U Hoku Canoes on lago Mtlan with San Pedro Volcano near Santiago At irian Village, Lago Atillan, Departm ent of Solola, Guatemala,

As a kid Robert Leon

would help his father

make black and white prints, mesmerized by

the images that would magically materialise. To him it was the best magic show and HE was able to create it. Even today it doesn't cease to amaze

him how photography evolves. It is this fascination that has kept him going

in his photography career spanning over 30 years and his transition from a fashion to advertising and corporate to adventure-travel and documentary photography.

o Rober t Leon with Sadhu YogiBa ba

Ramaesh u r anand in his temple I!/ith another sadhu, Pushkar Lake, Pushkar, Rajasthan ,I ndia,

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When I saw Robert Leon's gallery online, I spent hours browsing through the albums of Cuba, Italy, Santorini, Guatemala, Istanbul, Israel and other nations. At the end of each I remember feel i ng th at I had just had a lesson in history. And the more I thought about it, I realised that a great travel photographer captures

so much more than just a pretty picture. He makes you privy to the lives, cultures and traditions of people halfway around the world. He introduces you to people you will never actually meet, but still share with them a snippet of their lives.

Leon's online profile pegs him as

an adve ntu re travel ph otogra ph era n d documentary photojournalist, and while

the individual terms are simple enough

to understand, I wondered what it really entailed. Here's what he said, "I think the best way to describe what some of my

work involves is to tell you about one my experiences. It was with the Lacandon Mayas in Chiapas Mexico. They are the last surviving link and direct descendants of the Mayan Empire. It was incredible to be living with

them in the lacandon Jungle where they

run in the rainforest barefooted and are the guardians of the rainforest called the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

When I arrived at the lacandon village called Naha it was being threatened by people invading their land and illegally cutting trees. They where in a state of crisis and told me that the people cutting down the trees would kill anyone who came

near or who tried to stop them. With two lacandon guides I hiked through the jungle. When we got close to the area - about 1 kilometre from where the trees were being cut - the lacandon guides told me I was

on my own. I tried to be brave in front of them - as if I did th is everyd ay - I tried to stop thinking I was insane ... so I continued into the jungle hiding behind the bushes and trees as I crept along photographing the cut trees. Fortunately nobody saw me and when I returned to Naha village, the lacandons knew I wasn't there to exploit them - I was there to tell their story. They accepted me into their village and let me photograph their leader, Chan K'in Viejo, and rituals that


I began shooting with some of my father's old cameras. I still have the old Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex f/2.8 and occasionally I'll shoot some film with it. It's my organic roots in photography - using film with a camera

you manually focus and expose. There's

a very real organic tactile beauty in that process for me and

it has helped me translate that organic quality into digital photography.


:> Jose Mendoza, a Mam Mayan from La Ventosa vi Ilage in the Sier ra De Los Cue h u matanes, H uehuetenango District, Guatemala, Central Am erica.

few outsiders had ever seen at that time.

I was the only non-Lacandon person there and had an authentic immersion into their cultu re. It was a g re at 0 p portunity to se rve a greater cause doing my lifework and being a voice for Indigenous people of the Earth.

Documentary photography for meis about being a mirror to things happening to the people and the Earth. It shows where we were, where we are and where we are potentially going. It's a track record showing our roots and our probable future direction. Photography is a mirror reflecting humanity back at people to contemplate themselves. It ra ises 0 u r co nscio us ness ind ivi dua Ily and collectively by revealing our true nature and our relationship with Earth. When needed, photography can show adversity on Earth to make a comparison between what we don't want and what we want; showing choices between positive and negative, light and dark, good and bad,"

Originally from Montreal, Leon now lives in Vancouver, Canada. He graduated with a major in photographic arts from the

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Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Canada. In 1987 he moved to Milan,. Italy for nine-years, working in fashion and

a dve rtisi n g photogra phv, He says th at

Italy's creative dynamism helped evolve the a est h eti c quality of his photogra phy. "I n

this cultural and artistic mecca creativity is everywhere, andit creates vibrancy and a passionate wav-of-life where the dynamic

a rti sti c envi ro n menti nspi res creative people and one can get absorbed very deeply."

Eventu ally he left th e fas h io n i nd ustry

to work on what really interests him; experiencing life while seeing the world with interesting people and making a contribution for positive evolution by showing the beauty we have on Earth. From there the travel and documentary work expanded. He still does commercial work as well, but he only shoots for companies that are conscious about the environment and people,

Leon has now been a professional photographer for 30 years and apart from th e transitions in subj act, he's a Iso hera Ided


the progress of digital photogra phy. "I b ega n shooting using some of my father's old cameras; I still have the old Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex f/2.8 and occasionally I'll shoot some film with it. It's my organic roots in photography - using film with a camera you manually focus and expose. There's a very real organic tactile bea uty in that process for me and it has helped me translate that organic quality into digital photography," he explains.


"I use Canon equipment, shooting mostly with prime lenses, and LowePro camera backpacks with a small tripod strapped underneath. On trips I bring only the essential gear so I don't let equipment change the way I photograph something .. I don't need or want a lot

of camera gear because the subject/ location/story is what's interesting, and I I ike to show it as it is."


As a travel and culture photographer, Leon sees a profound bea utvi nl ife itself which is constantly changing, always exciting and never ending. While shooting, he leads with his gut-feeling, knowledge,. experience and an awareness about his surroundings. The creative flow is not held-hack by preconceived expectations of what the

resu Its are goi ng to be. I nstead he trusts th at what will be created in an image, or not,

was meant to be. There's infinite potential

to create photographs going beyond the mundane. he says. Amazing images are always happening around us" they just need to be seen.

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e Greek woman laughing, Iherassla Island, Santorini, C)'(lades Islands, Aegean Sea, Green~,

!l Sgra. Rosa A1isa Fraga sittH'ig in her home praying with Rosary beads and Statue of Santa Barbara, Trinidad" Cuba.

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On his tri ps Leon has experi enced that being open to situations, talking to people, asking their names, where they're from, what they're doing is intrinsic to photographing people and cultures, as is having a genuine interest to learn a bout thei rl ives.

He says, "One of the most important things about successful people and culture photography is being open, honest, non-judgemental and, when possible, spending quality time with them. Sometimes I'll spend several days photographing people and sometimes it's a spontaneous reflexive shot. You never really know who a person

is and each situation leads to another an d it goes on and on, and there's a story. You have to be very versatile and adaptable and go with the flow.

There are so many great people you

can meet that make it all worthwhile. I

try to concentrate on the positive thi ngs

in life and our world and show that in my pictures and I believe by exposing people to other placess nd cultures there will be less misunderstanding and racism in the world. I've learned a lot travelling on the road. It's one of the best schools; ] lea rn so rna ny


things-not just about other people-but also about myself."

For leon, the goal of his photography

is very clear: Being a Visual voice making positive contri buttons to human ity and the Earth, by showing the beauty around us and in us and encouraging greater compassion and love in people - including in the relationship between themselves and the Earth. He hopes his work will help people appreciate the magnificence in all cultures and Ea rth and raise their consciousness of all world cultures, creating compassion and u nde rsta nd ing and promoting sustal nabi I ity in the environment.

An d h is future is elsa rly mapped out for him. "For me photography is like a mirror reflecting humanity back to people so it invokes contemplation of their existence and evolution, so one day we will live without harming the Earth and each other. That's my ultimate goal in life and photography. I'm always working on that. It's a never-ending

I ifework; it's like a n adventure trave I trip in life with a lot of challenges."

- Text: Karina Aggarwal


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