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Behind the lens with Documentary Photographer Natalie McComas

LET TRAVEL IGNITE THE IMAGINATION TO DESIRE AND EXPLORE

Natalie Mc'Comas is best described as a placid and delicate human who explores the ends of the earth to capture a moment or a story that will connect you with something aspirational, beautiful and surreal. We caught up with our friend of the brand to discuss photography, travel and her recent project In This Skin.

Tell us a little about how you first got into photography?

My grandad gave me his old Pentax camera to use for a photography elective when I was in high school. It had a broken light meter inside and a manual focus lens - so it was really challenging to learn how to use, but I just loved it. He showed me his collection of colour slides, mainly of his family but also of his many travels in the 60’s & 70’s. They were so beautiful and fascinating to me. This sparked a keen interest in learning more about photography too and I began to see things in my everyday in a more considered way. Also, developing B&W prints by hand in the darkroom at school was mesmerising and seeing how your photos turned out after processing a roll of film was always a thrill.

I did my high school work experience in a film lab and with a local newspaper photographer. I was very certain that being a photographer was the career I wanted so straight out from year 12 I applied for a position in the Bachelor of Photography at QCA, Brisbane and was accepted. I studied there for three years and then decided to do the Honours degree after that as well. It wasn’t until I had been out of uni for a couple of years that I decided to try freelancing. I’ve been freelancing for nine years now!

What is your photography style?

My style is naturalistic and simple. My social documentary & commercial work is quite bold and colourful whereas my travel photographs can be more quirky or ethereal.

Why do love what you do?

Being a photographer can grant access into people’s lives and situations that you wouldn’t otherwise be involved in or get to see. This is such a honour for me and a responsibility I have never taken lightly. I am blown away and inspired by the beautiful nature of the people I get to meet on a daily basis through my work.

Your photography has taken you all over the world. Tell us about some of your favourite foreign places?

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some beautiful places, from drought stricken desert lands to cold icy beaches. Landscapes in Norway & Switzerland were mesmerising and surreal; everything was so lush, grand and pure and completely different to Australia. Spending time in Iceland last summer and experiencing their 24hours of day time was strange! We found ourselves hiking at 10pm sometimes. We swam in hot springs surrounded by snowy capped hills and walked around a glacier lake trying to fathom the mass of icebergs bobbing up and down as they floated out to sea.

Seeing the Saguaro cacti everywhere in and around Phoenix and the Mooreton Botanical garden in Palm Springs - a private collection of desert dwelling plants and cacti, last year were definite highlights for me.

Japan is a favourite destination of mine! I adore the food culture there and the friendliness of the Japanese locals wherever you go is so lovely. I’ve seen two seasons there - spring time with gorgeous cherry blossoms and winter with ample amount of snow for snowboarding. Both were incredible and I look forward to many more visits there.

Auronzo in Northern Italy is a beautiful place to explore in summer time. The lake in the centre of town is a vibrant aqua - all the time! and I never got tired of seeing it throughout my two weeks there. The town is surrounded by mountains which was great for hiking and also foraging berries or mushrooms but also meant they have direct access to pure spring water. All around the town are tap like fountains that are constantly flowing which you can fill your water bottle up at and drink from. What a dream! Needless to say, the food there was amazing and going for a walk after dinner “passeggiata” to get a gelato there is a nice Italian tradition too!

Tell us a little about your birth mark `In This Skin' project that you are working on?

In This Skin is a social documentary project I worked on over 4-5 years and have almost completed. It began when I met Patience Hodgson for the first time and I saw her deep red birthmark, which covers the entire left side of her upper torso, as a thing of true beauty. I see people with birthmarks as walking pieces of art. I'd love people with birthmarks to see themselves this way and I'd love the greater society to see them this way also. I hope the photos in my project broadens the mindsets of viewers and generates conversations about the unnecessary and unrealistic ideals society deems as being “normal” and “desirable.” I'm sure if everyone looked exactly the same people would instead desire to be different. The diversity of appearances in our world should be embraced and celebrated. I was awarded funding via the VSCO Artist Initiative in 2014 to photograph people with birthmarks from all over the world, documenting my journey and stories on my VSCO Journal. You can see this project here: http://vsco.co/natmccomas/journal/p/1 Or read more about it here: http://vsco.co/natmccomas/journal/in-this-skin

Do you dabble in any other art medium?

I’ve started doing watercolour landscapes and details on my holidays and have found this to be a beautiful way to immerse myself in a place and really slow down and take it in.

Is there anyone who inspires you or other work you look up to?

I look up to photographers who really do their own thing and don’t subscribe to ’trends’ or copying other people’s work. Tobias Titz & Rineke Dijkstra’s portraiture, Amy Toensing’s documentary work on aboriginal Australia, South Korean photographer Myoung Ho Lee’s series on trees, Joni Sternbach’s surfland series, Raphaela Rosella’s social documentary work. You can see some of the doco photographers I like here: https://au.pinterest.com/nataliemccomas/documentary-photography/

For girls wanting to get into photography, what would you recommend they do to start a career?

I think studying photography - whether is be a university degree, tafe course or a workshop is a great place to start. Get a DSLR and practice as much as you can. The more shots you take the more you will notice different settings and learn from what works and doesn’t work. Try and develop your own style and way of seeing things by experimenting and drawing inspiration from other art genres, don’t try and copy what’s already been done. I find social media saps my creative juices so try to spend more time offline then online.

You have been a friend of Element Eden for some time now, what do you love about the brand?

I love that the designs are so well thought through! I can wear them comfortably - whether that be on the job shooting, at home working or out and about on a weekend.

@elementeden_australia

@natmccomas