“The boundaries of art are limited only by our imagination and our ability to see and perceive the world around us.”
David Sinclair was born in Australia and resides in Hobart after stints in a number of Australia cities and towns and many years of globetrotting for work and pleasure. He had a relatively idyllic upbringing in Perth, Western Australia, one of the most remote cities in the world.
David Sinclair considers himself extremely fortunate to have been born in a country where there is opportunity, freedom, nature and wilderness and the rule of law, none of which he takes for granted. He specialises in nature photography, whether it be wildlife, landscape or the details. He has, however, been a generalist all his life. He has been curious and remains curious about the world around him and enjoys other genres.
Like many young Australians, he was curious about the world and wanted to explore well beyond Australian shores. He now is approaching his sixth decade and has had the great fortune to have experienced around 60 countries, many of them multiple times, and participated in around 50 voyages in the polar regions. David Sinclair maintained a few very different careers over the past couple of decades, lawyer, photographer and polar expedition guide and leader and has as a result had a very diverse and interesting life and he is most grateful for that.
The highlight of David Sinclair’s artistic career is not about awards or shows or publications or pecuniary benefits (there are few) but about the places he has been, the people he has met and the experiences he has had on his journey. David Sinclair does not measure wealth in money. This is not to downplay the importance of material wealth to surviving and prospering, but rather to acknowledge the importance of relationships and beauty and diversity in people and in nature.
''I think shooting a wide variety of material can only help me build my repertoire and keep the creative juices flowing. In some ways, I’m swimming against the tide of an algorithm-driven world which tries to define us or drive us to reproduce that which receives the most likes or comments. I think it is important as a professional to pay attention to what your clients want but as an artist it’s important to listen to yourself, never to dull the creative drive.''
David Sinclair has met and worked with so many incredible people on his journey that have taught him much about the world around him and about himself.
Sinclair’s photography is a breath of fresh air. Almost instantly it can remind us of and connect us to a higher power. The power of nature and the intricate ecosystem we are magically a part of. His photography brings us insight into a world we cannot easily access on our own, and allows for us to trod along on the exciting journey with him. David’s admiration for the world around us is clear and evident in his shots, there is beauty, there is realness and above all there is respect.
Q. What role does the photograph have in society?
A. The photograph plays such a varied role in society, from evidentiary record, historical record, a form of personal expression, a means to influence public opinion and consumer behaviour and
unfortunately a means to mislead, as manipulation of images has become an art form in itself.
Photographs can be so powerful.
Q. Do you shoot both digital and film?
A. I shot film for a long time but made the switch in 2007 and have not returned. For wildlife photography in the polar-regions, digital has been a game changer. The digital workflow suits me and is cost effective. I can see why many still love shooting film, not just for its subtle qualities but also for the process of developing and printing.
Q. What details do you believe make the best photographs, and how do you go about focusing on them
in your work?
A. Apart from the technical details, I think great photos are all about capturing extraordinary moments. It’s difficult for wildlife photographers to just go out and create great images. Most of us do not live really close to amazing wildlife and we do not create our work in studios. You really need to do your homework. Being in the right place at the right time can take a lot of scouting work and keeping a keen eye on weather forecasts and other factors that might impact animal behaviour. Knowing and understanding your subject is critical to anticipating and capturing extraordinary moments.
It is possible to create beautiful evocative images when the light and everything else is not panning out as anticipated, particularly in lousy low light. At these times I look to capture more abstract, dreamy images. Some photographers say there’s no such thing as bad light, just bad photographers.
I don't entirely subscribe to that idea but do think there is merit in trying to create attractive images when presented with sub-optimal conditions.
Q. What’s your best childhood memory?
A. Wow, so hard to choose and seems so long ago. My hard drive of memories is full and slow to retrieve memories from decades ago. I do have fond memories of so many afternoons playing sport with friends until it was pitch dark.
Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A. I really cannot remember but I do have some vague recollection of wanting to play professional sport (I was never good enough), perhaps being a wildlife photographer but I was also quite the idealist, which I continue to be today. This was partially behind my decision to study and practice law, but I learned fairly quick that law and justice can be two very different things. I opted for a career in commercial law as I never had the killer instinct to become a litigator. I very nearly typed the word alligator instead of litigator (some similarities perhaps).
Q. Do you remember the first photo you made, what was it and how old were you?
A. One of the first images I remember making was a black and white image of my mother under the clothesline. I would have been 13 or 14 at the time. She’d been sick for many years and was a little frail but the strength of character shines through in the image. She passed away 25 years ago.
Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in Photography?
A. I guess I first became seriously interested in photography in 2006 when I enrolled in some more
formal photography studies in Melbourne. I’ve been balancing three careers for quite some time.
