To me, [photography] isn’t to create keepsakes for myself, but rather, to share them with others.
Who are you and what do you make?
Hey! My name is Matt McKown. I’m a thirty-something guy that grew up in Chicago, but has been soaking up the sun on the beaches of Los Angeles for the better part of a decade. SoCal gives me plenty of opportunities to do what I love: explore! Whether it’s the coast, the city, the mountains, or the desert, everything is just a short drive away.
Photography isn’t my primary job, but instead is a creative outlet. While I’ve often considered turning “pro” and making a living off of photography, I’m afraid that I’ll lose the passion because I would no longer do it just for fun. The way it is now, I work to earn money to pay for vacations and travel around the world taking photographs for myself. If other people like them, great, but I shoot for me and not a paycheck.
What are the most important tools of your trade?
It would be great to have some really creative answer as to what my most important tool is, but the sad answer is probably my iPhone. I try to have one of my main cameras with me most of the time, but my phone is always with me! The iPhone 6 takes very good pictures when I need it, not to mention having music, email, the internet, and everything else in my pocket at all times. A close second would be a toss up between the Fujifilm X100T and the Leica MP. I love both of those cameras! They’re simple, easy, and get out of the way to get the shot.
While not a lifesaving tool by any means, the Fujifilm Instax SP-1 has completely changed the way I travel. This portable printer spits out business card sized instant prints that are reminiscent of Polaroids. They can be printed directly from my camera or my phone. I’ve begun to use this printer around the world in my travels to connect with other people. It comes in especially handy when I don’t speak the language very well. Using the printer in Fiji I took a photo of a small group of kids off the beaten path on one of the islands and handed them a print. They were so amazed by it they brought it to a woman I presumed was their mother who in turn showed it to a man I presumed to be the father. I’m not sure if any of the kids had ever seen a printed photograph of themselves; they were so excited. The man then invited me to be the guest of honor at their Kava ceremony and partake in their village’s private dinner. As an outsider, it was awesome! I’ve had similarly positive encounters in many other countries when giving someone a print. To me, the printer isn’t to create keepsakes for myself, but rather to share them with others.
What do you think is so essential about travel to your work?
Travel opens your eyes to so many experiences you might not otherwise see in your normal day-to-day life. I, personally, feel travel makes me more creative and forces me to experiment in new ways. Traveling when you’re younger allows you to be more adventurous, more daring, and more experimental. It also provides you with a lifetime of memories and photographs that you’ll always be able to cherish and share with other people.
[Shortly after moving to California, a conversation with a friend led to me] challenging myself to a 50-50-50 plan. It basically means by the time I’m 50 I want to visit all 50 states in addition to at least 50 countries. I’ve already been to 49 states so that one should be easy. While I likely won’t be able to keep up the pace of 4-5 new countries a year, I’m working hard to surpass the 50-country mark before I turn 50.
I think the most rewarding things about travel are getting out of your comfort zone, doing something different, experiencing different cultures, and meeting new people. When people ask me where my favorite place is it’s really hard to pinpoint one specific location because they are all so amazing in their own ways. Like participating in the kava ceremony in Fiji, drinking poisonous snake liquor in Okinawa, or experiencing a bomb scare on a train from Prague to Munich—all are things I never would have experienced if I stayed at home, memories I’ll always keep in the forefront of my mind, and photographs that will forever mean a great deal to me. I also think this is another reason I try not to visit the same place twice. For as much as I may love a particular city, how do I know the next city won’t be even better?! And I won’t know what the best place on Earth is until I visit them all.