When a photographer finds his or her passion, there’s no turning back. Their pursuits become a lifelong journey and it only goes uphill from there. Kairi Aun, one of our top contributors has a story to share about her travels and journeys to faraway lands. She’s after something special though – people, cultures, traditions and faces. Kairi’s portfolio is just a fraction of the big picture that reveals her mission.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional career.
I was born and raised in Estonia and grew up with a prayer to God to show me the wonders of this world. When I was old enough, I was off searching for the meaning of life from the four corners of the world. I picked up humble jobs that were available to support myself and at times just to cover the basics. There have been good and bad days but today I am doing well, working for a developer in Dubai and opening hotels in this fast growing city.
I got my first film camera when I was a teenager and soon I was hooked, picking up the hobby from my mother and older sister. I have always been fascinated by faces, how people’s character gets engraved deep into their skin as they age. I just always wanted to be able to capture these stories that were left untold. Over the years, as I traveled, I realised the importance of imagery in storytelling, so I started reading all the photography magazines I could find. This is how I learned. Photography is a serious hobby for me today but I dream of living off of it fully sometime in the near future. You can learn more about me on my website.
How did you find your way to stock photography?
I go to places less traveled to witness the life and traditions of people. Sometimes, using my prior knowledge and connections, I organise trips for other photographers. Someone that had signed up to one of my trips suggested I should do something with my work after seeing some of my images. To this date, photography was something I did for myself except for the few family photos that I shared on Facebook. My work has always been securely stored on several hard drives for my own pleasure and satisfaction. I decided to give it a try and found it immediately very satisfying that people are willing to pay for my images.
What are some of the challenges of breaking into the stock photography market?
It took me while to understand how to get discovered by using the right keywords. I am sure I still have a lot to learn as I’m still very new to it all. Finding the time to choose and prepare the images and then upload them is always a challenge for me. I have thousands of sellable images that I still need to edit for stock.
What would you say is your niche in photography and do you think it’s important to have one?
Probably people and traditions is what I like to photograph the most because I am passionate about it, it interests me, and it makes me happy. If one knows how to use a camera, they can snap technically beautiful images. However, if you are passionate about your subject, you are able to capture the life itself. Taking pictures of what interests you will always produce better images in my opinion, though there is nothing wrong with getting out of your comfort zone once in a while 😉
You have some very candid travel pictures, what is your personal approach to photographing people?
I try to show real life, take pictures of people when they are comfortable and doing something that they do naturally. Even when posing for a picture, I intend to make it look not posed by creating interactions, making people laugh or tell them sad stories. There is nothing worse than an uncomfortable model, I guess to both parties.
Do you travel a lot? If so, what are you on the lookout for when traveling?
I travel A LOT and I travel to places many wouldn’t consider a holiday destination. I often walk for days to reach the destinations that are in conditions not for the faint hearted. I have this urgency in me to seek out old traditions and capture the different ways of living before they disappear forever. I often find myself invited to visit local homes and I happily go and spend my time learning something from the perspectives of natives. It always amazes me how people from different parts of the world – from so many very different cultures and beliefs – are just the same at their roots.
What is your favourite photograph that you have taken and why?
Tough question. Can a mother name a favourite child? However, there is one picture that I keep coming back to. It isn’t technically the best image I have taken but perhaps one the closest to my heart. I was in Varanasi, India, walking the noisy, smelly and crowded streets, trying to keep up with my travel partners while not forgetting to snap a few shots on the way. Everything around me suddenly went silent and I saw nothing but this young beautiful woman in a colourful sari, in front of deep blue doors, staring into the distance.
I stopped and shamelessly looked at her, lifting my camera slightly, asking for permission with my eyes. She looked at me, blinked her eyes and turned to look at me while still focusing at nothing. Her hopelessness and pain was palatable. I quickly took 5 – 6 shots, walked over to her to share with her the beauty I saw behind my camera. She looked at the picture and then gave me a 1mm smile with the corner of her mouth and there was a slight sparkle in her eyes. I nodded to say thank you and she nodded to say welcome before I moved on. I could feel the change of energy around her.
I like to believe that I made her day better than it had been. I will never know her story but from the information available, it looks like she has been married away too young and she was cleaning streets to support herself. I hope from the bottom of my heart that she will find her happiness.
What is your photo selection process like? How do you decide which photographs will be part of your portfolio?
I take pictures in series and then try to pick the ones that have more life in them.
As a photographer, I live the the history I record with people I photograph, I get sucked into the situations and feel part of it all. When shortlisting the pictures to show, I look for the energy I experienced, for images that carry the message in this moment. And then I only wish and hope that the viewer can feel what I felt. I consider that to be a success – being able to record the energy, the essence of life. I’m still learning – ask me again in couple of years 🙂
What are your personal favourite themes to work with?
It’s people and traditions. Like eagle hunting in Mongolia or rose picking in Oman or facial tattoos of the Chin Region, Myanmar or Koteka people of Baliem Valley in West Papua. I don’t mind going through a tough journey and sleeping in a tent in some seriously cold weather. It doesn’t compare to having my time spent with the people of the earth who don’t know the serious issues of the first world such as where to charge my mobile phone battery or how to get the money needed for the latest designer handbag. Ok, I am exaggerating but with all the creature comfort we tend to forget the reality at times…I like to be reminded of that often.
Your #1 tip or words of wisdom:
Find your gift and then find a way to give it away, this is the secret of happiness and success 😉