This week, our Portfolio of the Week is brought to you by João Sousa. A travel photographer based in Beirut, Lebanon.
Originally from Portugal, João Sousa has travelled far and wide, capturing some of the most remote places on earth. His passion began 12 years ago where he was inspired by friends and family who were in the same industry. After taking time off work and backpacking through North Africa and the Balkans in 2015, João has found his calling and brings his audience places and people we never thought existed.
João tells us some of his experiences, as well as why he has chosen to pursue travel photography and why Portfoliobox is his go-to online platform.
Q: First of all, thank you for joining us on Portfolio of the Week. Could you please tell us how you got in to travel photography and why you love it so much?
A: My love and fascination for travel photography goes back to when I was a kid, a time when my father had a monthly subscription of National Geographic. I used to stare at those evocative covers and immerse myself in the content of the magazine, which would stimulate my imagination and the dream to one day travel to remote and unusual locations. And this happened when, five years ago, I decided to leave my permanent job and hit the road on a tight budget. Me, my backpack and my camera with two lenses.
My aim was to shoot every day, especially something that would capture the essence and feel of the places and faces I would encounter on my way. I haven’t stopped ever since and this continuous journey has taken me to some truly incredible adventures. I also love doing travel photography to show people the unusual places I go to and to hopefully inspire them to one day go there.
Q: Could you please tell us a little bit more about 'photo essays'?
A: The photo essays on my page were published as a way to showcase the different themes I’ve been working on during my travels. I’m particularly interested in people and their stories, so essays like the one about the refugees in Tskhaltubo, Georgia or the struggles of the less privileged in Tripoli, Lebanon have a very special meaning to me, as they allowed me to understand their living realities. Lately, I’ve been based in Beirut, so I was able to cover part of the Thawra (Lebanese Revolution) and collaborate with the local press.
Q: It seems as though you have travelled to many places. What is the most interesting city you have been to and why? What is the most remote place you have been?
A: It’s difficult to elect one single place I found the most interesting, but Beirut is certainly among the most exciting ones. It’s a buzzing, lively city filled with history, diversity in people, cultures, religions, traditions and it has some of the best food we can ever taste. Due to its turbulent history across the last decades, Beirut is also the home of genuine storytellers, resilient people who lived through incredible experiences and who are eager to share their stories. Beirut is also very stimulating for street photography – there is always something unexpected around the corner waiting to be photographed.
As for the most remote place I’ve been, I would say, Chinguetti and Ouadane in Mauritania are among the top ones. They were both important trading of the old trans-Saharian trade routes and are located very deep into the desert and they still preserve fascinating ancient constructions, including beautiful mosques built with dry-stones. It’s not easy or fast to get there, which adds more interest to the journey.
Q: What is the craziest experience you have had while travelling?
A: I always try to trust my instinct as a traveler, but I also try to be as open to experiences as possible, including being outside my comfort zone. Over the years, I hitchhiked a lot - especially in North Africa – and I stayed with strangers in their homes. This gives a wide scope for unexpected adventures, such as staying with Moroccan nomads in the High Atlas Mountains, spending an afternoon with drugs and weapons smugglers in Lebanon, hitchhiking a cargo train across a part of the Sahara Desert and living with punk anarchist squatters in Slovenia where we were attacked by neo-Nazis with molotov cocktails. I don’t seek extreme experiences, but sometimes they simply happen.
Q: I see your favourite camera is the Fujifilm X Mirrorglass System. Is there a particular reason why you have chosen this gear?
A: My lifestyle for the past half a decade has been dedicated to continuously backpack, which means I must prioritize what I take with me. And this extends to the gear I carry in my bag. I had been looking for various options and decided to go with the Fujifilm X mirrorless system. It’s light and compact, rugged and weather resistant. Suffice to say, I love their glass and the way they took my photography to the next level after I started using Fujifilm. The silent shutter is now something I cannot be without, especially while shooting documentary photography and the easy way to transfer files straight from the camera to the phone via WIFI. Simply a game changer for me!
Q: Are you able to give us some perspective as to what lenses you use for different situations and settings?
A: I usually carry with me the Fujifilm 18-55mm f/2.8 for its quickness and versatility (having a zoom lens is always important, especially for photojournalism) and the Fujifilm 23mm f/2, for street photography. For portraits, I absolutely love the older but gorgeous Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 and Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 lenses. Some of my best portraits were shot with these two.
For wide angle shots I also use the Laowa 9mm f/2.8. This lens is very small and portable and barely has any distortion, despite the 9mm length. It has manual focus only, but after some practice it becomes easier to use.
Q: What inspires you to capture the images you do?
A: My main drive in photography is to continuously follow my curiosity. Almost everything around me makes me curious and eager to learn about what I observe. It is a humbling exercise to go to a new place and spend time with people who are very different from me and learn about their reality. Photography, then, becomes my tool to visually narrate how I see their reality in order to tell their unique stories.
Q: Why have you chosen Portfoliobox as your preferred online platform?
A: I’ve been using Portfoliobox for nearly two years and I’ve been thoroughly satisfied with the platform. It’s very easy and intuitive to use, especially for someone like me who doesn’t want to spend much time working online. It allows me to display my photography in the way I want and the positive feedback my page has been receiving by my visitors and customers is the sheer proof of that.
The SEO tools work perfectly and on that note, it was thanks to my page on Portfoliobox that my photos got spotted by L’Orient Le Jour, a Lebanese daily newspaper, which then published my content and invited me for a collaboration with them as a photojournalist!
Thank you very much João, you have given us a quick look at a world most never knew existed. The work you produce is awe-inspiring and definitely tells a story when putting in the context of the society we all know today. To keep up to date with João’s travels and latest work, please do check out his website in the link below!