Aspen photographer embraces cultures through his new books
Ryan Summerlin December 30, 2012
ASPEN, Colorado – Matthew Cull snaps a lot of photographs. He’s not hard to spot – anyone can find him daily at the top of Aspen Mountain near the end of the Silver Queen Gondola as he asks skiers and snowboarders whether they would like their pictures taken as keepsakes.
But there is another side to Cull’s photography, one that doesn’t involve groups of smiling, posing tourists.
Since 1990, he has been regularly visiting non-Western countries, where he travels by bicycle and on foot. Many of the photographs he shot on film in those exotic locales, in his journeys through 2006, make up a series of six hardcover, fine-art books he self-published this year. It’s called “An International Celebration of Culture” and represents a large body of work from the 51-year-old native of Sydney, Australia.
“These books basically celebrate disappearing cultures across the non-Western world,” Cull said. “I feel like the world is heading toward a cultural homogenization, where everybody’s (embracing) the Western culture, wearing jeans and T-shirts and working 9 to 5, driving cars, picking up food at the supermarket and going home to watch TV at night -pretty much living the same lifestyle across the planet.”
There are simple reasons why Cull produced six books instead of one. A single book would have been too big, heavy and expensive. With six books, he was able to concentrate on separate themes for each: men, women, kids, parents with children, faith and marketplace.
“People might want a book that represents one theme and not the other,” Cull said. “It makes it more specific to somebody’s interest.”
With trips to Asia, Africa, South America and other continents over the past 25 years, Cull has learned the value of the bicycle.
“I feel that the bicycle is the best tool for traveling,” he said. “It’s fast enough that you can actually get somewhere in a reasonable period of time but slow enough that you are actually able to absorb and get involved in the landscape.
“You get a connection with people. Even though you are traveling through a culture, you are going slow enough that you can actually make contact. You can only go so far without stopping. And that puts you in places where you would otherwise never go. Sometimes, great things happen in those places because a lot of those places don’t see many foreigners.”
He visits towns and their markets, temples and other holy places. He stops for street scenes, and using a long lens, he takes pictures of ordinary and extraordinary people.
“I’ve got thousands and thousands of images,” Cull said. “For the books, I went through the process of digitizing them, which was an immense amount of work.”
Cull not only shot the content but handled all of the text, layout and design, as well as the task of self-publishing. He started work on the books in 2008 and finished in March. He received the first copies during the summer.
He often speaks to local groups about his travels, which is also a way of promoting the books. He sells them through his website (www.matthewjkcull.com) and through the Aspen Chapel Gallery.
The journeys have introduced him to a minimalist way of life that he seems to imitate. A certain philosophy shines through in his photos.
“There are people across the planet living all these different lifestyles,” Cull said. “A lot of them, particularly in non-Western countries, are doing so without having a whole lot of stuff, without the money and baggage that Western people have.
“A lot of these people are happy. When cultures are going from poor and traditional to rich and Western, like China has been doing, they drop all their cultures, but they pick up all this other stuff. They also pick up a whole bunch of hassles, as well.”
He said he understands that the lives people are living in many of the societies he visits aren’t always as rosy as they seem.
Still, the three countries he singled out as favorites were Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, which have been hotspots for civil war, oppression and poverty for many decades.
The people who live there are open and welcoming, despite their difficulties, he said.
“The times have been rough on the people, but the people are just wonderful. They are very friendly. The kids come running up the road and chase me down and smile. There were some wonderful interactions with most of the people I encountered. It’s a warming cultural experience in all three of those countries.”
To contact Cull, send an email to email@example.com.