Travel photography and the art of spontaneity

Nash Howe has married his love of the great outdoors with his passion for photography, bringing a series of photographs at once daring and reverent. His most recent trip overseas testifies to his giftedness as a photographer: no height is too great and no cave too deep as Nash captures the beauty inside and out of the snowflake that is Iceland.

Where does your passion for photography stem from?

I have always been fascinated by human expression

A voice, a pen, an instrument

like driving through the Pacific Northwest with her.

Every moment a fog curtain frozen shutter speed caffeine 

I love the unexpected, uncontrollable moments that just happen. That’s why I suppose spontaneity is really the crux of the best art I’ve done. That, and I just really love the process of making things. music, film, photos, everything. I just make a lot of it and eventually something hits a string. I think those different art forms compliment and talk to each other without me really consciously knowing about it too. I think that is what keeps my so fascinated by the relationship of different mediums and how they inspire and talk to each other. I think my love for music is what really inspired my photography in the first place. I mean, it’s pretty unfair to say that music is *the thing* that inspired my photography because I was raised exploring our public lands and developing this huge appreciation for nature (and that’s what I love to photograph) but I don’t think I would have ever started to think of my photography as an art form until I started to develop my sound as a musician and something needed to fill that visual void that music couldn’t provide. I guess what I’m trying to say is my music never felt complete without some sort of visual world. So I started taking photos, and editing together visual stories and for me it was just pure expression of a personality that slowly developed a feel to it. That being said, I don’t think my music or photography would be anywhere close to what it is without this deep appreciation for our public lands that my parents passed down to me. We are so lucky to have basically unlimited access to these amazing places and very accessible technologies to capture them and tell stories about our individual journeys.

What places has your passion for photography taken you to visit?

The West Coast has some of the most stunning vistas and surf breaks in the world. From Yosemite to Rincon to Lower Trestles and down to Joshua tree there are infinitely diverse lands to run, surf, ride, fish, ski and have good times with good people. I think I’ll spend the better part of my twenties just getting to know the western half of the United States. Just surfing and making art. Last summer, Ella and I packed up our car and explored the redwoods of California up to the southwest of Oregon. It’s the first real trip where I decided to take a camera with me everywhere I went. Something about looking for still moments along the way burned every step of the trip in these fragments of time. I’m convinced that even if I never reviewed the photos, that process of searching for a good photo forced me to look more, see more and remember more. 

When I was a kid, I was always falling out of trees and scanning with haste the world around me. I think photography helped me to slow down, observe closer and explore more.

How has photography helped to shape your perception of the world around you?

There is a technique that pilots use to scan the air space around them. They will stare at a certain place in the sky for a few seconds, and then move section by section in a slow and surgical manor. When I was a kid, I was always falling out of trees and scanning with haste the world around me. I think photography helped me to slow down, observe closer and explore more. I think photography also taught me that my eyes have a very limited perspective on the world. Something about getting a telephoto lens on a landscape and flattening out the world is so cool to me. 

What do you hope to show through your photos?

I think the most attractive reason a person is drawn to photography or any type of art is because we feel it is easiest to communicate our personality or tell a story through that specific medium. If my photography does anything it offers one of many perspectives into how I see and feel about a certain moment in time in this visual way.

How has fusing your love of sport with the great outdoors influenced your approach to travelling? (i.e. do you backpack, hike? Take me through a memorable travel experience)

Our last camping trip, Ella and I would set up camp, put on our shoes and just start running. One run in particular somewhere along a river in an old growth forest I was running just one step in front of her for a few miles and hadn’t noticed. She pointed out how I was always one stepping, getting ahead of myself and her and I would always end up hating myself towards the last thirty minutes of a run because I had gone too fast in the beginning. I had no idea how to pace myself and I missed a lot of beautiful views in a blind sprint. This flaw in my running paralleled a shortcoming in my art where I was just getting burnt out towards the end of a project trying to make things happen quicker and forcing things. I suppose my growing love for running in the outdoors helped me find a better pace in my art. The next thing is obviously surfing. The connection people have with the water. Her beauty and humbling power. I graduated from University in San Diego where the surf was constant and the water stayed warm. Summer swells and mini simmon floaters. So much fun. Surfing and Running keep me close to the water or close to a trail on my travels.

