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Interview: Richard Tilney-Bassett

 
 

Richard Tilney-Bassett, also known as 'The Glass Passport', is a British photographer attempting to discover the world through a series of trades. We sit down with Richard to discuss the inspiration behind his idea. 


 
 

How did the idea behind trading your photography come about? 

The concept itself initially came from an Australian photographer called Shantanu Starick, and his own trade project ‘The Pixel Trade’ he completed a couple of years ago. What started as a small seed of an idea began to grow when I was not long out of University and a bit directionless with the path I was pursuing. Leaving my job last year in order to force a life change gave me the chance to return to my initial thought. I found that small seed of an idea had now fully grown, providing an answer to all of my newfound priorities. I didn’t know how to be a photographer but I was drawn to it. I wanted to travel, I wanted to work and I was willing to pack my life into a suitcase and take that first step out of my comfort zone.

Has photography always been a career you were intent on pursuing? How did you begin and develop your skills as your career progressed?

Not at all. I studied biosciences originally prior to falling into the aforementioned post-university void of ‘I don’t know what to do with my life’. It was in this stage I bought my first decent camera in 2014. Even then it wasn’t an instant calling. It grew gradually as an interest. I was taking more and more photos each year until photography was how I enjoyed experiencing new places. I completely subscribe to learning by doing; getting out there as much as you can and learning from your mistakes. Well, it's helped me get this far at least; pulling bits from all my influences to gradually build my own path.

What is it you are aiming to capture in each of your photographs?

More often than not, and particularly when it comes to my own projects, I lean towards photographing with the whole series in mind; how the image fits in with the collection as opposed to standing on its own. It provides me with the scope to reduce the amount of information in individual images while creating a larger story or feeling as a whole. I enjoy a fly on the wall approach to documenting everything, which certainly fits in with the way I stay with my clients.

What kind of feeling or reaction do you aim to inspire in people when they view your photography? 

I’d hope curiosity in the place or individual I am trading with for those viewing from the outside; a little window into my host’s world and who they might be. Or, for those involved, a framework for their own memories. That’s what I enjoy about photography; a series of photos can build a story of an event or place but leaves plenty of room for your own account. It stirs memories instead of dictating them.

What, or who, would you say has had the greatest impact on your work?

Obviously Shantanu Starick was a key influence in the conception of the project as well as a remarkable photographer. Rhianna May is another Australian photographer and now friend. Seeing how she presented her work as photo essays became a turning point in how I approached and shared my own work. Author Chris Guillebeau was a key influence in my general life approach. The underlying message in his ‘Art of Non-Conformity’ inspired an approach rooted in providing value to others instead of gaming the system. Despite some hang-ups about Instagram I have no doubt it played an important role as I first developed my work. It’s an instant feedback loop and source of inspiration that draws me more and more into the photography world.

Which of your photography trades have you found to be the most rewarding and provided you with the most meaningful experience?

I spent a better part of a month in Uganda trading with The Uganda International Marathon. A British/Ugandan NGO organised the marathon as a fundraiser. They are only in their third year and I was really impressed with the work they were doing out there all year round. The team were fantastic company to work with and it’s incredibly rewarding to know my work could help contribute to what they are doing. On a smaller scale, there have been a few trades where those I have stayed with have shared more with me than I would expect given I am a relative stranger. Half the project is a few drinks and good conversation. Perhaps it’s not always about the photography.

Do you have any exciting photography trades planned or coming up in the next few months? Where else would you want to trade your way to next?

I head to New York in September and Hong Kong in October through a couple of upcoming trades and am fortunate enough to be able to spend plenty of time in both cities. So that brings me to a couple of new continents and I am excited to find out what they’ll offer the project. I'd love to get to Australia and New Zealand at some point, and being in Hong Kong later this year will put me in a good position to get there - I just need to find the potential trades. A bid to dodge the English winter at the very least!