David de Rothschild: Man On a Mission
“Our aim is simple: To bring just enough magic and wonder into people’s lives to tip the balance of consciousness back into mankind’s favor — to explore it, feel it, respect it and protect it.”
David de Rothschild is an adventurer, environmentalist and the founder of MYOO, a meaningful marketing agency, online ‘zine and adventure group specializing in sustainability consultancy, material science and product design. MYOO’s goal is to inspire dreams, initiate dialogue, share innovations and empower change in order to give nature a voice.
After crossing the Pacific in the one-of-a-kind catamaran, the Plastiki, David is now realizing a new project: ARTiculate: 3ºS/52ºW. This second adventure in the ARTiculate series launches today, November 7th and will see the team undertake an expedition to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the Belo Monte dam – planned as the world’s third largest dam. The MYOO team will work alongside Amazon Watch to raise awareness of this pressing issue and trying to find a solution for the government and indigenous tribes people alike that won’t further compromise the incredible, natural lifecycle that is the Amazon rainforest.
Leica Camera AG is the new official partner of the MYOO team, a group of passionate adventurers and curious storytellers. Leica Camera is supporting the MYOO team as the official supplier of binoculars and cameras with different products from the current portfolio: a Leica M9, Leica V-Lux 2, Leica X1 and two Leica Ultravid binoculars. “When you set your life’s purpose and energy towards telling the most compelling stories possible, there really is only one brand that can live up to that ambition with an unrivalled quality and integrity, and that’s Leica”, says David. “Leica’s heritage of capturing some of the most defining moments in photographic history will undoubtedly influence me to push my boundaries and I look forward to partnering with them on the ARTiculate adventures.”
We had the opportunity to interview David just as he was about to depart on this trek.
Q: Do you find that there is a difference between the photographs when you take them for yourself compared to those you shoot on behalf of a humanistic or environmental cause?
A: Yes and no. Whenever I take a photograph I try and take it with some sort of intent — there needs to be a purpose.
There’s obviously some stuff that’s more fun to shoot, but I’m always trying to convey a story and capture a moment. I’ve always been trying to tell compelling stories and photography has always been a way to do so. The difference between shooting casually and for a cause is in the intention behind it. It’s the difference between raising consciousness and piquing curiosity.
What I would also throw out there is that there’s a crucial difference between film and digital capture. With digital you have the ability to review instantly and to take many more photographs, but when you shoot film it’s only natural that more thought goes into it because it’s so hard. The limitations tend to make you focus on what’s important. Sometimes capturing the moment can be elusive, and the theme changes a lot, and a lot of shots are intuitive. But sometimes when you’re shooting digital you tend to check the image you’ve just taken and by the time you shoot again that moment is gone. You can say, “Don’t chimp your LCD,” but it’s a temptation you don’t have with film cameras.
Q: Speaking of cameras, which cameras do you use on your MYOO projects?
A: I’ve been using a Leica R9, but I used to shoot with an R4 with a 35mm f/2 Summicron-R lens. There are some awesome vintage R-mount lenses on eBay and I’ve also shot with a Konica Hexar with an M-mount, the poor man’s Leica. However, when it comes to lenses, Leica lenses are really quite special. There’s almost a similarity between a fine lens and a fine bottle of wine, history, commitment to a great tradition and of course bokeh, which is kind of the equivalent of bouquet when it comes to wine.
When I was younger I said to myself, “When grow up I’ll go to a Leica.” Definitely. There’s a certain texture, depth, a certain signature that goes with the different lenses from different periods. That’s also the fun of changing the lenses and hunting down out what fits with your personality. As with wine of certain vintages you seek out what you like best, the one with the proper signature.
I’m always digging among the lenses, always trying to find out which ones capture beautiful images.
Q: Can you tell us something about your experience shooting with the Leica R9? What are your favorite lenses and films?
