Over the last five years, photographer, writer, environmental scientist and Olympus Vision Project fellow Jonathon Collins has lived, worked and travelled widely in Southeast Asia and Africa. [Olympus Special Promotion]
Although he’d been taking pictures since his late teens, it wasn’t until his early twenties while working in Bangladesh that he really started to get serious about his photography.
It was 2012 and Jonathon was a young environmental scientist studying how rural Bangladesh was dealing with climate change.
‘I was pretty much documenting everything I did each day through photography. I’d use it to remember people’s faces, to record different households that I’d interviewed and to keep track of different locations that had been most affected by climate change already. It was the first time I’d really felt like my photography had a purpose.’
At the time he was using a DSLR, but when his project in Bangladesh finished and he began travelling more frequently, he found the big camera had its downsides, not least of which was its bulk.
‘I did a lot of trips with that big camera and I just reached the point where it was getting too heavy and I really didn’t want to carry such a large kit. I had quite a few friends who were using the Olympus OM-D EM10 at the time, so when one of them said, “here, borrow this and have a go” ““ I did.
‘It was incredible, I’d been lugging around all this gear for so long and all of the sudden I just had this tiny little camera that had the same ability as my previous camera but felt like it was a quarter of the size.
‘My biggest interest is photographing people,’ says Jonathon. ‘I think the beauty of the Olympus mirrorless cameras is that they’re non-intrusive. People who are not used to having their photograph taken, when they see a massive big camera like a DSLR, they kind of get intimidated.’
The key, he says, is to learn a few words in the local language. ‘It’s important to have some connection prior to asking to take a person’s picture. You’ll find people will laugh along with you because they like the fact that you speak a little bit of the language. People can be very patient just so long as you’ve interrupted them in the right way.’
Describing his Olympus Vision Project, Jonathon says ‘I’ve titled it “The Human Tide” and essentially it looks at communities or tribes that are reliant on natural resources for their income and for their survival.’
The project began with a month living on a group of islands off the east coast of Borneo. ‘There is a community called the Bajau Laut,’ he explains, ‘and it’s essentially a sea dwelling nomadic community that lives purely off the ocean. I really want to understand their livelihoods and their daily life. Once you get a broader idea of their everyday coping mechanisms, you begin to understand their resilience as the impacts of climate change grow bigger.’
He’s capturing the sea dwellers’ lives with two cameras: an OM-D EM5 Mark II (for which he also has an Olympus water housing) and an Olympus PEN-F. On the lens front, Jonathon will be relying mainly on his ‘go-to’ M.Zuiko Digital 25mm f/1.8 along with an M.Zuiko Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 for portrait work, and for general purpose work an M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO.
In the second phase of ‘The Human Tide’ project, Jonathon will travel to Africa’s Sahel region. ‘I’ll be living with a herding community in Mali and Niger that is obviously reliant on the natural resources. Like the tribe in Borneo they’re also vulnerable to climate change. I want the work to be about people and giving voice to the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
‘It’s always been about capturing a moment,’ says Jon of his work. ‘I think it’s all about keeping the interaction very normal and pretty much as if I’m not there. I try and make it so it’s not this intrusive thing, so it’s more like you’re just watching the moment unfold.’