Celebrating a globetrotting photography career
A chat with Tim Graham
For many years acclaimed photographer Tim Graham travelled the world photographing the tours and state visits of the British Royal Family in more than a hundred countries. Given privileged access, he photographed iconic sights, national culture and heritage, tribes and traditions and the people of many diverse nations. These days Tim is devoting all his time to travel photography, re-visiting his favourite countries and discovering new places he always wanted to go. OUT THERE spoke to him about his amazing career.
Papua New Guinea Gathering of Tribes, 1990 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
How did you first get into photography?
At age 13, using all my holiday pocket money, I bought a Kodak Box Brownie as my first camera and spent my holiday shooting landscapes in Wales. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a professional photographer. Little did I realize when starting out in the darkroom of a Fleet Street news agency that photography would give me the chance to witness such amazing sights.
By 1977, as a national newspaper photographer I was assigned to cover The Queen’s Silver Jubilee trip around the South Pacific islands. The combination of exotic travel and huge demand for the pictures made me think that Royal photography would be a good course to follow.
Ashanti Chiefs in Jewels of local gold at Durbar, Ghana, 1999 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
In 1980 I was invited to sign with Sygma, the renowned Paris photo agency, for worldwide syndication of my Royal photographs. It proved a happy and successful collaboration over twenty years. Living out of a suitcase, I ended up criss-crossing the globe capturing spectacular sights and scenes often from privileged positions as the best of each country was laid on for the Royal visitors. Interest in the British Royals was at its height and there was great satisfaction in seeing my pictures featured in every major magazine and newspaper around the world often as covers or feature spreads.
Thirty years later when Getty Images acquired my, by then, extensive Royal Archive I was keen to change tack and devote all my time to travel photography. The manic schedule of Royal Tours hadn’t always allowed enough time for the sort of images I like to shoot, so being able to choose my destinations and set my own pace was appealing.
Ysios Wine Estate, Rioja, Spain 2012 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
Where are you now and what are you shooting?
This year I’ve been to Istanbul photographing that wonderful city while enjoying the superb food and hospitality. Most recent travel has been a road trip around the west coast of Scotland and island hopping in the Western Isles. With the Independence Referendum in the news there’s been a lot of interest in what’s happening north of the border.
Women in Rajasthan, India 2011 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
Despite such extensive travel, surprisingly, I haven’t been to Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Cuba, Costa Rica, or Namibia so they are on my to do list. All have been very well photographed so it’ll be a challenge to try and find something different. Finding the clean and authentic image is becoming more and more difficult. Satellite dishes, solar panels and globalization might be good for economic development but the resulting infrastructure is a photographer’s nightmare.
What are your favourite destinations/subjects to photograph and why?
Well perhaps a cliche to answer the Indian sub-continent, but it continues to fascinate travellers and photographers. I will never tire of photographing the people, the varied cultures, sights and landscapes. I’ve been many times and look forward to future visits. I also like road trips. I drove all round northern Spain a couple of years ago and last year across France through Switzerland, northern Italy and up through Germany finding interesting subjects to photograph and enjoying the driving.
Croft Farm and Cuillin Mountains, Isle of Skye, Scotland 2014 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
Can you recall a favourite experience on your travels?
Quite a few involved helicopters. Most memorable was a flight through the Hunza valley and the Karakorams with spectacular views of world famous peaks, like Nanga Parbat, and landing on the banks of the Indus River. The most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen.
Another favourite was watching my children with their eyes wide with excitement on their first ever safari game-drive during a family trip to Botswana. I’m a keen conservationist. I enjoy photographing animals in their natural habitat and nature in all its forms.
Seeing Shanghai in the early 1980s when westerners were still stared at, soaking up the atmosphere on the Bund and ending the day listening to jazz in the Peace Hotel’s famous bar was another great experience. It was atmospherically scruffy then and all the more interesting because of it.
Brahman Blue City of Jodhpur, India, 2011 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
Can you recall a particularly challenging experience while taking photos/travelling?
In Crimea in the 90s I was holed up in an old empty Russian army barracks with no heating or hot water and having to boil water in a samovar to mix up my processing chemicals. After that I had to drag a huge satellite phone, the size of a suitcase, up ten flights of stairs to the roof to transmit pictures back to London. The digital revolution that then was on the horizon was a welcome progression.
Tourists at Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand, 2006 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
What camera/s and equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite piece of equipment?
After years of carrying several heavy SLRs and lenses I now take less kit, and work with a Leica M and Canon’s 5D MKIII. I mainly use Canon zoom lenses – the new EF16-35mm f4L IS, the EF24mm-70mm f2.8L II, and their 70mm-200mm zoom. The quality of their new lenses is superb. I sometimes opt for a 500mm telephoto or a macro. With the Leica M I’ll use a 50mm Summicron, 35mm Summilux and 28mm Elmarit. Both systems are equally good at giving me the results I want. I never use flash, preferring available light situations. A truly great bit of kit is my Gitzo Traveller 2 tripod with an Arca Swiss p0 SlideFix QR head – rigid, compact and perfect for taking on trips.
Aboriginal Man, Australia, 2006 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
As a favourite?
On occasions it’s nice to wander with just the Leica and two other lenses in my pockets but often the convenience of a zoom means I’m using the Canon.
What are your tips for taking a good photo?
Wait and watch. Light is everything. Get out early to catch the first light and make sure you’re around for the last light of the day. Might as well have a long lunch as light in between those times can be harsh and not suitable for certain subjects. Good forward planning for trips makes all the difference so you can maximize opportunities.
Religious Festival Semana Santa in Cadiz, Spain, 2005 (Tim Graham/Robert Harding)
What advice would you give for young photographers starting out?
Become a Hedge Fund manager! Competition in the photographic industry is massive so it’s really important to focus on quality and tight editing. Just because a photograph is difficult to shoot it doesn’t mean it’s a good picture. Producing what the market wants is very important. Look at the work of as many photographers as possible, especially in the field you want to work – easier now as everyone has a website. The talent out there is daunting.
What are your future plans?
Keep travelling – I’ve got itchy feet just writing this…
See more of Tim’s work here