What drew you to Iceland?

I was twenty three and hadn’t been outside of the United States. I just graduated and started working a lot of freelance with music, video and photography and was feeling super burnt so I went onto, filtered out anything under two hundred and fifty dollars, and Iceland was it. I wanted to test myself, a mission into foreign place and self.

Where in Iceland did you travel?

The majority of my time was spent in a small fishing village called Siglufjorder in the Northeast of Iceland. I arrived at Sophia’s House at dusk where Scarpi and Emma helped me sus out the village. The house was where I met some great people that turned into life long friends and made the trip into something much more than I expected. When in Siglufjorder, I skied, hiked, ran and fell in love with the small town. The journey along the 1 towards Siglu. reminded me of highway 1 in California actually. The long, sketchy road that paralleled cliffs to the ocean made me feel oddly at home. 

How did you go about travelling? (i.e. back-packing, touring, etc)

I toured the ring road in this Suzuki Jimney that red lined in first gear at three mile an hour. It kept things interesting. I had insurance on the thing so I was maxed pretty much everywhere I went. I had my bag in there with just a camera and a few changes of clothes and hopped around the south coast from waterfall to beach to mountain vista. 

Going back to what I was saying about unexpected moments is certainly the cornerstone of a good photo. I don’t think I liked any of the photos I planned to take because they felt very generic. Beautiful, but generic.

You capture some jaw-dropping, almost mystical, shots of landscapes. What is it about these natural landscapes that attracts you?

Going back to what I was saying about unexpected moments is certainly the cornerstone of a good photo. I don’t think I liked any of the photos I planned to take because they felt very generic. Beautiful, but generic. I think these beautiful vistas were really life changing but the moments in-between certainly made me happiest from a photography standpoint. It was usually on the journey to a popular zone that I would find the most inspiring landscapes. Specifically on the way to Siglufjorder as the sun fell dim and the complexions of the land completely changed. Light filled a small country home and something felt very warm about that happening in such a dark moment. I slowed, pulled over and cranked my iso to 6400 on this f/4 16–35 and squeezed the shutter. Those beautiful waterfalls and sweeping vistas speak to a lot to me and other people I feel, but I think the in-between offers the most exciting and inspiring moments.

I imagine there is a lot of work going on behind the camera, just to capture that perfect shot. Walk me through a landscape photo (from Iceland), that you’re most proud of. What was the process you went through to capturing that moment?

I came to Iceland with just a 16-35 f/4 on the A7R ii. Minimal enough to take the thinking out of the process. The mission was to go as far as possible at a good pace and not really think too much past that. I was honestly more focused on the mission of meeting new people and getting to new places that the photos kind of just manifested into my hard drive. I wish I could tell you a lot of time went into each photo, but lately I have found the more conscious effort that I put into a photo the less happy I am with the photo in post production. 

What’s your next destination?

This summer, Ella and I will be going around to our public lands and national parks and exploring all they have to offer. A roof tent, a thermos of coffee, a camera, some surf boards, running shoes. I also have a lot of fun projects coming up with my friends that will take me into some very interesting places in the states. I actually just finished up a trip through Yosemite where I spent my summers as a kid and can’t wait to see more of the valley. It might be my favorite place. I feel like every time I go back there, something new is offered. A vista, a trail, a climb. We’ll definitely spend a week or so in that valley. 

Is there anything else you would like to say?

It’s been really fun and challenging answering these questions. I’ve never really been good at explicitly describing my work but I think it was good to sit down and actually think about why I do things the way I do. I really appreciate it, thank you!   |   Interview with Aidan Wondracz for AHB