RACHEL CLAIRE - THE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHER WHO DOCUMENTS CULTURE AROUND THE WORLD
Introducing our exclusive interview with the woman behind the lens of @fieldnotes__. We caught up with Rachel Claire to discuss her photography style, how she stays inspired to create and what advice she has for the modern generation of sustainable travellers
Words: Emily Georgieva
Photography: Rachel Claire
23 February 2021
The way I came across Rachel's photography was through Instagram where she is known as @fieldnotes__. With over 30.3K followers on the social media platform, she tells stories of the people and cultures that impact her during her visits to different countries. Rachel has been digitally documenting her travels since early 2014, but it wasn't until four years ago that I was fortunate enough to discover her page. The image that made a great impression on me was one of a man in Indonesia, sitting almost cross-legged, looking at the camera with a smile so bright, so genuine, it made me stop scrolling through the endless feed of travel snaps.
I paid attention to the body of water behind him and the colour of the sky in the background that looked as if it didn't dare turn light pink just yet. The thing that resonated with me the most was not how well the balance between a man and nature was painted. Nor was it the contrast of the calm afternoon captured when the moment was just right. What truly stood out in the photograph was its authenticity. I have seen countless images displaying the magnificence of the Tegallalang Rice Terrace and Pura Luhur Lempuyang's breathtaking view, yet it is so rare to come across a photograph that reflects the essence of a complex island country such as Indonesia as well as Rachel's work does. She had managed to capture Indonesia's spark through the people who call the country their home.
The more I looked at the photograph, the more aware I became of the precision and love that must have gone into Rachel's work. Her photography tells a unique story, allowing the viewer to go back in time and connect to the culture of the places she has visited. From the streets of India to the incredible terrain of Indonesia and the dusty deserts of Egypt, Rachel's photography explores well-known as well as tucked-away destinations across continents.
Ever since I started following her page, I have been constantly inspired by her style and the way she sees the world through a camera lens. Rachel has the talent to give life to what some might perceive as ordinary. In her work, you can see a balance between soft hues and shots that possess salty edginess. The portraits she takes are minimalistic, yet powerful. The way she captures details of architecture and emphasises the beauty of a place in her landscapes have postcard-worthy charm, which can only be described as timeless.
When I approached Rachel for this interview, I was overwhelmed with excitement over having the chance to speak to someone, whose work I had been admiring for so long. Her positive personality preceded her. I could instantly tell she is humble, sweet and possesses an unmatched passion for capturing travel memories in a filtered-down kind of way. Her images are stunning, but her stories and philosophy to learn not just about the beauty of a place, but also about the struggles of the people who live there, elevate her work to an entirely different perspective. The two of us spoke about what photography has taught her, how she defines her own style and what advice she has for adventurers who want to shape a brighter and more sustainable future for travellers.
‘‘My greatest privilege has always been to have the opportunity to immerse myself not only in the beauty of the people and places we visit - but also in the struggles. I am a strong believer that people are not drawn to what we do, but why we do it.’’
Rachel Claire, founder of @fieldnotes__ for NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine
NOMADSofORIGIN: What is the most valuable lesson photography has taught you?
Rachel: Photography teaches you to be present and mindful of your surroundings - although not necessarily a lesson, my photographic career, over time has trained my mind to see the beauty in everything. I find the purest and simplest moments fill my life with the most joy - it’s in those moments that I often forget to take my camera out. I guess you could say the lesson is in learning to enjoy life’s beauty for what it is - camera or not.
NOMADSofORIGIN: A huge focus of your work are shots of wild animals and landscapes in the wilderness that have a postcard-worthy charm. Yet, there is warmth in your photography style that almost acts as a signature and makes the images so unique. How do you achieve the balance of cold and warmth, raw and elegant in your photography?
Rachel: Finding a creative style that resonates with your professional and personal journey takes time - when I was younger I would often feel insecure about my style changing more erratically. As time has passed and I’ve grown into my confidence and sense of self, I’ve noticed a more signature style take place in my work. I still notice changes - but those changes are more micro now - the work I produce now still feels linked stylistically to my earlier work - but I don’t think it ever stops transforming. I’ve learned over time to be at peace with the idea that my work will constantly evolve over time. A long time ago that idea would have scared me - now I see it as an opportunity to challenge myself or try something new. I think this year will see some of the biggest changes in my personal work ever. I’ve never felt more at home in my own artistic process, so hopefully the new body of work will be received well.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Which photographers inspire you and influence your style?
Rachel: I’m less influenced by other photographers and more by the people who I choose to surround myself with - as well as the incredible work I ingest by authors, artists and people who are dedicated to campaigning for the greater good. Right now the people who are top of my inspiration list are Alice Eady and Jack Harries (both Filmmakers and Climate Storytellers), Australian indigenous artist Ryhia Dank, my dear friends Emma Lindegaard (Ceramicist) and James Giddy (painter) and another West Aus photographer and friend Chris Gurney. In terms of straight up photographic influence and inspiration - my favourites at the moment are Matt Porteous and Annapurna Mellor. My longest inspirational affair is with Australian Stylist Sibella Court.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Your visits to Africa have resulted not only in incredible images of the local people, landscape and wildlife, but also in working towards raising awareness about issues such as animal poaching. Do you think young creatives who travel often have responsibility to learn about pressing issues and advocate for positive change?
