Extreme Environments Hold Extraordinary People
Former Royal Marine turned expedition photographer Ian Finch is drawn to people who exist away from the limelight – and he’s willing to travel far and wide to capture their stories
Native cultures have not fared well in the modern world; tradition is rarely compatible with evolving technologies and mass-production, nor are traditional ways of life – so dependant on the natural landscape in which they function – able to coexist with increasing environmental exploitation. Which is why expedition photographer, writer and filmmaker Ian Finch is committed to giving marginalised cultures a voice in a world dominated by those who shout loudest.
A former Royal Marine Commando, Finch’s photography work has seen him canoe 2,000 miles down the Yukon River, trek across the Tibetan Plateau and explore Inuit culture in Greenland. His passion for – and ability to withstand – the great outdoors means he’s able and willing to travel far and wide in order to meet those with stories worth telling.
Even around London you can find ancient forest that you can walk 10 miles through
Q: Your latest adventure was a canoe descent down the Yukon River – what motivated that trip and what did you learn from doing it?
A: ‘Again, it was about getting the native peoples’ story across. The river is 2,000 miles long and there are many native groups along it. I thought the only way to properly explore the place and the people was to canoe the river. That took three months and it was really just about stopping off at communities along the way. I was learning about traditional life in the villages and how the modern world is encroaching into those communities, but also linking to their relationship with the landscape and the wildlife.’
‘I think I went with a romantic view about how people are still living off the land, but what I found was that the modern world is forcing some of the cultures to slightly pull away from traditional means of living.’
Q: Many of your expeditions have subjected you to the extreme cold – Canada, the Austrian Alps, Greenland – do you prefer to capture cold landscapes?
A: ‘I think I'm drawn to cold places, without a shadow of a doubt. When I was in The Marines I learned to love cold environments and mountainous terrain. I quite like jungles, too – I spent some time in Indonesia so I don't mind the heat and the humidity – but I've never really been drawn to the desert. I definitely feel more comfortable in cold places.’
Q: What’s the purpose of your next expedition: a 1,200-mile trek along the Trail of Tears?
A: ‘The main driving force behind this trip is to tell the Native American story. It’s one that has been told, but I feel like it needs to be retold and really kept at the forefront of our consciousness. The Trail of Tears was the forced removal route of the Cherokee – it’s just one of many such trails where Native Americans were forced to relocate to reservations. Many Cherokee died on this journey; it's a very sensitive issue and one that we will handle with care, because we are white Europeans walking a route that is very sacred to the ancestors of those who walked it.’
‘The nuances are very deep and we have to tread very carefully. We're going to be walking and canoeing certain parts of it with younger, and hopefully older, members of Cherokee Nation so they can tell their stories and their connection to the Trail.’