Coming across a talented and fresh photographer doesn’t happen everyday. But when it does, it’s truly amazing. Her turquoise blue and kite surfing brilliant shots caught our attention some time ago. And so the artist, a young fellow Spanish girl, became a great inspiration for us. Today, we are glad to share this Photography Interview with Zai Aragon. Enjoy!
- Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started to travel. Do you remember your 1st travel experience? Why are you passionate about travelling?
I’ve always loved to experience new things, specially the way people live in other places. I’m very curious about life and I don’t want to miss anything, that’s what keeps me moving.
When I was a child, I used to go on vacation with my family. I remember two long trips to the Algarve (Portugal) and southern France, I’m not sure which one was first. Then, when I turned 18 and was officially an adult, I started traveling on my own: Italy, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, England, Belgium, the Netherlands… I hit it all within the first year. It almost was a problem when I had to apply for a student visa for the US! But I got my visa, and studying at Rider University was certainly a life changing experience.
When you get to spend a long time in a place, something changes inside of you. You don’t go back home being the same person; you take with you all the good things you’ve learned and what the bad experiences have taught you.
- Now that we know where do you come from… could you tell us where are you heading to? Which are your plans for the future in terms of travelling?
I usually don’t plan my trips, they just happen…
But to answer your question, I know that I’ll have to travel to Barcelona in December to test a new camera. I may take a few days off to go to the Canary Islands as well before the end of the year. Argentina is very high up on my wish list, along with Chile and Cuba. And I know I’ll be traveling back to California in 2014.
- What do you think of travelling with a purpose or meaning in mind? What do you look for when travelling long-term?
I think I ask too much of my trips, I always expect them to change my life.
I travel for travel’s sake. Most of the time, when I leave home I know what my first stop will be or which airport I’ll land at, but that’s it. From there that chapter of my life is unwritten. I don’t know where I’m going to sleep or how long I’ll be in a particular place. Sometimes I spend days just traveling from one place to another. Trains, buses, vans… that’s all I see. It gives me a lot of time to think and some of the greatest ideas I’ve had were made when crossing a far away country. When you are confined in a bus for 22 hours, you better have some interesting thoughts to keep you company.
Traveling is an exercise. You test your own capacity to be alone with yourself. I may go for days without holding a conversation with another person. I do things that I wouldn’t do at home. It’s a great way to push your limits.
But so far, the best part of every trip has been going back home. The joy of knowing I’m going to see my friends again; the possibility of turning all of those ideas I had into something tangible; the feeling of being safe again. After each trip I go home feeling good about myself and inspired, it makes me appreciate even more the place where I live, and that’s why I need to keep traveling.
- How do you fund your travels? Have you found a job or income source that allows you to be on the road fulltime?
Well, I’m a photographer and that really blends well with travel. I work with international agencies. Everything is done online, which allows me to work from wherever I am. That’s very convenient.
I specialize in water sports photography, that’s what I shoot mostly when I’m home. But I usually try to find other sources of income when I’m traveling; it could be teaching Spanish to a little girl in Bangkok, or work as a horseback riding instructor in Texas. Anything is good to make the extra money you need on the road, and it’s a great way to get to know the locals.
And that’s when the life changing experiences come into play again. To me, the most meaningful moments while traveling happen when you feel you are part of the country you are in. That’s when you really get to understand how things work, and don’t feel like a tourist anymore.
- Did your job, studies, volunteering experiences or other projects help you to travel the world? Where have you been thanks to those? If so, tell us a bit about those experiences.
I studied photography in college, and I have a degree in communications. But, to be totally honest with you, I think my life could be the same without it. Of course I learned a few useful things in college, and it probably gave me the confidence I needed to start my career; but so far nobody has asked to see my diploma. Nowadays people are too concerned about getting a degree after another – at least in Spain, in these difficult economic , and they are missing the most important thing they need to work: experience. At this point people may complain and argue that in order to work, you need somebody who can hire you. To those people I say: that’s not true, you may as well be your own boss, even create work oportunities for other people.
Don’t get me wrong, I think studying is super important and one should never stop (actually, now I study Anthropology just because I like it!) But if you want to be a photographer, just get out and take pictures. If what you want is to be a chef, start playing with food today. If your dream is to be a doctor or a pilot, then please do us a favor and go to school first. But there are so many other things that one can only learn from experience, and I see way too many talented people who seem to forget about that.
- What would you recommend to someone who wants to follow your steps? Which kind of training or studies is necessary? Would an investment be needed in the first place? Please, give 3 pieces of advice (you wish to have known before starting) of what to do and what to avoid to succeed.
Well, I would not recommend anyone to follow my own steps. Not because I don’t consider my life to be the best possible life, but because this is the life I chose. I think everyone should do what they like, and that may be the secret to my humble success.