Rachel: One of the greatest opportunities we are given in whatever line of work we choose is the option to advocate for greater change. It’s such an age-old cliche that we must be the change we wish to see, but there’s a reason that notion lives on. My greatest privilege has always been to have the opportunity to immerse myself not only in the beauty of the people and places we visit - but also in the struggles. I am a strong believer that people are not drawn to what we do, but why we do it. Every trip, every adventure and every assignment has a why.
NOMADSofORIGIN: You are from Western Australia. What are the top 3 things people should do there and places to see when they visit?
Rachel: Western Australia is enormously diverse. From the deep red Pindan (the indigenous name for the red-soil that covers the south-west kimberley region in the north) to the tall karri forests of the South West - the landscape changes constantly. My favourite places are Exmouth (Ningaloo Reef and the Marine sanctuary it provides) - Denmark in the Great Southern and Margaret River - which will always feel like home.
NOMADSofORIGIN: In previous interviews you have said that Cairo, Egypt is your favourite destination to visit and one you would never get tired of photographing. What other places around the world would you say always surprise you in a positive way by managing to provide fun and culturally diverse experience?
Rachel: I was 17 when I first visited Egypt (which is 10 years ago now) and I think about it often when I think of travelling again. It’s so ancient and so raw in the way it’s presented to travellers. I think the Egypt experience frustrates some people - but I get so excited about it’s intensity. At times it’s like a caricature. It’s easy to imagine you’re in another era entirely. I've always been incredibly drawn to archaeology, so my time spent in Libya is also something I reflect on often. I’d love to explore Leptis Magna with fresh eyes - to see how it’s changed after years of war. However, to this day, China is the place that has surprised me the most. I was really absorbed by the history of the Chinese Dynasty during my time in Suzhou - again, I can’t wait to go back.
NOMADSofORIGIN: We love your photography because there is honesty and authenticity in your style. It is almost as if the images you take reflect the art of slow living and allow the viewer to truly connect to the places you portray. How would you describe your own style in a sentence?
Rachel: I think I’ll always be a storyteller by trade. Stylistically that’s what I’ll always be, first and foremost. The academic in me always (ashamedly) shied away from that title - I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously. But history is important. Empathy and love - a sense of belonging and an opportunity to be heard, they’re all important. That’s what storytelling is to me.
NOMADSofORIGIN: You are a nomad by calling - you are often on the road, capturing visual souvenirs of things that inspire you, interacting with locals and manage to stay curious about exploring different cultures. What advice would you give travellers who wish to contribute sustainably to the travel industry?
Rachel: 2020 and the pandemic really shone a light on this. Aeroplanes have been a massive issue for such a long time. There's absolutely no denying the detrimental impact that carbon emission from air-travel is having on our planet. I hope the future brings us a more sustainable way to reach overseas destinations - I know a lot of people I know who were working in a similar field were starting to plan longer, more land-bound projects that offset some of the air travel. I’ve heard rumors of more sustainable electric planes that could be feasible as early as 2030 - but in the meantime, we’re still stuck with what we’ve got.
For a long time I’d been group travelling - sharing busses and vans and hotel rooms with strangers who would become some of my dearest friends. Intrepid Travel is such a great example of how tourism can be more sustainable.
Travellers wishing to contribute more sustainably to the tourism industry can start with group travel. Planning ways to volunteer and give back to the community when overseas can help drive positive change too. Travel by road and train, choose eco-friendly accomodation, support local businesses and never-ever ride elephants (or participate in any animal tourism attraction that is based in cruelty).
NOMADSofORIGIN: What are you working on at the moment?
Rachel: Right now, as Australia is still landlocked I’m working on a multimedia project I hope to have finished by mid-year. I’m also trying to finish curating my print store and website - which have been under construction for a really long time now.
NOMADSofORIGIN: Thank you so much for this interview. It was a pleasure. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Rachel: I know so many people are probably feeling overwhelmed or deflated by the current situation our planet faces. So many dreams and travel plans have been put on hold or cancelled entirely - many people are missing the way things were. The world will still be waiting for us all when the time is right - in this current moment - mother nature gets her own reprieve and we get the opportunity to re-teach ourselves a more sustainable way of living and exploring. I take comfort in knowing I'll never take a minute absorbed in another culture or landscape for granted ever again. I don’t think any of us ever will.
Read Rachel's journal online
See below the photographs we love and follow @fieldnotes_ on social media.
NOMADSofORIGIN x Rachel Claire
This interview appears in NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine print #04 The Escapism Issue