Photographer Noel Smyth talks travel with a camera in hand
In Noel Smyth's words, he's been 'playing around' with photography for almost 10 years now. But what he deems 'playing around,' we see as 'kicking ass.' Just take a look at some of his shots, partying at music festivals and snapping exotic city streets. In addition to some amazing shots, Noel also has some killer stories about road tripping in the USA and hardcore Karaoke in Japan, which we were lucky for him to share with us for this week's SF Spotlight.
I decided to study photography during school purely on a whim and am so glad I did. Standing in the darkroom and watching a print develop before my eyes is still one of my favourite moments. I was (and still am) fascinated by the art and science behind it all.
How many countries have you travelled to?
My travel experience is actually shockingly poor and something that I’m very ashamed of. I’ve only been to three countries! America, Japan and New Zealand. I had grand plans of seeing the entire world by now, but life kept getting in the way.
Travel is actually one of the main reasons that I wanted to pursue photography. I had a great little weekend trip to Sydney two years ago where I just spent the whole time sitting in a park and thinking about what I wanted to do. Some would call it a pilgrimage – most probably wouldn’t. Anyway, I realized that if I could get into photography, I could potentially work anywhere in the world in a number of different fields. And that’s the plan I’m sticking with.
What would be you're favourite?
It’s a really tight call between Japan and America, but I’m going to go with the latter. Japan is amazing still (and so interesting for photography), but I just had the best time in America. The people were fun, interesting and friendly; the scenery was spectacular; and there were so many locations to take some nice shots at!
I did part of it roadtripping in an RV with friends which was such a good way to see the country as there's lots of freedom to do whatever you want! There were so many moments where we’d be driving along a highway or through some incredible National Park where I’d dangerously slam on the brakes and pull over just so I could get a picture of something. Within the states, my favourite spots were Joshua Tree (for the incredible soul searching landscape), New Orleans (for the food and music) and San Francisco (for the people and the parties).
Craziest travel experience?
My craziest travel experience would have to be a night in Hiroshima, Japan. To set the scene, my friend and I were in a bar watching a band. The bar was basically empty, but I was slightly intoxicated and spent most of the gig up the front dancing to the band. So the band finishes and we go to leave but there’s a group of Japanese business men that call us over. I know what you’re thinking right – Japanese business men + drunk white Australians = seedy central, but it wasn't like that at all! These guys were so nice and ended up buying us drinks all night. And, it turns out that one of them is a Yakuza – had the missing half finger and all. Anyways, we spent some time in this bar getting super drunk and having a great time, but then they tell us they’re going to take us out to Karaoke.
So we leave the bar and they start leading us down this alleyway and up this hidden type staircase thing (looking back on it, this story could have been very different)! They knock on the door at the top of the staircase, and the guy that answers the door is a Japanese version of Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver character - rocking aviators and a mohawk. He greets us with a big fonzy ‘Ehhhhhhhhhh’ and we step into the greatest bar I’ve ever been to. There were guitars, amps and a drumkit in the corner, and the wall behind the bar was lined with keyboards. We’d choose a song and the bar tender would turn around and start playing keys, another little punk rocker girl that worked there would jump on the drumkit and we’d sing. It was amazing! By the end of the night it turned into one big drunken jam session (I play drums as well), so I’d be on drums, the businessmen were playing guitars, and the Yakuza and my friend were singing. Best. Night. Ever!
How would you describe your travel style?
My travel style is very carefree now. When I first started travelling it was very planned out and jam packed full of stuff to do. Now I prefer to just book a flight somewhere and spend the whole time walking and taking pictures. I steer well clear of the touristy hotspots and tend to spend all my time sitting in bars and talking to locals.
What has been your favourite place/event to photograph?
My favourite place to photograph would be Joshua Tree National Park; huge blue skies and just amazing scenery. I’d love to go back with some models and do a proper shoot.
People or landscapes?
That’s a very difficult question. I love both for opposite reasons. Somedays I think I’d like to be a landscape photographer because I love exploring to find the perfect spot, then waking up super early, setting up and watching an amazing sunrise or something. But I also love interacting with people and capturing that perfect moment that can reveal so much about a person. Perhaps both! Landscapes with people in them.
Ideal photography trip?
I’ve started planning my ideal photography trip already! It’s pretty epic but I’m working on ways to make it happen! Basically, I’ll head through South East Asia, into India, up through China, Mongolia, Russia, then around to Europe, Africa, Greenland, United States, Canada, and South America. I said it was epic!
Where are you planning to holiday next?
I think my next trip is going to be South America. Trying to make it happen next year sometime!
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