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Dreaming and Capturing the World | An Interview with Photographer Louise Coghill

October 24, 2018

Last year, two of my favourite posts we published on ROAM were from the high Himalayas of Nepal. Those two posts were written and photographed by Louise Coghill, a photographer from Western Australia. Her accounts of her time trekking through the Everest and Annapurna regions of Nepal were honest, intriguing and often hilarious. Teamed with her dreamy, epic landscape shots, it formed stories in the reader’s mind which we always hoped the content on ROAM would create.

Since then, I’ve avidly followed her brilliant work. She has captured equally mind-blowing images in places like Mongolia, Indonesia and her home state of WA. In this interview, she discusses how she ventured into photography, what inspires her to take a photograph and the growing artistic community of Perth. She is a photographer with bundles of talent and a unique vision of the world. I feel the world is very bright for Louise Coghill. 

How did you start taking photos? What sparked your passion for documenting?

I studied Film and TV and always thought I would do some form of storytelling. It wasn’t until I moved to a sleepy little town in the Daintree rainforest where I had NO access to a film industry that I had to find a new outlet for my creativity.
One of my only friends over there was an amazing travelling photographer, she was travelling the globe with her Canon 5D and she showed me how fun photography could be, how much potential it held. Her landscapes, her portraits, her exploration of other cultures. After playing around with her camera I went and bought my own.

She left soon after, and it may sound cheesy, but my camera became my new friend. We’d go on little afternoon walks together when we felt lonely, it started waking me up for sunrise, taking me on solo hikes and camping adventures, it became my friend in times of solitude. Photography for me has always been centred around the lifestyle it creates. Since then it has expanded into my whole life, it has woven itself into the centre of my being, I can no longer separate the two things ‘Louise’ and ‘photography’.

When did you start travelling? Did travel or photography come first? What was the first trip you took which really got you hooked on exploring?

The first time I flew overseas I was 10 years old. We went to Africa and lived for 3 months in Tanzania. My father worked throughout Africa, and my family explored many different cultures through him. Travel was never really a question for me, I knew how big the world was, I knew how much there was to see and experience and so it was natural I jumped on a plane the first chance I got.

My first real eye-opening adventure was a trip to India, to film a documentary for my friend’s charity. As we wandered through the slums where the school and clinic were, amid the colours and smells and poverty, the world shifted again. It wasn’t new to me, having spent time in the craziness of Africa, but now I had the chance to document it, I was experiencing it on my own, without the protective layer my parents had always given me.

‘Travel was never really a question for me, I knew how big the world was, I knew how much there was to see and experience and so it was natural I jumped on a plane the first chance I got.’

As well as shooting travel, you also shoot weddings? How do you think this helps you as a travel photographer? What have you learnt from shooting weddings which you have brought to your travel work?

Wedding photography taught me the art of remaining out of sight, never impacting someone else’s experience to get the shot. Both streams have bought many things to the table though, high-stress environments cause rapid improvement, and both travelling and weddings both push me far out of my comfort zone. Since shooting weddings I’m also becoming more interested in shooting raw, honest moments, rather than looking for the ‘instagram’ shot.

What inspires the photos you take? What do you look for in an image before you shoot it?

I always try to find the story, the thing that makes it come alive. It’s why I like people in my photos, or shooting through windows. Even if it’s a static landscape, I think there’s always an interesting way to connect to it.

What inspired your series The Dreamer? How did you go about making this vision a reality?

The idea popped into my head while I was running one day, I saw a person surrounded by doors half covered in sand. I knew it was a story about making choices and wondering where they’ll take you.

The series grew into messy scribbles in notebooks. I wanted each image to have an emotional connection with the landscape. I knew I’d never get it done unless I had a deadline. Classic procrastinator over here. So I created a crowdfunding page and pre-sold some of the photos.

That gave me the spare funds to hire a van and take my good friend and muse on a week-long road trip through Western Australia. I wanted locations that didn’t look like they were tied to Australia, we only had a week to capture it all and so I didn’t have time to pre-plan for each location. Some I’d never been too, some the weather didn’t behave, I had to work with what I had and figure out what emotion I was going to capture when I got there, how to find the connection. I’m glad I made myself accountable online, otherwise, this series would never have been released. The amount of self-doubt I experienced through the process was intense, my friend/muse/model Grace had to listen to me after every shoot assuming I’d ruined my whole career. 

