Sitting down with Max Pam

Dec 5, 2014 | 10th Edition (2014), 2014 Festival Programme, Articles & Resources

By Yong Yen Nie

© Soumyadip Ghosh

© Soumyadip Ghosh

Australian photographer Max Pam has a wanderlust that does not extinguish. At the age of 20, he landed in Singapore for the trip of his lifetime, traveling by land all the way to London, and traversing the most remote parts of India and Pakistan on the way.

His interest in photography began at the age of 16, when he took a camera and 60 rolls of film with him to document his travel experiences. This first journey would mark the beginning of a photographic career, or better yet, a pilgrimage that is still ongoing after more than four decades.

Max is here to give a special representation tonight at the projection evening at 8:30 PM at the FCC Angkor. He will also exhibit his body of work “Kailash”, a journal about the Mount Kailash in North India, which he travelled to in 1999. The exhibition opens tomorrow, Dec. 6, at 5.00PM at the Riverside Gardens, supported by Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. It is also part of the inaugural GreenLight Exhibition Series, jointly supported by the AIMF (L’Association Internationale des Mairies Francophones), Ville de Genève, and the Siem Reap Municipality.

“I am not a travel photographer,” Max said when met in Siem Reap. “I am a photographer that travels a lot”.

We sat down with Max in Siem Reap for a chat on his photographic journeys and his deliberate choice to put his travel experiences into book format, of which there are 15 to date. The interview has been edited for brevity.

APF: You are an avid traveler. Do you keep count of how many places you have travelled to?

Max: There are places I have never been, but in a lifetime how much can one see? You are not going to tick every box, and I am not really interested in that.

But in the course of one’s photographic career, even because of the festival scene, they invite you to countries you’ve never been before.

In 2011, I had an exhibition in Chile and I had never been to South America before. It is interesting how photography works in that. You began as a photographer who loves to travel, and then the system catches up to you and actually and it takes you on trips.

My mother is 94 years old, and so, Inshallah, I will live to a good old age. If I keep going on this way, I might see everywhere!

APF: Why do you choose to show your photography in books?

Max: Traveling is something I do for myself and that is the primary concern. But for me, the book is everything. It is more important than an exhibition. To get a book is kind of like a validation of what you do.

Exhibitions come and go, and you are only as good as your last exhibition. The whole idea of a book, to me, is they become a record, a testament.

APF: Tell us about the process involved in making a Max Pam photography book.

Max: I didn’t finish my first book until I was 42 years old. It is a lot of work. My last book took me about seven years and 32 drafts. Right now I am working on a new book. It is 400 pages now. If I keep going, it could reach 500 or 600 pages, and it is becoming overweight. It is like cooking, you keep reducing the gravy until it becomes tasty. Now it is a very fat kind of book. And then, I slim it down to make it fat-free.

APF: Your photobooks have more than just photographs, as you also play with texts and drawings, making those books highly personalized bodies of work. Why do you do that?

Max: There is only a certain amount that you can photograph that delivers experience because photography is mostly in descriptive in nature.

I find it hard to photograph emotions. The emotions that I am interested in are not in photojournalism, nor bearing the results to something excruciating happening, but the subtleties of the emotions.

And that is why writing is so important. There are certain things you just can’t photograph, but you want to make a visual language out of it. Photographers can also be good writers. And photographers can be good watercolourists and painters. It is all about taking the time to touch base with all these disciplines. It is surprising how if you invest enthusiasm into it, you can quickly get very satisfying results.

APF: Are you always photographing?

Max: There have been long periods of time when I didn’t photograph. In the literal sense, I didn’t photograph every day. Maybe I photographed one month every year.

But in my mind, I am always thinking about photography. So, I really see myself as photographing in that sense, as it occupies my psyche, my thinking process, my notion of aesthetic, interests and curiosity about things.

In a sense you can say that I have a hidden camera in my mind. Photographers should have that sensibility, like, if you see a situation that could be a really good photograph, that’s when you put it down in your notebook “MUST TAKE THIS PHOTO”.



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