A: Now that MYOO has a relationship with Leica, I’m sure we will start using other Leica cameras. I’m really looking forward to shooting with the M9. As far as the R9 is concerned, I enjoy shooting on different films and older films too — the variety makes it more interesting.
Favorite lenses? I’d definitely include the 35mm f/2 Summicron-R, but I kind of like the 50mm f/2 Summicron-R as well. Between the 35 and 50 it’s a toss-up, but lately I’m leaning more toward the 50. I fall in and out of love with my own photos. Sometimes the moment’s right, the connection is right, but then I fall out of love and I’m not feeling it when I develop the film or look at files.
Which film? For black-and-white, I prefer Ilford 400 Professional and for color negative, Kodak Portra 400. I still use some slide film too. I have a projector and there’s something magical about projecting images.
Q: Can you tell us something about your partnership with Leica and how they have been supporting your MYOO projects?
A: This is a brand new partnership, day one of a series, and I’ll be using the new Leica M9 digital. It’s not too much of a step up because I’ve shot with a Leica M before, but it’s going to take a little getting used to. I borrowed one from my aunt who’s been a Leica fanatic since the 1930s! We’ve also been using two pairs of Leica binoculars, which are outstanding. We’ve been doing a lot of video with a Canon 5D and we’ll be doing a lot of filming too.
Our latest project is in Brazil, documenting the environmental, economic and cultural effects of a series of dams being constructed in the Amazon rain forest. It’s a huge government project that will severely impact indigenous peoples and the jungle’s biodiversity. It entails flooding large areas of the forest, which will generate methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide that has much greater negative impact on carbon emissions and global climate change. It’s gone back and forth between political groups and is being used as a political football, but the reality is nothing is as it seems. In the far northeast one of the largest Amazon tributaries, known as Big Ben, will be severely affected by the hydroelectric dam because damming reduces the flow of water downstream, creating stagnation. When they’ve done studies on the dam project the actual energy that is required is enormous — it’s not a good thing at all. If they simply implemented energy conservation and sustainable energy measures, they’d save over 19 billion dollars. But I’m also a realist and our goal is to raise consciousness and push things in the right direction.
Q: How do you use photography to get your message across?
A: It’s a cliché that a picture is equivalent to 1000 words, but in this age of instant copy and tweets of 140 characters people don’t have the time to read extensive environmental analyses and detailed field reports. What we do is create an emotional context through visual imagery. We reveal the human element, show the conditions of indigenous communities, shoot portraits of people and their expressions of hope or despair. If you tell someone that 25,000 people are being displaced, it comes across as a statistic, but the face of single person humanizes it, establishes a human connection and in the process creates the environmental connection as well.
Our basic concept is to interpret a human story through art and we do it with photographs, but the culminating visual icon is a totem pole being erected at the dam site that depicts everything that will be lost. This will be a story told very visually through film and photographs to convey expressions that the people affected won’t be able to articulate. However, they will articulate their experience and emotions through the totem pole carvings depicting what will be lost. Erecting this totem pole will be a major event and will provide rich visual moments to capture.
Support for the series, Artic Lake, that uses art to raise awareness for social and environmental issues is provided by two primary sponsors, Leica and Revo. With Leica especially, there is a strong brand connection since we’re both striving to tell stories. Leica is the medium used to observe and capture the stories, to take complex situations and present them in a compelling way. It’s the perfect tool and a perfect synergy; we’re both storytellers and Leica is very brave and generous to lend their heartfelt support.
I’m not a Magnum photographer. In fact, the nice part about this series is that it’s not only inspirational, but achievable for amateur photo enthusiasts. That’s why they can relate to it and perhaps even participate in similar projects. With modern aviation and relatively easy access to practically any place on earth, there’s a whole new species of adventure photographers actively pursing a field that used to be reserved just for professionals. Also at the level of a Leica consumer, I can say that I like this because the engagement with the audience is authentic. “I can compare my skill set with David and his team…” With photography you never stop learning. Photography is kind of like life in that respect.
Thank you David and the team at MYOO!
-Leica Internet Team