What is one of your travel highlights? Do any particular stories or moments stick out in your mind as being pretty unbelievable?

There are too many that are unbelievable for different reasons, with differing mixtures of this is the best AND worst moment of my life. Like watching the sunrise over Everest, was equal parts amazing and ‘what am I doing, I feel like I’m dying’.

As well as exploring a lot of Asia, you also have photographed a lot of your home state of Western Australia? What about the place you come from inspires you?

Perth is the most isolated city in the world, my love of exploring my country came from the fact it just wasn’t feasible to jump on a plane for a quick holiday. Since then I’ve developed a supreme appreciation of WA, the isolation that comes from being out of the city, losing reception for days, the difficulty of the adventure. Often I have to fit all my camping gear into my little Getz and give up comfort in exchange for experience. As I’ve gotten older my understanding of the world and our history deepens, there is a rich aboriginal history that is only just being recognised and reintroduced, I feel like I need to appreciate who this land belonged to, and learn more of how they viewed it. I’ve been gaining a new respect for my ancient country, it’s rugged beauty and harsh environment.

There seems to be a lot of photographers coming out of WA, what about the place do you think inspires creatively?

I think Perth creativity is exploding in many areas at the moment. I think our city was so small and isolated, and known for being just a big country town with nothing to do that many people made their own things happen. As the city has grown so has our focus on the arts, and the joy of being a small city means that we all know each other, we all help each other. The Perth art scene I’m a part of is very open, loving and helpful, filled with collaboration and a sense of community across all art types.

Do you have an all-time favourite travel photograph? Can you tell us the story behind this shot?

My favourite images definitely come from serendipitous moments. One of my favourites is a photo I took in Mongolia.

I was sick with some strange virus that zapped my body of energy, it was raining and although it was meant to be the middle of summer it was freezing cold. I’d just jumped on a 15-day tour through the country, something I don’t usually do because I like to have complete control over my trip. Two weeks with no reception, two weeks with random humans I had yet to connect with.

It was meant to be a wonderful adventure into a country I couldn’t wait to explore, but it was turning into a pretty shitty day, and I was preparing myself for a shitty two weeks.

We finally arrived at our camp and barricaded ourselves into our Ger to get out of the rainy, windy weather.

The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming stench, upon inspection we found drying meat hanging from the rafters, I laid my aching body onto the hard bed, willing my nose to get used to the smell.

‘Why am I here? What have I done?’ swirling through my tired mind as I slowly drifted asleep.

An hour or so later I was shaken awake and a bowl of soup was handed to me, honestly, I would have preferred to keep sleeping through, every muscle in my body was aching with whatever germs were making their way through my veins.

With my belly full, I noticed just outside the door, the world had changed, the angry sky had softened and the clouds were turning purple as the sun dipped towards the horizon.

Although my body was aching, although my eyes were drooping, I asked myself how many sunsets i’d get in Mongolia, so I grabbed my camera, put on a jumper and walked outside. 

Luckily I did because the rainstorm had cleared and been replaced with a vivid rainbow, I could see a man riding his horse and knew an epic photo was about to take place, but it was blocked by Ger’s, cars and people, so off I sprinted, trying to get to a spot where I could capture it. 

I took my photo, and my day went from ‘what have I done? I wish I was at home and mum was giving me a hug’ to ‘what even is my life?’ 

I was so energized by the epic vista that I wandered for the rest of the sunset, photographing Ger’s, herds of horses and basically falling in love with the effortless beauty of Mongolia and its serendipitous nature, that shaped the majority of my trip.

What’s next for you? What countries are you dying to visit and what stories would you love to document?

I’m going on a road trip in WA again in December, then to India in April, back to the charity that started it all. Who knows after that.

I have a tattoo on my wrist that is a constant reminder of the trip I want to do from Alaska to Argentina but it still hasn’t happened. Maybe if I put it here I’ll finally have to commit so I live up to my word?

You can follow Louise’s work on her Instagram / Facebook / Portfolio

Annapurna Mellor is a travel photographer, writer and co-founder of Roam Magazine. She fell in love with Asia shortly after graduating and has since spent extensive periods travelling and photographing in India, Nepal, Myanmar and many more. She shoots regularly for brands and publications and her work can be found in National Geographic Traveller Magazine, Lonely Planet, Suitcase and The Guardian. When not on the road, she is based in Manchester, UK.

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