David Metcalf: Photography Tours

David Metcalf was born and brought up in Wellington, New Zealand but left in 1980. He never really returned, spending only three more years in Kiwi after that. David has held jobs ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime: dishwasher, bus boy, housemaid and then GM of a business with 250 employees. He worked for UPS, the huge American transport company, for 20 years from 1991 to 2011. His first visit to Indonesia was in 2000 after he was offered the job as Country Manager for UPS based in Jakarta. David first became interested in photography on his first overseas trip to Australia when he was 9 years old and the craft has been his calling ever since. In 2011, he started a workshop in Bali and now leads photography tours all over the world.

What are your interests?

Travel, ancient cultures, photography, writing, politics, anything Indonesian, golf, rugby, NFL, watching native cultures dance and express themselves.

What photographer has had the most significant influence on you?

It’s very difficult to single out one but perhaps Edward Curtis who portrayed the American Indians in the late 1880s. He was known as “the shadow catcher,” and his photographs always mesmerized me. Curtis seemed to capture the beauty and spirit of that vanishing culture. For me this is the challenge in photography, a very powerful tool that can influence positive change on the planet.

Which photographer’s work do you most admire?

The American landscape photographers from the days when they still used film: Ansell Adams, Elliot Porter, and David Muench. Also Henri Cartier Bresson who was a master at capturing mood, decisive moments and raw emotion. I also like John Stanmeyer whose course I attended in Bali. John is a National Geographic photographer who loves to get into the heart of the action with nothing more than a 50 mm lens. His method was very inspirational to me and exciting when put into practice.

Where did you get the idea of leading photography tours?

I wanted to create a business from photography. Since the idea of taking photos for weddings and advertising didn’t appeal to me, I thought of travelling while taking photographs and getting paid to do it.

For those who join your tours, is there a “typical” client profile?

Not really. We get a mix but our 8–12 day tours are appealing to people who have more time such as retirees or semi-retirees. My business partner is a Balinese photographer and our plan is to give talented Balinese photographers opportunities and exposure to world famous photographers.

What is your teaching method?

We teach all aspects of photography including night photography, star trails, macro, landscapes, portrait and postproduction, but was is special is putting them into unique places that tourists don’t normally go and connecting with the Balinese culture and ceremonies in the villages. I always strive to give them a way to express themselves and communicate what they see in a visual sense.

What kind of photography is the most difficult to teach?

Teaching peoples how to be more creative and express themselves through this visual art form. I think people are often to caught up in what others think of their photographs rather than what they really enjoy and are good at.

Do you give back to the communities you and your groups visit?

Yes, always. We take the photographers to an orphanage in Tabanan to connect with the children, as well as build bridges between western cultures and Indonesians in Sumba, Sumbawa, Kalimantan by helping with education programs, sustainable tourism, and environmental conservation. From my point of view, this aspect is a very important part of the tours. The photographers appreciate this and feel compelled to get involved. For some participants, the experience can be life changing.

What is different about leading people on Bali and leading people in North America?

North America is all about landscapes and wildlife, while Bali is the whole gambit. Bali is one of the most amazing places on the planet to photograph. My tours in Indonesia also offer tremendous variety and involve all aspects of travel photography, particularly people and ceremonies. In terms of the quality of accommodation, value for money, friendliness of the people and the fact that Indonesians love having their photos taken makes Bali a sure winner.

What has been the most unusual photography tour you’ve ever led?

Last year we travelled around the island. I put the group through all sorts of modes of transport including small fishing boats out on the ocean photographing Bugis pinisi as they came in with their catch, off the north coast searching for dolphins and catching the sun setting over the volcanoes of East Java. We covered Nyepi this year and my group really enjoyed that. Our trip to Borneo this year was also amazing. We took in 5 days of Dayak culture, orangutans in a very wild area of Central Kalimantan, the floating market and canals of Banjarmasin and Derawan Island where time has stood still.

Do you have any future personal or professional plans?

I plan to open a photography gallery in Ubud next year, and set up the Bali Centre for Creative Photography. We would bring world famous photographers to Bali to teach. Another objective is to have the center as a place where Balinese, Indonesian and foreigners can come to share ideas and learn from each other. Talented Balinese photographers (and there are many!) will have an opportunity to sell their work in the gallery, which will hopefully help them on their path. Most of the profits will go to supporting programs in Indonesia including micro financing and educating people about environmental conservation and the wisdom of the native cultures, especially the Dayaks of Kalimantan.

What do you personally gain from your work?

The opportunity to help others while doing what I love to do. It’s actually not work. I’m not sure that there is a word for it. If you are passionate about your work and someone pays you for it, it doesn’t get much better that that!

How can you be contacted?

Email: davidmetcalf3#mac.com, website: www.davidmetcalfphotography.com, Facebook: www.facebook.com/indodave.

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Copyright © 2013 Bill Dalton
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