- Q&A with Trip Leader Regina Yopak
- Q&A with Trip Leader Gaston Lacombe
- Q&A with Trip Leader Ross Weinberg
- Q&A with Trip Leader Nathalie Chardon
- Q&A with Trip Leader Chris Johns
- Q&A with Trip Leader Steve Byrne
- Q&A with Trip Leader Ricky Qi
- Q&A with Trip Leader Claire Bangser
- Q&A with Trip Leader Nicole Büttner
Q&A with Trip Leader Gaston Lacombe
Originally from Canada and currently based in Washington, D.C., Gaston has traveled to 53 countries, lived in Latvia for 12 years, and was an artist-in-residence in Antarctica for two months. Gaston currently works as a freelance photographer and filmmaker. His work is focused on documentary, conservation, and travel projects and has been published or commissioned by National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institute, National Parks Magazine, The New Yorker, WWF Magazine, and others.
What has been your proudest achievement so far in your career?
In 2012, I was selected by the government of Argentina to be an artist-in-residence in Antarctica. I spent nearly 2 months living on an army base there, amongst a colony of 250,000 penguins. It was an exhilarating privilege to feel and breathe this seldom-seen continent for such a long period of time. But the best part was sharing the photos and video once I returned home. I put together a lecture tour of schools in my native province of New Brunswick that reached more than 3,000 children. Sharing my photos, videos, and stories with all of these young minds was incredibly fun and rewarding.
You’ll be leading our Barcelona Photo Workshop and Italy & Greece Expedition this summer. What is your connection to these parts of the world?
Barcelona is a city that keeps calling me back! Being an art lover, I am constantly inspired by this city that launched Gaudí, Dalí, Miró and Picasso. And the food, ah the food, Barcelona is so generous on that front. A lot of what I said about Barcelona also applies to Italy—the art, the food, the lively atmosphere, and add to that Italy’s wonders of the ancient world. I keep returning there since the discoveries never end, and there is so much culture and beauty tightly packed in that country. Greece will be a new stop for me, and I am really excited about discovering it.
Any pieces of advice for aspiring photographers?
Don’t be so caught up in the gear. Yes, a decent camera and quality lenses are important to create good photography, but they are worth nothing if you don’t have awesome composition and original vision. The best camera is the camera you have right now—just learn to use it well. Work on improving your image composition, your sense of color, your artistic vision, and your story-telling skills.
What do you think is the best part of a National Geographic Student Expeditions trip?
The unexpected, the unplanned. As trip leaders we work very hard to fill the expeditions with fun and learning, but it’s often the spontaneous moments that end up being the most memorable. Like when we arranged for our students to photograph the world caber-tossing championship with the official press in Scotland. Or when a trip to a small village near Barcelona suddenly turned into a lesson in the history of photography, as we happened to meet an artist with an ancient-view camera. The trip leaders are always on the lookout for unexpected opportunities to make these expeditions the trip of a lifetime.
Where is the first place you traveled that left a lasting impression on you?
Latvia—I first traveled there in 1992, just a few short months after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It was a thrilling time to visit that region, as the “Iron Curtain” had just lifted and people from both sides of it were meeting for the first time, full of thirst for knowledge about each other. After that first trip, I learned to speak Latvian, and eventually moved there. I still maintain a tight relationship with the people of Latvia and visit often. My long-term adventure with this country keeps evolving and deepening.
What are your hobbies, aside from traveling and sharing your insights with
National Geographic Student Expeditions travelers?
I collect coins, and have a gigantic collection from nearly all countries, and from multiple historical eras. I can spend many hours just researching the history behind one single coin. I also draw a lot, usually abstract compositions that play on the interaction of colors with each other. Cooking is something I adore doing too, and I’m always game to try new recipes, and samples ingredients I haven’t yet tasted.
What is the next destination on your travel wish list?
I really want to spend some time on a Pacific island soon—maybe somewhere in Tonga, Kiribati, Samoa. It’s one of the last regions of the planet I haven’t yet explored. But closer to home, as a Canadian, it tortures me that there are a still a few provinces and territories in my own country that I haven’t visited. So I hope I get the chance to set foot in places like Newfoundland, Manitoba, or Nunavut soon.
One fun fact about yourself?
Well, I could tell you about how I spent about four months roaming the forests of Latvia with a heard of wild horses! At first the horses would run away from me, but by the end of my photo project, the horses had accepted me as one of the heard and would nuzzle me or lie down next to me. I still miss my horse buddies and hope to roam around with them again. I could also tell you about how Angela Merkel once elbowed me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me, but I’ll keep that for another time.