life and photography are all about the experiences. How those experiences play out in images is just icing on the cake.
With an education in anthropology, Sadgrove is natural at capturing people in a moment, and he doesn’t need them in vrksasana to prove the point. He’s a guy who lives in the present and his portfolio shows that in every frame.
How many days a year do you average on the road/traveling?
As much as I can afford to at the moment. I sold my stuff in London and moved to Mexico – which I thought was the exact opposite of London at the time – small town, surf breaks, beaches, sunshine and all that. After six months there, I moved into the U.S. interior to hike their national parks and haven’t looked back since.
How does your study of anthropology shape the way you shoot photos of people?
I guess I’m more of an observer when it comes to photography and it makes sense considering my background, so I try to be the fly on the wall when it comes to shooting. I like unscripted moments; I’m not a fan of people posing whether it’s face-to-camera or this current plague of fake ‘inspiring quote’ posing that is taking over travel photography on Instagram. It’s all pretty unoriginal.
One of the photographers in this Square Shooter series nailed it a while ago, Karan Bhatia, when he said in one of his photos, “Shoutout to everyone who rents canoes and kayaks so they can take shots of themselves using them in the middle of lakes. I just stood on the rental dock and shot this without even sitting inside…and then I went to a cafe and ate a giant breakfast. I “adventure” so much harder than you.” I loved that. I know of a few photographers who do that it’s pretty cringy, I don’t know what they get out of it. I guess I don’t love photography as much as they do and prefer the memory of the experience to the story you get to tell people in the caption of a photo.
Behold, the unicorn of Instagram! You still shoot on film. Why?
I’m just used to it. I’m definitely a romantic about it. I love everything it represents and everything it doesn’t. You can’t see what you’ve taken so you let the memory of where you are be dictated solely by the experience, rather than whether you got a good shot or not. I knew someone who spent a day hiking up Mueller Hut in New Zealand and boasted that he took more than 10,000 digital photos. I don’t know what that is but that’s not photography to me. I think digital is still just a bunch of 0’s and 1’s on a screen where film is light on transparency.
I feel film has soul, I love the texture and the imperfections you get in the developing. A lot of people who shoot digital are still trying to mimic film by using those VSCO film filters in Lightroom. So while I don’t mind digital photography I feel that it is still trying to imitate the real thing. I bought a digital camera a year ago, and took 50 shots with it then chucked it in the drawer.
For me, I love the anticipation between shooting and seeing the photos. Sometimes it’ll be months before I get a chance to develop the film so I end up forgetting all about it just to find a few rolls in the bottom of my bag. I love that. I don’t want to look at a screen as soon as I shoot something. In saying all this, it’s just my opinion and experience. Each to their own, I just like film, it’s what I’m most comfortable with.
Where are you off to next and what will you be shooting?
I’m moving to Svalbard in a week’s time. It’s the northernmost inhabited town in the world. There’s about 2,000 people in the town I’m moving to and a population of over 3,000 polar bears on the island. I’m very excited about it. I don’t have an idea of what I’m going to be shooting, I’m guessing desolate landscapes, abandoned towns, interesting characters, scientists, miners, glaciers, hopefully not that many polar bears. I’m going for the experience and if there’s some nice frames I’ll try take a snap. I just want the raw nature and wilderness of the place. Trip wiring the campsite with flash bangs to defend us from polar bear attacks. That’s mad. I don’t know if I’d get any sleep.