Expanding Our Horizons with Photographer and World-Traveler RACHEL RUDWALL
By Jonathan Metzelaar
To travel is to learn, to expand the boundaries of your understanding of the world. New vistas present themselves to you, new people cross your path. The language changes, the culture changes, and in the process the things you see and experience begin, in turn, to change you. As you branch out in your travels, you also begin to learn and to grow.
Photographer and producer Rachel Rudwall is no stranger to this phenomenon. Camera in hand, Rachel has traveled the world over, capturing breathtaking images and, in the process, sharing the most beautiful gift travel has to offer; a deeper understanding of the beauty and the diversity of the world. Rachel was kind enough to talk with me a bit about her travels.
Jonathan Metzelaar: When did you know you wanted to get involved in photography and travel, and what would you consider your first big break?
Rachel Rudwall: I’ve been a curious person since I was little. By the time I reached college I began to seize every opportunity I could to explore. I’d hit New York or D.C. for summer jobs, Europe for backpacking trips and semesters abroad, or the Middle East for study-related conferences.
As I journeyed, I began to capture more and more photos with decreasingly terrible cameras. Then, thanks to my international experience, I landed an internship with STA Travel in the summer of 2007. The World Traveler Internship was in its first year, and STA Travel sent me out into the world solo with a laptop, camera, and three-month, 15-country itinerary. My job was to inspire others to travel through video, photo, and blogs. That summer, the worlds of travel and media fused with such brilliance that I knew I wanted to spend my life as a storyteller.
JM: You’ve worked on a number of successful television programs which have taken you to some interesting locales. What was the most challenging part of working on a television show?
RR: For me, the most challenging part of working in TV is doing justice to characters’ stories. As a producer and camera operator, I’m given a tremendous amount of access to individuals’ lives. It’s my job to communicate those people’s stories in a way that shows respect for who they are and what they do, while also engaging diverse audiences.
JM: You’ve visited an incredible amount of places for work and, I’m assuming, for leisure as well. Does all that traveling ever get taxing?
RR: Sure – travel can be incredibly taxing! On the road, you’re continually assaulted by the unfamiliar. The street signs are different. Bathrooms are different. Languages are different. Behaviors are different. But, when you let yourself relax into the flow of a journey, you hit your own rhythm. You learn what’s in your power to control and what to let go. When you settle into that knowledge, you begin expending energy only where necessary, and the rest of your energy can go to enjoying the journey.
JM: Travel, like most things, has some inherent dangers. Were there any moments during your travels where you felt scared or like you were in real danger?
RR: There have been moments of fear, yes. Walks in ill-lit foreign alleys where women aren’t always respected after dark, and days shooting shows like Ax Men, where massive spruces upend inches from crew members’ hardhats.
I think all travelers have experienced moments of unraveling; moments where they take stock of their surroundings and decide whether the risk is worth the reward. At the end of the day, it’s those moments of fear that snap our circumstances into perspective and force us to either alter course or charge forward with greater resolve.
JM: It seems safe to say that traveling and photography are two inextricably bound aspects of your life. If you were forced to choose just one, which would it be and why?
RR: Tough question! I’d have to choose traveling though. While photography is an amazing way to experience and communicate the world’s wonders, spoken communication has existed for far longer. Ancient bards sang of their experiences hundreds or thousands of years ago, and yet their stories remain today. In that way, if I had to travel without the power to photograph, I’d still have the power of word.
JM: What would you say was one of the highlights of your travels so far? Were there any places you’ve gone that you loved so much that it hurt to leave?
RR: The highlights for me are often the people I meet. The places where I spend the most time become the most difficult to leave. Working throughout Alaska, I’ve fallen in love with the state’s harsh beauty and determined people. Studying abroad in Spain and Scotland, I had the chance to become a part of the everyday fabric of things, and really live in those places instead of simply passing through. Those kinds of situations inspire the greatest connection for me.
JM: What advice would you give to people looking to get involved in travel photography? What’s a good place to start?
RR: Start in your backyard, or at the kitchen table, or downtown, whether your city is vast or has just one stoplight. Start photographing at your school, or at your office. Photograph friends and family. Photograph strangers. Try to experience and communicate the stories happening around you every day.
In that space, begin to hone your skills. Get to know your gear. Get to know yourself as a storyteller. Then, seek out a boss or mentor whose instruction will lead you further and teach you more than you could learn on your own.
JM: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like people to know about?
RR: I’ve just finished producing and hosting the first piece in a new TravelChannel.com outdoor adventure series. Tune in to TravelChannel.com this month, and see me take on wild adventures in America’s Parks!
Rachel Rudwall is a photographer, a writer, and a producer. She has worked on such hit television shows as Ax Men, Ice Road Truckers, and Deadliest Catch, and is currently hosting a new TravelChannel.com series.
Rachel Rudwall interviewed by Jonathan Metzelaar
Written and Edited by Jonathan Metzelaar
Photography by Clint Cook, Daniel DeForest, Carl Knecht, David Rudwall, Rachel Rudwall, and Todd Van Osdol / All Courtesy of Rachel Rudwall
Design by Marie Havens
PBS shoot – Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, CO – Photography by Carl Knecht / Courtesy of Rachel Rudwall
Exploring India – Chennai, India – Photography by Todd Van Osdol / Courtesy of Rachel Rudwall
Streets of Kowloon – Hong Kong, China – Photography by Rachel Rudwall
City Palace fountain – Udaipur, India – Photography by Rachel Rudwall
Tidepools – Guanacaste, Costa Rica – Photography by David Rudwall / Courtesy of Rachel Rudwall
Travel Channel shoot – Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego, CA – Photography by Daniel DeForest / Courtesy of Rachel Rudwall
Fishermen at sunset – Kochi, India – Photography by Rachel Rudwall
Ice climbing – Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, CO – Photography by Clint Cook / Courtesy of Rachel Rudwall
Ta Prohm ruins – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia – Photography by Rachel Rudwall