Andrew Peacock could be called a Renaissance man or Jack-of-all-trades, because he is incredibly proficient. But, these idioms don’t even begin to capture how freaking cool the man’s skill set is. He is not only an expedition doctor — meaning he accompanies travelers on adventures in order to keep them healthy — but also an award-winning photographer. And, as if that isn’t enough, he is a rock climber and outdoor athlete. It’s a recipe for bad assery and a life well-lived.
Peacock’s images draw from the staples of classic travel photography, but their sweeping beauty makes them feel a touch surreal. Viewers wonder: Can the sea possibly be that blue? Do glaciers really look like that? The thirst for adventure that undergirds these photos is palpable, leaving you full of wonder and excitement. These are the kinds of photographs that make you want to buy a camera, book a trip, and give in to the thumping wanderlust that pulses through your veins.
As summer gives way to fall, Peacock was kind enough to sit down with us and answer questions about his dual career, balancing his passions, and what curious peeps can do to begin taking adventure photos. Read through his answers, check out some of the most gorgeous travel images you have ever seen, and start following the photographers he recommends. If he says they’re good, you can rest assured they’re some of the best in the business.
What titles do you think best captures the work you do? You do so much: adventure, lifestyle, landscape, etc.
I think of myself as an adventure travel photographer, as distinct from adventure sports which is another world altogether, even though I’ve dabbled in adventure sport — mostly climbing — myself. You won’t see pictures of nicely styled food on a table from me, as you might from someone shooting editorial travel work, for instance. I’m interested in authentic images of genuine travel experiences that I’m lucky enough to have in more remote and adventurous parts of the world, often in my role as an expedition doctor.
How did you get started in outdoor photography?
It was something that followed my discovery of rock climbing, after I’d just finished a year working as a general surgery resident in California. I became passionate about exploring mountainous regions, the Sierra Nevada especially. Then, through reading and learning more about the outdoor world, I was exposed to the amazing photographic work of climbers like Galen Rowell, Corey Rich, and Greg Epperson, for example.
I had always been interested in photography as an art and documentary form, so it was natural enough to start photographing as I explored interesting places. My first real ‘body of work’ — 50 rolls of slide film — was from five months volunteering as a doctor in India and Nepal.
But, you are also an expedition doctor? How did that come about?
My work in Nepal was with the Himalayan Rescue Association based on the Annapurna Trail. I was giving daily talks about the perils of altitude illness to trekkers, and that became a strong interest of mine. Subsequently, I signed on as the doctor for a large Australian Defense Force team who went to Tibet to climb Shishapangma. This was my first real expedition, and I enjoyed the combination of climbing, medical support and, of course, photography. Since then, I’ve combined those same skills on trips in Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, the Arctic and elsewhere. Expedition doctors only get to ply their trade when things go wrong, and with good preparation and planning, that shouldn’t happen. So, it helps to have another skill to contribute to the team goal, and for me, that is photography. In fact, even looking back to the so-called “golden age of exploration” in the early 1900’s in Antarctica, it’s clear that the doctor would have to have other skills to be a useful team member.
Photography plus medicine is a lot to take on. How do you balance the two pursuits?
I’m lucky in that I don’t work in medicine full time, so I have the flexibility in my schedule to take off on trips away. I have US residency, but I’m not board certified to work as a doctor there, so when I’m in Australia, I work in an Emergency Room part-time for about half the year and am photographing less. But, in the US or when traveling elsewhere, it’s all about photography. Much of my photography is aimed at stock sales with the occasional assignment, so again that means I don’t have to focus on running a full-time photography business. To do so would mean giving up medicine, which I don’t want to do as I enjoy helping people and using the skills I worked hard to acquire over many years of study and experience.
Twice a year I run an Expedition and Wilderness Medicine course near Sydney in the Blue Mountains — passing on my knowledge of this field to junior doctors is something I really enjoy doing.
Are you always working as an expedition doctor during these trips? Do you ever get to just photograph?
I’ve recently been added to the photography instructor team with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions, which is a great opportunity for me to spend formal time teaching and exploring on their expedition ships in incredible places like Alaska and Iceland. Historically whenever I’ve worked on ships, I have been the doctor, so it’s a really nice change to not have that role with NatGeo/Lindblad. My time in Iceland with them earlier this year was fun and challenging — a nice way to contribute my photographic knowledge to the enthusiastic ship guests.
Do you feel like your athleticism, medical work, and photography inform one another?
Well those things are clearly inter-related in the way I pursue opportunities and they must inform one another to some degree but I’m a bit unsure what specific examples to give of that. One way of looking at how they can combine is on a recent stint I did as a volunteer climbing ranger with the National Park Service on Denali (North America’s highest mountain, in Alaska). Obviously if I didn’t have reasonable mountaineering skills I wouldn’t have been there and it was only because of my medical experience that I was part of the team and I think if I didn’t give myself the challenge of documenting the experience photographically I wouldn’t even have volunteered (it was bloody cold high on that mountain in May!).
Can you share a recent memory of a trip that was particularly exhilarating?
If there is one trip that fits the description of ‘exhilarating’ it’s a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I feel very lucky to have done two long private trips, once in a kayak and once rafting. Everything about the experience fits the bill as an incredible journey through a special landscape and with plenty of photo opportunities to get excited about every day. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about joining a trip.
Is there a photograph or series of them that stands out as some of your best recent work?
In 2017, I’d say there are two examples of work that I’ve been quite proud of. I went to the Ross Sea, as far south as it’s possible to sail, as the doctor for EYOS Expeditions on a large private ship and was delighted to produce some award-winning nature images of a very special environment. Later on, I went to Loreto, Mexico for Alaska Airlines with a specific brief to capture images that matched their brand color palette. It was a fun challenge, something a bit different for me, and I, and they were very happy with the outcome.
Which Instagram influencers would you recommend to people interested in adventure travel photography? Whose work should they look to?
I’m enjoying following many of the team at NatGeo/Lindblad with their emphasis on nature and wildlife content, people like Max Seigal, Ralph Lee Hopkins, Ronan Donovan, and David Cothran… but there are many more, too.
What are some attributes people looking to do adventure travel photography need?
A wanderlust to explore the incredible world around us, the ability to embrace discomfort in the field (something I’m still working on!) and patience for the right light and moment to come along. Oh, and spend money on adventure skill acquisition and adventure opportunities before blowing the budget on more equipment.
What adventures are coming up?
I am leading a sold-out trip for Crooked Compass to Ladakh in Northern India in the winter (yep, still working on embracing discomfort!) looking for snow leopards. We have another trip scheduled for 2019. And in June next year I have a small boat-based trip running in beautiful Glacier Bay National Park for the first time which will provide some excellent nature photography opportunities.