There are many different ways to feed the soul and nurture the spirit. For photographer and adventurer Aidan Klimenko, traveling takes the top spot. His passion for traveling has brought many great photographs and even greater memories. It's a driving force in his work that will probably never fade away. In this interview, Aidan talks about how traveling changed the way he looked at life and how he constantly discovers something new along the way — be it places, peoples, cultures, and so on. We think that there are only a few things that can stop Aidan in his tracks, a busted up engine is not one of them. A good story and a chance encounter with people might do the trick. Even then, it would still be a good trade.
What do you do and what got you started on your analogue journey?
Hey, thanks, I’m glad to be featured. I travel. I’m addicted to movement and to the feeling of being somewhere new, always stimulated, always surrounded by interesting things and people. I’ve been focused on Latin America for a long time now, endlessly inspired and curious about the diverse, colorful and usually warm cultures. I actually started shooting film after I had all of my digital gear stolen in Bolivia. I was 22, I was double majoring with photo and film at Montana State University (which, at the time, really pushed film and had some pretty amazing resources for us students) and I had taken a semester off of school to photograph an independent project down in South America. My stuff got stolen out of a hostel and I tried to stay positive, seeing the opportunity for a fresh start with a different medium. A teacher/mentor Ian Van Coller lent me his Mamiya 7ii and I spent the little bit of insurance money on a few hundred rolls of film. Haven’t looked back since. That project remains one of my favorites, titled Mas o Menos on my website.
How do you come up with your shots? What goes in your head when you're taking photographs?
When I’m photographing for a project I try to focus on overarching themes, laying out in my mind (and occasionally on paper) thematic elements or details that I want to focus on while staying open to the story taking an unexpected shape of its own, like collecting pieces to a puzzle that I don’t have a key for.
Your travel shots are truly inspiring. They just make us want to head out and shoot! How has travel shaped you creatively and personally?
Thanks! I grew up traveling so it’s always felt natural, and it has always provided the mental space for me to be creative. I think we all have places or things that stimulate the creative processes, and for me, that’s anywhere I feel a little out of place. The more foreign my surroundings, the better.
Photography has a unique way of telling stories with just a frame. What would you like to say with your photographs?
I think there are stories to tell everywhere, each being a reflection of both the subject and the storyteller. And with that, the message I convey is always changing based on where I am physically and mentally. But if I were to try and generalize, I’d say I try and tell personal stories using the ‘human element’ to connect audiences with the subject matter they wouldn’t normally find interesting. Whether it’s shooting a 4x4 race through the Ecuadorian jungle or photographing a community of coffee producers in the hills of Colombia, the common denominator is always people, and that’s what I try to focus on.
Any memorable experiences in your travels? Please share them with our readers.
That’s a tough question as there’s always memorable parts of travel, no matter how interesting or boring the trip. You could be in the most mundane of places and have the best time depending on who you’re with. One of the more recent experiences I don’t think I’ll soon forget was the aforementioned 4x4 race through the jungle in Ecuador, a few weeks ago. I didn’t really know what to expect and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but those two things (especially together) are generally ingredients for a memorable experience. I don’t think I’ve been soaking wet for so long or have gotten so little sleep over a four-day stretch, but man, was it fun. And the images I walked away with speak for themselves. Definitely worth it.
You have a pretty interesting means to travel. We're sure there are a lot of stories that your van can tell if it could speak. How many places have you been to in that van? What's the story behind it?
I’ve been all over with my van, though, unfortunately, the majority of my travels with it have been from one mechanic to another. A tour-de-shops, if you will. After much deliberation, I’ve decided to sell it and pick up a vehicle that allows me to focus more on traveling and less on repairs. Thinking a Toyota Landcruiser… Something that can take me all over South America, and who knows, maybe Africa after that. I love that van and I love the idea of being able to travel with all my gear and to be able to process/scan negs on the road, but it’s taken up too much of my mental space over the years. Mental space I’d rather dedicate to photography.
Why choose film to document your adventures? What do you like about leading an "analogue life?"
I love a lot of things about film. The look of it, obviously, but I think above all I enjoy the process. I love shooting and forgetting what I shot and the subsequent rediscovery of moments deemed special. I also really enjoy working with my hands and the feeling of bringing an image to life through processing and printing/scanning. It feels more like an art-project than the digital stuff I shoot, and thus, the images take on a different, more profound meaning.
What's your dream destination and project?
I’ve been really fortunate when it comes to travel, having photographed from Antarctica to Alaska. I think my dream project would have less to do with where and more with what I was photographing. I’d like to move away from commercial work and focus more on projects that deal more in social issues. I’d like my work to have a positive impact on those who have less than I do. If traveling has taught me anything, it’s that I grew up with more opportunity than most, and I’d like to use the opportunity that to do good, to tell stories that matter and to promote change where it matters.
Do you think gear matters when it comes to putting out great quality content? Why or why not?
Eh, to an extent. I think it comes down to what you’re shooting. I think the right gear can absolutely make an image, but I don’t think having the ‘wrong’ gear is the end of the world, it just means you have to get a little creative in your approach. One time, years ago, I had a wide-zoom and 50 mm stolen while in Peru, leaving me with only an 85 mm for the remaining two months of travel. I generally shoot wide, so this was an especially hard blow. That said, I just needed to shift my mindset and use the opportunity to familiarize myself with telling the story I wanted to tell using more portraits and through more details of locations rather than sweeping, wide landscapes. The images turned out beautiful, and I walked away capturing things in a different way than I normally would have, all because I had the “wrong” gear.
What does a perfect day look like for Aidan Klimenko?
Me, my Leica, a few rolls of whatever film I have laying around, driving through a small, remote town somewhere high up in the Andes. Nothing on my plate except to explore and photograph.
Lastly, any tips to share for future adventurers out there?
Find your edge of your comfort zone and flirt with it. That’s where the best work is made.