Traveling Scared to Death and That’s OK: Interview with John Milton

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(A.g.’s note: Today’s interview is probably an interesting one. John Milton is a citizen of the world. His travels has brought him to some of the most uncommon places for travel. He answers Eric’s questions and shares some of his experiences on the road and what pushes him to keep going)

Eric: Great to have you John. To start off, what is your personal life story, and how did you get started in photography?

John: I’m a yankee living in Budapest, Hungary for the past 20 years as an investment banker until recently when I decided it was time to retire and really start enjoying life. That’s the moment photography found me. Upon my retirement I realized I am still young enough (45) to start leading an impactful and adventurous life. I’ve seen too many successful people around me who are not enjoying their wealth, not really living (working too hard, not playing hard enough). “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”(O. Wilde) Travel was always important to me as I was jet setting around the world to the usual places during my banking career: New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc. These are all great places but I felt they weren’t adventurous enough so I decided to start exploring the unexplored regions of the globe. I’ve been to 98 countries so far which includes Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, and Papua New Guinea. These places sparked my desire to get into photography. Photography allows me to express my creativity which I never really knew I had.

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How would you describe your photographic style, and how does it reflect your personality?
I would describe my style as “raw and in your face”. I like to get up close & personal to my subjects. Close is good, but closer is better! By the way, your workshop I attended in Vienna really helped engrain this into my style. This mirrors my personality as I would describe myself as an aggressive “go getter”. I like to stir the pot and push the envelope. My travel habits and photographic style clearly show that.
 
You’ve traveled all around the world— how do you choose where to travel to, and how do you you stay inspired to keep traveling? How do you keep your experiences novel, fun, and exciting?
I have a few criteria when I pick a destination: little to no tourism, travel warnings and widespread discouragement from friends & family are welcome, and no possibility of running into people with selfie sticks. Imagine riding around Mogadishu, Somalia on the back of a pick up truck with armed militants to the exact spot where Black Hawk Down took place or attending North Korea’s Kim Jong-un’s birthday celebration with Dennis Rodman or roaming the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan totally incognito while being surrounded by potential Taliban kidnappers. Each trip is so whacky and filled with adrenaline that it motivates me to continue to seek out more of these unique experiences.
 
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You’ve also been to some extremely dangerous places, like Kabul recently — how did you stay safe, and what are some of the logistics?
Kabul was an incredibly surreal experience. When I was planning the trip I had two choices: armed guards with a bullet proof Land Cruiser or fly totally under the radar. A sane man would probably choose the first option but the problem with that is you immediately become a kidnapping target for the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The second option made much more sense so I chose that. That entailed me being picked up at the airport by my driver and fixer and immediately changing into local clothing which included traditional Afghan dress and headgear. The car we drove around in was probably worth $500 with its broken windshield and we looked very unassuming. This way nobody gave us a second glance. It was all kinda of Jason Bourne-ish but to be completely honest I was scared to death the entire time. At nights I would sleep in a safe house which was in a location unknown by militants (or at least that’s what I was hoping).
 
What does photography mean to you, and why do you make photographs? 
Being an investment banker usually means you become quite self absorbed. Photography allows me to get away from “me” and concentrate on the world around me. It’s a nice change. In today’s shameful era of “selfies” people are totally concentrating on themselves instead of their glorious surroundings. Selfies add zero value. Selfie sticks make me wanna punch someone. With my photography I feel like I am really filling a void as there are too many fauxtographers out there taking photos of Hawaii and the Eiffel Tower. It’s kinda nice to snap outside the box.
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Where do you find inspiration for your photography, and who are some other photographers or artists you look up to?
My inspiration for photography comes from my untamed travels and poor social media feeds. I don’t really follow many photographers but one guy I greatly respect is Andy Beales. He’s a British photographer living in China and and completely shooting outside the box with each photo. Check him out – he’s a very creative chap.
 
 
What is some advice you wish you knew if you started photography all over again?
I used to think that the more expensive camera you have the more magical your photos would become. Good photos have nothing to do with your gear. As we all know very well, it’s all about your vision.
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Any last words?
I would love to have any of your readers come along with me on my journeys but I am warning you it’s quite addictive. Check me out on instagram @30.raw and feel free to contact me
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By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher