Dave Trattles, photojournalist and tour guide, encourages an authentic way of being and openness of spirit

Brimming with enthusiasm and vibrant stories, Dave Trattles is best known as a social documentary photographer and tour guide. For more than two decades, Dave has captured and presented the richness of human relations for major publications including CBC, Maclean’s and Canadian Geographic. Keen to share intimate cultural experiences, Dave shifted his focus to guiding bicycle tours in countries and communities with which he became familiar.

After participating in Dave’s truly enlightening South India Bicycle Adventure, I connected with him to learn more about his refreshing outlook on life and where derive his visual storytelling abilities.

  1. Which came first; the bike or the camera?

The notion of travel – of moving about, visiting friends and places – came first. Out of that came a bicycle, much before the camera, but for the first real adventure (Turkey to Hong Kong) I bought my first camera about the same time as my first proper bike – one that would go that distance.

Canadian shot
Tuktoyaktuk community, Northwest Territories, Canada. Photo by: Dave Trattles.
  1. How would you describe the way you look at the world?  

The world presents itself to me in the joy of human relations. The world is full of extraordinary people; each encounter is a chance not so much about photography, but to learn about dreams and passions, desires and longings.

  1. What got you started in photography, and how did it influence your photographing and career path?

I snuck into a darkroom – and that was that!

I started to enjoy the process of what I was doing more than the actual outcome. I work slowly, so that suited me perfectly. Instead of thinking about images as products of what people do, I became interested in how people live their lives.

  1. What’s your preferred camera to shoot with?

It doesn’t matter too much, although each format and type of camera allows you to see in a particular way. It’s pretty easy to admire the Leica M6 film camera.

  1. What do you hope to convey with your photographs? How do you actually get your photographs to reflect that?

I have no big message but do I hope that when people look at the photos then they feel I am honest with what I saw. The more time I have with the subject, then the photography as a document tends to be stronger. In the end I would like a set of photographs to be a document – rather than a news piece – about how those people are living.

Tomatina Festival, Sicily, Italy. Photo by: Dave Trattles.
  1. How do you get the person, place or thing in front of the camera just the way you want?

I don’t really look for that, but I’d like to hope it might be the way they would like to be seen. Though I do wait until they are comfortable in themselves.

  1. As a photojournalist and cultural explorer, you have cycled 60 countries including over 20,000-kilometres around India. What makes India your favourite country to cycle?

One word: culture. For sheer variety of life experience it has to be the richest.

  1. Among your work and stories captured on film, which one is your most memorable and why?

I don’t have one, but I do like celebrating communities, with people who by look into their friends and families to lift themselves up. I like this act of living, be they the cheese rollers of Sicily, tomato throwers of Bunol, the isolated communities of Canada, or the German cowboys of eastern Germany.

  1. What motivates you to continue taking pictures?

The joy of being with the people I photograph.

  1. I had the privilege of participating in your 17-day South India Bicycle Adventure17-day South India Bicycle Adventure earlier this year. Throughout this trip, I experienced the sense of simplicity and gratitude its population presented first hand. In your opinion, why is India worth exploring?

It makes you feel great about life and the notion that you can fill it up with good people. Life may not be easy but you can strive to be happy and fulfilled.

Canadian shot -small perce
Percé Rock on the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, Canada. Photo by: Dave Trattles.
  1. Experiences behind handlebars have shaped my being and impact how I interact with communities. What made you decide to offer cycling tours of countries you have close connections with?

I understand my world fundamentally through sharing, and my reward system is based entirely on this opportunity of including people. So to ride with a group of friends across India – well, how lucky am I!?

  1. You continue to share travel experiences by leading cycling and photography tours abroad. What other tours do you have lined up? What qualities make a country worthy of exploring?

Apart from the South India adventure, I have a Sicily/Malta tour in September, and next January, my first tour through Sri Lanka. I prefer countries where people are inclusive to travellers, and where the culture opens up the visitor in new ways. Warm sunny weather is always nice, as is fine food and places where people joyfully come together to celebrate their culture. People of these countries always make you feel welcome – as a traveller, this has to be one of the great things in life!

Cheese rolling in Silicy
Cheese rolling in Sicily. Phoyo by: Dave Trattles.
  1. Your career in photography has taken you across the globe. What three words would you use to encompass your professional and personal journey?

Welcome to here!

  1. One of your mottos is “the only wealth is life.” How does this outlook influence your personal and professional decisions? Does it impact the selection of countries in which you conduct cycling tours?

I value life experiences over what for me are less authentic ways of being. Yes! I prefer countries where people act this out, places where people celebrate and share with others and come together as community. It makes for a much fuller experience if people are like this.

Second Hooghly Bridge, Calcutta, India. Photo by: Dave Trattles.
  1. Is there anything else you want to share?

More so than photography, the bicycle has it’s own dignity. It forms a language with whomever you meet, young and old alike. It allows you to fully go out into the world and connect to yourself in your own way; it calls you to express your individuality, your own inner richness – and to this share this with others along the way.

To learn more about Dave and his bicycle tour offerings, visit his website.

Thank you Dave for sharing your positive outlook with A Quarter Young!


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