In the middle of a grimy and crowded city, I sat down with photographer Conrad Golovac to have a couple beers. It was a little peculiar for me in the fact that everything about our surroundings was the direct opposite of what I’ve come to associate him with. Golovac is a travel photographer who takes photographs of massive, stark landscapes where the ‘edge of mankind meets nature,’ yet, now we were now sitting at a beer-soaked table in the corner of a cramped dive bar in New York City. From the heart of civilization, to the periphery of it. Two very different worlds. Kind of a trip.
But it’s a contradicting nature which a travel photographer knows all too well. For every awesome, beautiful place they get to photograph, there is the time spent back in reality, in their real life, using social media to find an audience and showcase their work, saving money at their day job before they are able to get away again. Golovac is in the midst of this hustle and learning the “other side” of the business, with the ultimate goal of being able to make travel photography a career. He was kind of enough to share some of his thoughts on his photography, the grind of social media, and how the more photos he takes, the more he enjoys his work.
When Golovac was 12, his mom gave him a camera and a notebook and told him two write down the settings of every photo he took so he could learn the camera. It’s the special kind of moment that might seem tedious and unnecessary as a kid, but in hindsight, becomes a key component of your life. He’s been shooting photos since. And though he has made cinematographer his trade since he graduated from film school, lately, still photography has been drawing him back, specifically in nature. “That’s where I’m finding the most the most creativity in my work, when I’m just alone shooting these places,” He said. “You aren’t dealing with someone else directing, how everyone is working on set, the moral, the schedule. With landscapes, I can spend time working how I wanna work it. So I think that’s kind of where that split in my brain has come up. Shooting stills, shooting landscapes and nature. I’m alone. And I love it.”
His desire to be alone has taken him to Svalbard, Ireland, and most recently, he made it to Tanzania and Iceland. The images he brought back are stunning. And with a few exceptions, they all play to a similar theme: immense, stark, open but with the briefest touch of humanity. Creating a sense that nature bears down upon human expansion and will, in the long run, always prove the victor. “Emptiness and vastness are the two words that came to me. Because there is this sense of expansiveness in the images but at the same time there is like a silence, a sense of silence,” Conrad said of his work. “A lot of my images don’t have these massive action shots. Some of the work I shot in Ireland. You see these cliffs and you see these waves crashing but a lot of the images are so wide that the waves crashing are pretty damn small. So the frame is just huge with this little amount of action happening and that would lend itself to I guess the sound distance. That’s what I would say. That is the visual description of the work. Vast, empty, expansive but silent.”
But taking photos is no longer just about presenting quality work and no matter how far you travel, social media has become an integral aspect of making a name for yourself–the contradicting nature of the craft: alone in the open world to the middle of a world based on socialization. And whether you like it or not, Golovac told me, navigating the world of Instagram has become a key component in the process. Creating a brand out of your name so there is uniformity in your work, curating that work, remaining disciplined in only displaying that work. From there, posting every day, at specific times a day. Then there is liking other users and photography’s photos, commenting on their photos. “I’m addicted to it. It’s become such a part of my life,” He said, shaking is end at the absurdity of the thing. “Numbers stupidly matter to me now because I am trying to build more and more following. As a photographer, there is no easier way to interact with people that like photographs than Instagram.”
But despite the exhaustion of the process, Conrad has found a way to be optimistic about it, pointing out how, in the long run, it has made him a better photographer: “I hate putting something out into the world that I don’t thoroughly enjoy. But, at the same time, that is what has pushed me to keep traveling and shooting: You have to get a massive quantity of quality. Just overshoot and just constantly travel to keep shooting so that way I always have enough to put out into the world to even gain traction to make more of a career. It’s wild. Cyclical. It’s wild.”
Despite the challenges of it all, from an outsider’s perspective, there is only forward momentum for the young photographer. There has been a noticeable change in Conrad’s imagery in the last few months, one that can actually be witnessed by scrolling through his previously posted photos. The change, in my opinion, is his transition from a photographer to an auteur. A photographer finding his style, revealing the photographer through the photograph and not the other way around. Yes, it is something that I’d imagine most photographers go through, most artist in fact, but it’s an interesting process to bear witness too.
But this wasn’t a conscious decision, he told me when I brought it up. The change came about because of multiple factors falling into place: trying to stand out because of so many other photographers, learning how to navigate the world of social media, realizing the importance of the edit, finding what imagery he actually likes to capture. But all of that can be attributed to, in the most simple form, just spending time looking through the lens. “I’m sure it happens with most artist and it’s cool to come to that point,” He said, “Just by shooting more and more you start to shoot more and more of the things you like and then you realize that everything you’re shooting is what you like.”
Whatever he’s doing, it seems to be working. His work is amazing, truly stunning. A vastness that beckons to the viewer. Dark, cold, but inviting. The true reality of nature perhaps, the viciousness that has created an everlasting battle between man and wild. His work has the ability to take you away for a moment. Not just an image moving past on my Instagram feed, but chance to think about a world outside of my own, to get away for some time, however brief. It’s what a good photographer has the ability to do and, what I think, Conrad is doing.
Despite the few beers, I, of course, didn’t say this to him. Admiration is a difficult road to navigate, praise is a subcategory of that. Instead, we cheered glasses and I told him to keep doing what he’s doing. The praise could happen with a like on Instagram.
Also, through Instagram stories, Conrad has been showing how he edits his photos. He provides before and after photos of his latest post as well as a detailed and technical account of what he is actually doing in the editing process. For anyone interested in photography and the techniques used behind the image, it’s definitely worth a look.