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Dan Milner is a long-term friend of f-stop and Global Icon. As stated on his website, many would describe him as a sucker for punishment considering the locations some of his assignments have taken him to.
His interest in photography first appeared about 25 years ago, when he went on a 7-month solo trip around Latin America. While his eyes were being opened to a continent in struggle with itself, his travels also showed him the need to respect local cultures. Along this path of self-discovery, he also learned a lot about photography. From war and political conflict in Peru and Nicaragua, to massive social changes in Chile, he recorded his experiences with a simple Olympus OM-1 film camera. From then on, the itch to keep taking interesting photos began.
We got the chance to catch up with Dan and to talk more about his work, and the photo story he created about elephant tourism Nepal.
Tell us a bit more about your work, your camera and non-camera gear that you’re using.
I’m known for adventure photography, mostly on snow and bike. I shot the stills on many of the Jeremy Jones’s splitboard expeditions that featured in Teton Gravity Research’s movies Deeper and Further. Nowadays most of my work is bike-orientated. About half of my work lies in commercial shoots for outdoor brands and half is editorial, shooting magazine stories for titles such as Bike, Bicycling, MBUK, Mens Fitness, Outside online. It’s a good mix. A lot of the stories I shoot are pioneering so need a lot of time to pull together and plan.
For gear, I mostly use Nikon DSLRs (the older D3s and D750) but I’ve sometimes grabbed my Leica M9 if I wanted to be more discrete or go even lighter weight on big, remote trips. Using that camera feels really creative, though its lack of AF and having only 2FPS definitely have their limitations shooting action. As my trips often climb over 4000m I’m always looking towards lightening my pack so I’ve recently bought a Fuji XPro2 set up that addresses the limitations of the Leica M system without the weight penalty of the DSLR’s. As another rangefinder it’s discrete looking too.
The pack I use depends on the job I’m heading to. I take my f-stop Tilopa for the big commercial shoots that use the D3s and maybe 3 or 4 F2.8 lenses, as I know the Tilopa can handle the weight and stay comfortable. And then I go with my Lotus pack for lighter days out with the Nikon D750 and f4 lenses. I used the Guru UL to shoot a 4-day mountain bike story in the mountains in Spain and loved its size and stability on my back when riding. I can pack a day’s riding gear plus my D750, 70-200/4, 50/1.4 and Zeiss 18/3.5 into it easily.
Earlier this year you shot a photo story on the elephants in Nepal, what made you switch for a moment from MTB to shooting elephants?
The outdoors is both a passion and my source of income, but I’ve always hankered after shooting issues that are more ‘real life’ too. Although my work is now dominated by sport photography, the travel involved provides some amazing opportunities to see and photograph ‘daily life’ elsewhere. I like to shoot thought provoking images, and I’m really passionate about the natural environment (I studied Marine Biology at University in fact) and I’m concerned about our over-industrious and money-focused approach to the natural world. The elephant photo story came about after spending time in a Nepalese town a few years ago. I saw the elephants’ role in the tourism industry and thought it would make a fascinating story to photograph and help shed some light on the issues it raises. So, I went back to Nepal recently and spent a week photographing the elephant tourism.
You’re giving a whole new perspective to the situation with the elephants. Can you tell us more about your idea for this story?
Social commentary photographer Martin Parr is a hero of mine and I’m influenced by how he captures the unorthodox in otherwise mundane scenes. When I began shooting the elephant story, I was most struck by how the elephants have become merely a background to the tourism antics. At times its almost as if the elephant isn’t a living, breathing thing — cameras are thrust into their faces, they’re vehicles for jungle safaris, they’ve become circus spectacles and mere objects to be pointed at and ticked off the list of tourism experiences. I know they are still a significant role in the Nepalese villagers lives and income, and this must be addressed too, but there is a whole industry that revolves around their use in what are often actually quite cruel and harmful practices. I shot the story in a way I thought would reflect the idea of the elephant as being a mere tool in the industry, rather than being the respected focus of it.
What’s your plan for the future of this project and how do you want to proceed with it?
Primarily I shot these images to build further editorial involvement rather than as a final set of images. There is so much more of a story to tell and so much more work and education to do that I can see a return to Nepal for me, ideally to shoot a more substantial in-depth story for a magazine like Nat Geo. When I returned, I realized that the images I’d shot had enough of a story to at least post on my site. I actually entered a couple of the images into Wildlife Photographer of the Year photojournalism category and one — of the mahout and elephant outside his humble home— was shortlisted for the final. That was a pretty nice feeling.
What’s next for you? Tell us about your plans for the new year.
Now I’m back to shooting wild bike trips again, recently photographing editorials in Lebanon, Patagonia, India and Lesotho. I mostly use the f-Stop Kashmir for these trips — it can pack a little more than the Guru for bigger rides, while its shorter back length keeps it from hitting the bike helmet while riding. I’m also talking with a contact about shooting a bike-related story he has suggested among the gangs of El Salvador later in the year too. I think that would be a fascinating story to tell and it appeals to the social-conscience side of me. There is so much to go and shoot, so many stories to tell and so many eyes to be opened. I wish I had more time.
See Dan Milner’s elephant story in the Special Projects gallery at: www.danmilner.com
To see what adventures Dan has been on recently, follow his Instagram here @danmilnerphoto