Cat Vinton is an adventure and ethnographic photographer, who has made it her life’s mission to document the world’s remaining communities of nomads. Cat’s photography illuminates the precarious position that these communities exist in – almost entirely due to climate change and global warming.
Simultaneously, we see the care and respect that they have for their environment, and the simplicity of their existence.
So Cat, let’s start at the very beginning – what first drew you to photography and when did you first realise that you wanted to commit to it full-time?
I’ve definitely always been visual – words are my struggle!
Eve Arnold once said “What do you hang on the walls of your mind?”. She was fascinated with colour and the images that flooded her mind – This all resonates with me!
I have early memories of a neighbour – Christopher Angelogalou, photographer and picture editor of the Sunday Times Magazine. His incredible collection of photography books, that I spent hours pouring over, were a huge inspiration. Christopher also helped me buy my first camera – a Nikon FM2.
After successfully graduating from Camberwell School of Art and Design, I left the UK to work in the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao. A place and an experience that fuelled my curiosity to explore everywhere and to see everything. During my two years in Lao, I photographed stories for the United Nations and Redd Barna. I knew then, that photography was my life journey…
Which photographers inspired you when starting your journey in photography?
Two photographers stand out as a huge inspiration to my journey in photography: Sebastiao Salgado and Eve Arnold – both Magnum photographers.
Sebastiao Salgado started his photography career, I think the year I was born. He is a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador! I first became aware of his amazing images with his Workers Project, as I was graduating from Art School. He’s been a huge inspiration ever since. His latest project – Genesis – his love letter to the planet – captures the majesty and mystery of life. Not only has his work inspired me but also his, and his wife’s, dedication to restoring a part of the Atlantic Forest, in Brazil – Instituto Terra – a mission to reforestation, conservation and environmental education.
Eve Arnold was a pioneering ‘female adventure’ photographer – an amazing woman – playing in a totally man’s world, or as she said “It’s ‘man’ in a ‘woman’s’ world! Men are more technical – women have more ‘feelers’ – helps them get to the heart of the moment.” She was the first woman to join the New York branch of the Magnum agency – she was there to excel. An incredible woman and photographer – shooting well into her 80’s. She had something special, an ease with people from all professions and all walks of life and an ability to win their trust. I was lucky enough to meet her. Eve Arnold was inquisitive and independent. Curious, intrepid and determined.
You tell us that you have always had a ‘curiosity for human nature and [an] adventurous spirit’ – when did this first arise? Or has it always been with you?
According to Mum I first left home at the age of three. I put my favourite things in a bag and dragged it out of the gate – so I guess my adventurous spirit started very early. I’ve always been ‘better’ outside!
We grew up with foreign students filling our home all summer long – a way my mum, as a single parent brought in extra cash. Being a teacher, the holidays worked. This meant our childhood was exposed to an intimate experience living with Europeans, Icelandic, African, South American young people, submerged into our life. I think this opened the door wide for me and definitely fueled my curiosity to explore everywhere and meet everyone from all walks of life.
On all my projects, it’s about fitting into a family, being accepted as a friend, as an artist, not as a tourist. If you’re careful with people and you respect them, they will offer a part of themselves that they don’t often share.
What first drew you to documenting nomadic communities and which was your first project?
I have always felt akin to people who move, whose wealth isn’t measured in possessions.
Nomadic people roam the very farthest corners of the earth and for thousands of years they have co-existed in harmony with nature. They travel lightly on the land and leave no mark. I am fascinated by this fragile connection between people and land.
We are seeing a global reduction in the number of people still living a truly nomadic existence. They face aggressive assimilation policies and have to deal with authorities that constantly compromise their freedom, culture and natural disposition, as well as devastating effects from climate change and global warming. All they get in return is dependency, isolation and a lost identity. My Nomadic Souls Project, is a visual tribute to a fragile planet that we all have a duty to protect and a visual memory for the next generation who may never witness first hand their family’s nomadic existence.
The Sami were the first nomadic people I lived with, moving across the frozen tundra in search of food for hundreds of reindeer. These are the images represented by Subject Matter.
Cat will tell us more about her work in part two of this series.
You can see more of Cat Vinton’s extraordinary work on her own website . Her images of the Moken and the Chang Tang-Pa can be seen on Maptia and of course the Sami on Subject Matter
And she has just launched a new venture: Illuminate