I’m a commercial lawyer, an expedition leader in the polar regions and a photographer. It's really
only in the past few years that I’ve focused more firmly on photography. I knew from an early age it would be a lifelong passion and I knew it would take time to build a portfolio of work in my chosen genre. I’m really looking forward to dedicating more time to creating and teaching photography and sharing my passion for nature, conservation and science (in particular evidence-based decision making) with others.
Q. What does your Photography aim to express?
A. I want to achieve two things. My primary purpose is to connect people with nature, make them curious about nature, educate them and perhaps influence them to consider their own actions and the actions of their governments. We have some very pressing environmental issues that need concerted attention.
The second thing I want to achieve is to bring some beauty and wonder into people’s lives even if it’s just for a moment as they're scrolling their phone. I can have the biggest impact in the field on a polar expedition when people really are blown away by the majesty of the wilderness and they're
free from digital distractions and open to learning more. Real transformation can occur if we give ourselves time, really remove ourselves from the daily grind or from the echo chambers most of us reside in either online or in our local communities.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. I think I’m a wee bit frank and honest for some (a well-known Australian trait). I’ve acquired a
more diplomatic approach as I’ve come to understand the world is not so black and white and that people all bear their own crosses. I’m also my own worst enemy. I can be very hard on myself (I need to take my own advice and be kinder to myself and to back myself).
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. Money (laughing as I type).
Q. Who are your biggest influences, are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in
A. I don't have a single influence. I’ve had the great good fortune to travel and work with some of the most celebrated wildlife and landscape photographers in the world over the past decade in my polar expedition work. I think I pick up bits and pieces from a lot of photographers but mostly I’m inspired by nature itself. The more time I spend around wildlife and observe wildlife, the more I discern an intelligence that humans have never really ascribed to animals. There is so much more still to learn about how they communicate and navigate, endlessly fascinating.
Q. Is the life of a photographer lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. Not at all. Photographers are always mixing with people. Just because you run your own small business does not make it lonely, perhaps challenging is a better word. I have learned that life is a
team game, that we all need the support of each other and that we are stronger when we share and collaborate, not when we go at it alone and internalise our struggles. We all have them but talking about them and sharing helps deal with them, at least psychologically. Releasing pressure valves in daily life is highly recommended, preferably without the help of intoxicants.
Q. Apart from your Photography, what do you love doing?
A. Wow, so much to say, so little space. Nature and wilderness and almost any outdoorsy pursuit are my passions. I work as an expedition leader in the Arctic and Antarctic so always enjoy time in the vast icy expanses. Feeling small in the world, feeling insignificant is liberating. I love ski touring, hiking, being on the water, exhilarating cold water swims and always checking out what’s around the next corner.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. I’m not sure I have a philosophy in matters of art. If I do, it is ever changing and evolving. Art means so many different things to different people and as we inevitably change and are shaped by our experiences, our perception of what is art and what makes compelling art changes. I’m particularly drawn to art that makes a statement about society and the world around us without any need for explanation and I’m drawn to beauty. I never saw myself as an artist, rather as a documenter of beauty in nature. My style is slowly morphing as I explore creating abstract canvasses using nature as my palette and the camera as my brush. I have a very small series called Creative Landscapes on my website which I really enjoy making and printing. They capture the essence of a landscape in a way a traditional photo cannot.
Q. What does ''success'' mean to you?
A. What a great question and I wish more people would ask and answer this question. Success is not about money and accolades. Money is necessary to feed the family, but not so much to nourish the soul. Success measured in purely material terms is fuel for an insecure ego. I think we have built this society where a marketing juggernaut has defined success for us with constant images of wealth and skin-deep beauty. It’s causing immense mental health problems as people strive for something that is unrealistic and not even something they've even bothered to ask themselves if they want. One way to try and identify what success might look like is to ask yourself how you’d like to be remembered and consider what are the things you will look back on most fondly in your dotage. For me success is about being a good human being, helping others and having great experiences and relationships. Never take life or others for granted.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. I’ve learned to identify opportunities and grab them or create opportunities for myself. I’ve learned to ask, you can always be told, No. I learned life is not fair and expecting fairness is unrealistic. You have to go out in the world and make change or pursue your dreams. Don't wait to be recognised. Don’t be entitled. Surround yourself with good and decent and creative and fun people. Help others. We often have no idea about the burdens others carry. We need to cut each other and ourselves some slack. I’ve also learned we need to nurture and conserve nature and biodiversity as we rely on this for our own survival.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. “You’ll never be the best at anything.” A friend in University told me this one night and I think it’s good advice. I think striving for perfection can lead people to a very unhappy place, never satisfied, never fulfilled. As we age, we learn there is a lot that is not within our control and with that realisation it's easier to relax and let things go. As any artist knows there is beauty in imperfection and many scientists and entrepreneurs know we often learn more from our failures than our successes.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. Be curious. Be creative. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Be truthful. Ask Why? The
answers can be harder than the question. Listen to yourself. Listen to others. Above all, be kind.