Try new things, find out what feels right to you and do it. Avoid things that you don’t enjoy, and that way you’ll always be happy.
I could not stand the thought of working in an office, doing the same thing everyday. I knew I wanted to be able to travel, be close to nature, and express my creativity, so I ended up turning photography into a career.
How succesful you are depends on how seriously you take it. There are many good photographers out there, that’s true, but if you are a little talented and work hard, you’ll make it.
- What does a perfect day in your life looks like? Do you follow any particular routine?
A perfect day for me is that in which I feel productive at work, eat well, exercise, and get to spend time with my friends. I’m very lucky to enjoy a few of those days every week 🙂
I like to get up early, around 7:30am, to make sure I have enough time to do all the things I’ve planned. Sometimes I start the day by reading, then I check the mail and eat breakfast.
The next few hours I work from home editing pictures, designing something for a client, etc. I take short breaks to do housework as well. Then I may go for a swim on the beach before lunch.
I really enjoy cooking and I think it is another good way to express your creativity. I love selecting the best organic ingredients from the local market, looking for inspiration in new modern recipes from around the world, get in the kitchen and let myself go.
By the way, if you visit Madrid you can’t miss my friend Jaime Renedo‘s restaurant in Fuencarral: Asiana Next Door. Believe me, every course is a piece of art!
I live in Andalusia, so from time to time I may take a little nap after lunch… (embracing local traditions!)
In the afternoon it is time to get in the water for a kitesurf or windsurf photo shooting. Luckily I can do most sessions right in front of my house, so that saves me some precious time.
If I didn’t swim in the morning, I could go running at sunset. Other times I do it before breakfast, it really depends on what my schedule looks like.
A perfect day would be complete by getting together with friends for dinner. To eat tapas in downtown El Puerto, I like El Antojito, in front of the river. For more formal dining I like Aquarela Gastrobar, in Vistahermosa.
- Where do you come from originally and where you call home now? Can you give us some local tips we cannot find in a guidebook but you highly recommend about your hometown?
I’m from Madrid, but I live in El Puerto de Santa Maria now. The place where I used to spend the summer months has become home to me.
El Puerto is a little town in the south of Spain, located in the bay of Cadiz. It’s only 2 hours away from Portugal and another two from Africa – Morocco -. It’s a great spot for those who practice water sports; many professional windsurfers and kitesurfers live in the area, and they are the people I work with.
Tourists are only found in the summer months, but El Puerto is really a great place to visit year-round: most days are sunny, and winters are mild.
I love living here, where nobody seems to be in a rush and there’s always time to enjoy the little things that make life great: riding my bike to the grocery store, reading in the woods on Sunday’s, or watching the sun set over the Atlantic ocean every day.
- Do you read, write, draw, listen to music, sing, watch movies or do something else while travelling? How do you interact with technology these days and which gadgets you definitely take with you everywhere? What is your favorite book? And movie?
One time, I made the huge mistake of going on a trip without a music player. NEVER AGAIN. My iPod comes with me everywhere I go now, each moment needs a soundtrack!
Smart phones are useful too. With free wi-fi now even in the most remote places, you can easily access your email, travel apps or stay in touch with your friends. Speaking of apps, Minube is one you may want to have with you when traveling.
I also carry my computer with me because most times I need to keep working while on the road. It also helps me stay organized, planning my next move and keeping track of everything I do.
I love reading. I do it at home and also when I’m traveling. It’s easy to find used books and exchange them once read, that way you don’t have to carry the extra weight with you.
I try not to watch movies when I’m on the go because it distracts me from the trip and makes me want to go somewhere else. One of my favorite movies is Motorcycle Diaries, and because of it, crossing South America in a motorcycle ranks very high on my to-do list.
- Do you keep a bucket list? Which are your (craziest) dreams? Where are your favorite destinations on earth?
I do keep a bucket list and I’m glad to say that many of the items on that list have already been checked. Some of my most significant experiences have been:
– Sharks cage diving in South Africa. Having a wild Great White 3ft away from your face is really something.
– Living as a wrangler in Texas. That’s what made me tough!
– Spending time with children in an orphanage in Zambia. Such a touching experience.
– Crossing Europe in an 18 wheeler truck when I was 19.
– Trying all regional foods across Mexico. This includes cow tongue and brains, crickets and worms.
– Living & working in Bangkok.
– Cruising the Nile river. Getting arrested somewhere in Egypt.
– Diving in Belize, the second largest barrier reef in the world.
– Getting lost in Qatar and ending up sharing tea and dates with a group of Berber man under a tent at the Amir’s Palace.
I don’t know what life is going to bring me next, or where it is going to take me; I only know that the world is big, the possibilities endless and I want to experience it all.