Aaron Verbruggen – Photographer

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A desire to record his extensive travel experiences to far flung places around the world introduced primary school teacher Aaron to the joys of photography. The sometimes confronting cultural differences he found now form a permanent record through his unique images. 


Where did your passion for photography start?

I never owned a proper camera until two years ago. I lived overseas for two and a half years, where I spent about half the time travelling and the other half living in London. It was a combination of seeing some amazing sights and wanting to document them that made me interested in photography.

Are you self taught, or have you undergone any formal training? 

I am definitely self taught. I have a few friends who have helped out along the way and given me some pointers on my photos, but it has been mostly a lot of trial and error … continually changing the settings on my camera and seeing the effect it had on the photograph. I’ve taken so many out of focus or washed out photos along the way!

You have been fortunate enough to have travelled the world with your camera in hand. Tell us about some of your most recent journeys and the standout moments you’ve captured.

I spent some time in North and South America with a group of mates. We bought two vans in New York and managed to get one all the way across the states and through Central America to Panama. The other broke down and was left behind in Acapulco, Mexico. We then travelled from Colombia to Brazil via Peru and Bolivia. In Peru we completed a five day 100 km trek to Machu Picchu; we also rode down the world’s most dangerous road, El Camino De La Muerte in Bolivia, on bicycles.

My last trip was a solo trip from London to Australia via Turkey, Jordan, Iran and India. I was able to visit Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan, and Persepolis, Shiraz and Isfahan in Iran. I spent longer in India, beginning in Rajasthan before heading to Varanasi, Agra and New Delhi. After that I went north to the Punjab region and up into Kashmir. The people and lifestyle of India was just crazy. Poverty was so widespread, and such a huge percentage of people lived their lives in absolute squalor. I remember arriving at a train station in Varanasi in the middle of the night and taking a cycle rickshaw through the city to a hostel on the Ganges. On the way, I passed what seemed like a thousand homeless people curled up in every doorstep, rickshaw or gutter. It was definitely a confronting place.

You have taken a huge variety of images – landmarks, people and everything in between. What is your favourite thing to photograph, and why?

I definitely enjoy photographing local people wherever I go. Some of my favourite places are Middle Eastern or Arabic countries. Places like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Iran and Kashmir are completely different to any other parts of the world I’ve been to. People live so differently and look so different, and I loved getting a chance to photograph some of those people going about their daily lives. They were also so friendly and loved having their photo taken.

They say that a picture tells a thousand words. What are some of the stories behind the photos?

There are six photos from India. There is no backstory to any of them, because it is so easy to find a good photo in India. The colours of people’s clothing and the things which go on daily in that country make each photo so different. The photo of the man in Srinigar, Kashmir under the arch took a long time to take. I saw the fort in the distance and made sure it was right between the arch, then I waited as this old man pushing his bicycle made his way down the road and passed me until he was right in the middle of the arch with the fort above him.

The photos from Jordan show exactly what the country is like. It is just a vast empty nation full of sand and rocks. Then in the south of the country, hidden in a deep valley is this amazing ancient city carved perfectly into the rock. The photo of Machu Picchu from a nearby mountain was a tough photo to take. It had been raining in the morning and fog was ruining the view. Then it lifted for a short time. The climb up the mountain was treacherous, but it was perfect to get a shot of the entire Incan city. We walked for days through jungles, across rivers, in the rain and up snow covered mountains to get there, but it was worth it.

The photo of me was taken in the grand canyon national park. During a huge 16,000 km road trip, my mates and I camped out in the national park. We climbed out onto a sheer rock face with our gas stove, and cooked breakfast as the sun rose over the canyon.

When you’re composing a photo, do you start with a ‘story’ in mind, or do you photograph things simply because they look good?

I just go looking for things which seem interesting – if it doesn’t interest me, I don’t want to take the time taking the photo. Whether it is a famous landmark or a family walking in the street … if I am at a place like the Taj Mahal, which has had its photo taken so many times, I try and look for something different … a different angle, maybe some interesting lighting or some locals in the shot,to make it not just a photo of a famous building.

One of my favourite photos is one I took from Agra fort. There is a group of men viewing the Taj Mahal in the distance. It gives you a different and original perspective of the Taj Mahal.

In your opinion, what makes a good photo?

Something you’ve never seen before. Originality is sometimes hard to achieve, but if you can find a shot of something that no one has, it can make all the difference. That’s why I enjoy photographing the people in countries I visit. Whereas you know all the big famous buildings in the world, chances are you’ve never ever seen any of the people in the photos I have taken.

You work as a primary school teacher, but do you ever see a career for yourself in photography?

I love teaching and can see myself doing it for a long time. But if anyone wanted to pay me to travel the world and photograph it, I’m sure I wouldn’t take too much convincing.

Thanks Aaron. 

This story was published in issue 22 of the Coffs Coast Focus

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