For Felipe Passolas, life is not something that stands still, rather it’s always on the move and must be pursued and captured before it gets away.
Capturing life for him means not only experiencing it firsthand and becoming immersed in the sights, sounds, smells and conversations of a particular place or event – it also means taking pictures.
For the seven years that Felipe has been travelling as a professional photo-journalist, he has tended to specialise in one extreme or another. From the searing, scorching desert heat of Central Asia to the howling ferocity of northern Norway’s destructive cyclones; from vicious, blinding African sandstorms to the suffocating humidity of subtropical Latin America, Felipe feels that life is at its most fascinating where human beings are forced to adapt and to struggle in order to survive and more often it’s the unpredictability of those very human beings that tends to provide the most dangerous situations.
This is the first insight I get into Felipe’s dual life as he informs me of his experience of border conflicts past and present from Colombia to Syria. “In terms of wild nature, Mongolia was hard because I was alone in the jungle, while in Norway or the Amazon I always made sure I was having somehow some local closer to me to ask for support in case of emergency.”
Passolas is also something of a contradiction. As well as being one of life’s true adventurers – never happier than when he’s riding a horse through the vast, wild grasslands of Mongolia or hiding out from election-riots in Senegal – he also has a solid background in finance and worked for many years as a financial analyst and then a prop trader. So how on earth did he make the transition from the trading floor to photographing rainforest tree-frogs or Russian militiamen?
”I was living in Osaka, this huge megalopolis in Japan surrounded by millions of people and quite frequently, my friend Simon and I would talk about escaping the glass jungle for the comparative freedom of Mongolia (2 people per square kilometre), though admittedly, it was an idea that hung around for longer than it should have. In the finance days, I rode horses fairly often and eventually I just decided to combine the two and go”
Naturally the notion of fear is brought up and being the pragmatist that he is, informs me of the necessity of fear and how you manage it, how it keeps you alert and focused. “become paralysed with fear and problems scan escalate so the right amount of fear is quite important but it’s something that comes with experience and time, it does not come from one day to another. Managing that fear with you head makes the different of getting out or troubles or getting lost. If the risk is too high, I don’t see the point of taking the photo but if I have the right environment I’ll push it a lot ’till I get a good photograph, but never ever push it too much, every time that people push it too much things go wrong. Keeping a balance is the clever thing to do.”
Having recently returned from documenting the refugee crisis in Lebanon, he tells me at length about the impact of two million refugees flooding into a country with a population of four million “Though it’s widely acknowledged,we probably won’t change the world with a photograph but for me is quite necessary for different reasons. People need to be aware there are other ways of living, that we are no different as humans, people suffer in the same way no matter where they live. Being informed could change your mind informing your actions such as how you vote. Information is power right? Photography is visual communication and one that lasts as long of the effects of the photograph. So the better the photograph the better the message.”
As for staying neutral on any topic, that depends on the audience and more often than not the message isn’t the one they want to see or isn’t inline with their own views. It’s very easy to judge from the comfort of the sofa he explains to me as we a nearing the end of our interview.
“People say since the very first moment we are framing something with the camera we are not neutral anymore, that could be true but the point is to high light the most important is going on as a photojournalist.”
I have my political and spiritual views, but when I am working I am as neutral as I can be.
With the Ukraine I was covering the Pro Russian side, while my colleagues were covering the other side and had the same issue but flipped around which happens quite often unfortunately. The way to fight that is working in the best possible professional way what is what I try on every project I have.”
What would you like to photograph that you haven’t thus far?
I have a long term project though I am not sure if I will be able to accomplish it: documenting piracy in south East Asia. There are always projects in my bucket list but it’s along list and there’s only so much time”