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Gallery: A year in the life of a travel photographer
Photographer Julie Mayfeng endures heat, backpacks and bedbugs, all so you can marvel at her incredible talent
Seoul-based travel photographer Julie Mayfeng, 29, has one of the coolest jobs in the world -- taking pictures for Monocle, the United Kingdom-based lifestyle magazine that covers everything from politics and business to fashion and travel.
At Monocle's fifth anniversary party in Seoul last year, Mayfeng would interrupt conversations by pointing her camera and shooting quickly -- without a flash in what was a very dark bar -- then resume merrily talking and laughing while barely missing a beat.
The photos she took that night turned out to be stunning.
Mayfeng manages to infuse voice and style into the most seemingly bland of scenes, and it's astonishing to see what she captures at her favorite shooting spots.
After seeing those photos, we knew we needed to talk.
CNNGo: How did you get into travel photography?
Julie Mayfeng: I began traveling about 10 years ago, and that was also when I started travel photography.
I began working for Monocle in 2010.
I had always enjoyed photographing, but became serious about it during my travels to the American West Coast in 2005 and the Mediterranean in 2006. When I came back I published a photo essay book titled “The Mediterranean in Blue” and it was well-received in Korea. I also won prizes in an international photography competition, and began collaborating with a French photo agency.
CNNGo: How often do you travel for work?
Julie Mayfeng: I usually travel once or twice a year, and when I do I travel [it's] for one to three months at a time.
In the past three years I visited India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Israel, Palestine, Jordan. I usually travel to third world countries to shoot.
CNNGo: What cameras do you shoot with?
Julie Mayfeng: I use a Sigma DP2 compact camera and I also use a Canon DSLR and SLR.
I tend not to carry a lot of equipment when I travel. Just one or two cameras that are very portable. The bag itself is 20 kilos, so if I take a lot of equipment it becomes too tiring.
I usually only use digital cameras and film cameras only occasionally.
Recently, I started using my mobile phone a lot. It’s doesn't necessarily take a good pencil to write a good poem, and it is the same for photography.
CNNGo: Will you ever be able to travel without a camera?
Julie Mayfeng: Definitely not! My camera is my body, my eyes and my mouth. It holds my thoughts.
CNNGo: Where are your favorite places to photograph in Korea, and the world?
Julie Mayfeng: My favorite place to photograph within Korea is the southern coast. That’s where my grandmother lives, so I used to go often when I was a child.
While the scenery is stunning as well, I love it for my memories.
Of the places I’ve been, India is the place I’d pick for the best place to photograph.
When I travel through India I feel as if I am taking the lid off of time. Everything we have forgotten, everything that was innocent, and all the different question marks of different lives are sometimes terrible to see, but keeps me going back for more.
CNNGo: What's been your favorite travel photography project?
Julie Mayfeng: You could say it was my first trip to India and Nepal in 2009. It was a place I'd always wanted to photograph, and I think I must have prepared for about six months.
I was frequently sick during the trip, but I was very motivated and passionate about what I was shooting. I was also satisfied with many of the results.
Half of the photographs in the gallery are from that very trip.
Robert Capa, co-founder of Magnum Photos once said, "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough." I feel like that trip was one trip in which I was close enough.
CNNGo: What is your favorite photograph from this collection?
Julie Mayfeng: If I had to pick from this collection I would pick the photograph I took in Jodhpur, India -- the first picture in the gallery, of the blue house. I like the combination of the morning sun, the cool atmosphere and the blue in the photograph. Capturing the right moment involves effort, certainly, but it's about luck too. That was a lucky moment for me.
This photograph isn't included in the gallery, but my happiest memory is of meeting Hmong children in a secluded mountain community in Laos. We were walking along the dirt roads when a shy young girl gathered flowers and made a crown, which she set on my head.
CNNGo: What's an assignment usually like?
Julie Mayfeng: Until now most of my projects with Monocle have been in Korea.
I get my assignment from the photo director at the London office, via email. Through phone calls and email I discuss time and location with the writer and other people involved in the project.
On the day of the shooting I meet the writer in advance and we discuss the feature, and go to the shoot together.
A single shoot can take anywhere from one short hour up to three hours. Sometimes I have several photo shoots scheduled for the same day. When I'm done shooting I return to my studio to select and edit, and as soon as I upload the photos I am done with that particular assignment. When I receive an email saying that they like my photos, then the assignment is a success.
CNNGo: To what extent do you use Photoshop?
Julie Mayfeng: I use Photoshop almost exclusively to resize my photos. Sometimes I use the curves adjustment tool. The camera I use comes with its own editing program so I usually stick to that.
CNNGo: What are you working on right now?
Julie Mayfeng: For now, I will be continuing to travel throughout various developing countries on photo assignments, and this spring I will be working on my ongoing project the "Romance Series."
With a few more pieces I am also planning on an exhibition and publishing a collection of photographs. I would like to photograph Cuba, Lebanon and Pakistan in the near future.
CNNGo: If you could have any camera in the world, what would you pick?
Julie Mayfeng: Something from the Leica series, and out of that, the M9. That M9 is reputed to be clever and light. How can I get my hands on a Leica? It's another one of my concerns.
CNNGo: What do you love/hate about travel?
Julie Mayfeng: I love what stimulates my creativity and inspiration. I love the taste of the air in a new place -- perhaps all of these things can be summed up in a single word? Freedom.
I hate lodgings without hot water. Long-term travelers [like myself] have to stick to budget lodging, and that sometimes means lodgings without hot water, lodgings that claim to have hot water but don't have hot water, and lodgings that take forever to heat up the hot water. There is nothing worse than needing a hot shower in the morning or evening and getting nothing but freezing water.
I hate bedbugs -- no matter how careful I am, I am always being bitten. They're not even visible, so there is no real way to prevent their biting.
They're not like mosquitoes, who will bite once or twice and leave. Once they bite they will stay, and their bites are incredibly itchy. Bed bugs -- they'll bite you at the start of your journey and only really leave when the journey is coming to an end. Even thinking about it makes me feel itchy.
And I can't stand heavy backpacks. It's especially difficult when trying to walk up from the train station; if your platform happens to be at the far end it's certain death. And when your train, without warning, is canceled -- eek, I don't even want to think about it.
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