In this second chapter of her story, our artist Cat Vinton tells us a bit more about her next moves and future projects , but also about the people who influenced her as an photographer and as a passionate traveller…
Tell us more about the Sami, the series that Subject Matter represents. When did you travel to the Arctic Circle, what surprised you about the tribe and what did you love most about their way of life?
Sámpi is a vast open land, perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle, that encompasses parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. In 2005 I lived with Sámi reindeer herders, the indigenous people of the Arctic, who live a nomadic subsistence roaming the Finnmark plateau – Norway’s ‘big sky country’ – one of the last great and undisturbed wilderness areas in Northern Europe. The Sámi move their herds of reindeers across the region with the seasons. Their culture has been shaped by a landscape of the Arctic Ocean, the fjords and the tundra.
It was incredible to witness the Sami way of life, to learn how much the reindeer means to them – providing transport, food, clothing and shelter. Their clothing was made from sealskin and they wore a reindeer-bone belt, the reindeer skins cover the snow inside the lávvu (tipi) and always accompanied a husky excursion. Warmth is rare on the open tundra and the skins actually radiate heat – they are incredible. I have one now, on my boat.
My surprise, I think, has come more recently after living and travelling with five different nomadic peoples. How precious WATER is, to each nomadic community, it holds a value we can’t comprehend from the comfort of the modern world.
We know that you always have interesting projects – whether related to nomads or not! Earlier this year you photographed Jason deCaires Taylor’s Raft of Lampedusa for The Guardian. Can you please tell us a bit about that experience?
Jason’s work is incredible, he uses the ocean as an exhibition space and has most recently created an underwater museum off the coast of Lanzarote, comprising life-size concrete figures – sculptures that will transform over time into a thriving marine ecosystem. I was invited to document the submerging of the Museo Atlantico and I previously visited the Museo Subacuatico de Arte in Cancun, Mexico, with Jason, to capture how the sculptures evolve once underwater.
“The Raft of Lampedusa” depicts 13 refugees on a raft, drifting towards an uncertain future. It draws its inspiration from Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa which represents the vain hope of shipwrecked sailors. While they can see the rescue vessel on the horizon, they are abandoned to their fate – much as refugees are today. It was eerie to watch the raft being submerged, full of motionless refugees slowly sinking below the surface of the water. The Raft of Lampedusa serves as a reminder of our collective responsibility – it’s a very powerful sculpture.
It was particularly special to meet Abdel Kader, the figurehead of the raft of Lampedusa. Kader comes from Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara, and made his own perilous journey by boat to Lanzarote 16 years ago.
Looking to the future, what new projects are you looking forward to immersing yourself in?
I am super excited about joining Alienor le Gouvello, who is crossing Australia on the Bicentennial Trail with her 3 wild horses, Guy Fawkes brumbies. I will join her for the last month and half of her journey, after over 10 months. Sixteen years ago, an aerial cull of 600 horses in the Guy Fawkes National Park led locals to form the Guys Fawkes Heritage Horse Association and Alienor’s journey is raising awareness of the loyal, resilient, strong brumbie horses.
I’m also about to join The SLOW LIFE Symposium at SONEVA Kiri in Thailand – an annual convening of sustainability champions. World-class scientists, business leaders, cultural ambassadors, philanthropists and environmentalists gather to share insights, ideas and projects for collaboration. It’s always incredibly inspiring. David de Rothschild said that “It’s not often you go to an event that leaves you profoundly moved and inspired to dream bigger, be more curious and more determined to have an impact”.
And I am very excited to be working on a project with the Moken children in the Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman Sea. I will be teaching the children how to photograph their way of life: exploring the theme of identity. The Moken – a people who are incredibly close to my heart – represent a nomadic way of life that has disappeared, they are truly a stateless nation – a people of the sea. I will be sharing the children’s vision through PhotoVoiceUk and a gallery with The Guardian. I am working on the project with BurmaBoating.
I may also be taking this project to the Aboriginal children of the Pukatja community in the central Australian desert – with the NPY women’s council. Also exploring the theme of identity. Both indigenous communities were once nomadic. The contrast of ocean and desert ways of life will be fascinating and I look forward to finding the similarities and differences.
AND I have BIG plans for disappearing on one-long journey to find the last of the Nomadic Souls of the world!
And finally, we’d love to know which travel writers have inspired you over the years?
Wade Davis (an Anthropologist) is a huge inspiration; I wish I could write like he does. He coined the term ‘ethnosphere’ to describe his unique vision: “The sum total of all thoughts, dreams, ideas, beliefs, myths, intuitions and inspirations, brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. It’s a symbol of all that we’ve accomplished and all that we can accomplish.The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy.”
“A language is a flash of the human spirit, the filter through which the soul of each particular culture reaches the material world.“
Lelia Wanick, who is actually the wife of Sebastiao Salgado – I love how she writes and what she is doing. “We cannot continue polluting our soil, water and air. We must act now to preserve unspoiled land and seascapes and protect the natural sanctuaries of ancient peoples and animals. We can try to reverse the damage we have already done.”
Jonathon Porritt, Jeremy Rithkin, Peter Matthiessen and Susan Smillie are all big inspirations for me.
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