Interview: Spencer Backman
Photographer Spencer Backman discusses the reason behind his decision to embark on a 1200 mile walk along the California coast.
Photography: Spencer Backman
Has photography always been a career you were intent on pursuing?
No, not at all. I actually spent most of my life pursuing athletic endeavours. My goal at age 18 or 19 was to play professional soccer in Europe. It was only after that dream ended that I began to branch out and cultivate other parts of myself.
How did you begin, and then develop your skills as your career progressed?
Actually, when I shot my first ‘real’ gig, I only had a little Canon Rebel t2i and my iPhone to edit on. I used a wifi-fi card to transfer the images to my phone, edited them with VSCO and then emailed them to a client and they went into a little online magazine. Not a huge deal, but at the time I had done absolutely zero work for anyone else. It had been purely a hobby until then. I think it shows that 99 percent of the time, especially in the early days, it's not the gear that holds you back. From there I just shot a lot and endured a lot of frustration for a while. But something that Chase Jarvis said applies here, I think. He said that instead of worrying overly about your personal style and developing a style and a ‘look’, just make something. And when you've made that, make 10 more things. And then make 100 things. Then look back at your work, and your style will begin to emerge.
What is it you are aiming to capture in each of your photographs?
A sense of atmosphere, more than anything. In a portrait perhaps that's better termed as feeling or vibe, but as those words are so overused these days, I like what atmosphere conveys.
What kind of feeling or reaction do you aim to inspire in people when they view your photography?
Wonder, depth and a sense of slowness. As if you could stop the instant and then look deeper into it, observing and appreciating the details more fully than you could in the moment. That's a large part of the value of photography to me.
What inspired you to start your 1200 mile walk along the Californian coast?
I was at a change of season in my life and wanted to have an adventure. I also wanted to do something that would take me out of my typical routine, something that would take me back to the basics of survival, and help me to appreciate all of the little luxuries I've been blessed with. Because truly, a warm place to sleep, enough to eat, not fearing for my safety, a roof over my head, a car, hot water from a tap, coffee in the morning—so much of what most of us consider to be normal is a profound luxury that most people for most of history never experienced. I wanted to learn to appreciate them as such.
Do you have a specific goal or aim you would like to achieve by the end of your walk?
Mostly to just get there. If I make it to San Diego, I shall be content. After I complete the walk I'll be creating a book of my photographs and writings from the adventure.
What gear have you taken with you?
I started the trip with a simple, light Canon t7i and the small-yet-mighty 50mm 1.8 and 24mm 2.8, and my iPhone. On a beach on the north coast I was knocked over by a rogue wave and all of my gear got completely drenched, so for a week or so I was shooting solely with the iPhone. Then a friend offered to let me borrow a 5D Mark II that had some issues, but still worked. Another friend lent me their 50mm 1.8, so that's what I'm using now. My Instagram remains photos taken on my phone, for now, as I haven't had a computer while on the trip to edit images from my camera.
Is there something in particular you have learnt from this trip which stands out to you?
Yes. The trip has shown me that the idea that we can control what happens to us tomorrow is an illusion. To live each moment fully engaged, with gratitude, wonder and awareness is where I've found the greatest peace.