Philip Volkers is a “Visionary” photographer for Olympus, having spent the last 17 years in London the last 10 those working as a freelance photographer. He recently decided to quit the rat race and move the french Alps with his wife and two rescued lurchers.

Philip's Portrait photo taken by "Jeremy Whelehan".

Describe your path to becoming a photographer?

I have always been fascinated by spirituality, the occult, and all esoteric enquiry. I chose to study Philosophy and Religion at The School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and from this developed a love for shamanism and Indian philosophy. After my degree I went to India for six months. That was the first real moment when the photography bug hit me. I wanted to document my experience, and found it really useful as a tool to meet people and interact with them.

On returning from India I had a small exhibition of my work. Then serendipity struck - Rob Fairer from American Vogue was looking for an assistant, and luckily for me someone I sold one of my India prints to put my name forward. The following week I was hired, and flew to Milan to assist Robert with his backstage photography. This was great fun and I was lucky enough to see some amazing shows. My favourite was always Alexander McQueen, his work was so dark and beautiful.

I loved photographing fashion, but have now come back full circle to focus on more ritualistic expression, and am on a mission to document diverse ways of life. I have been working on tribal gatherings around the world and this has led to me Burning Man, Africa Burn and of course the Kumbh Mela.

Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?

Floria Sigismundi, Tim Walker, Richard Avendon and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

I have been influenced by these photographer because they aren’t influenced by the mundanity of the world. They create their own realities. For me photography is an escapism, it's the perfect way to manifest your own reality.

What was the most dangerous environment that you have worked in?

The Kumbh Mela was one of the most dangerous environments I have worked in. On the main bathing day, after hiding all night in a sadhu encampment in order to be able to shoot their morning procession up close, I started the long march to the Ganga with 10,000 naked sadhus. This was strictly a sadhu only zone and many of them were carrying weapons so I had to watch my back. The procession was corralled on either side by large fences laden with devotees, waiting for the sadhus to bless the water before bathing themselves.

The crush of bodies was indescribable - it was rumoured that there were 35-40 million people bathing on that day alone. To add to the madness there were police mounted on horseback, trying to make sure that no violence broke out, but seeming like a source of danger themselves.

As we got closer the crowd started running, eager to reach the Sangam and purify their souls. I remember being pushed against the fence by the force of the charging sadhus as the police tried to push them back. The only thing I could go to avoid being crushed was to climb up onto the fence, but there were so many devotees perched on top of it that I thought I was going to be pushed back under. Luckily I managed to haul myself to safety, but it was with great difficulty.

Within such starkly different subject matters, is there always some sort of common ground that inspires or influences your photography?

I like to seek out new worlds and experiences having a camera has allowed me to explore worlds I would never normally gain access to. I guess the common ground is if i am passionate about something I will go out of my way to photograph it. If it ceases to be fun and stops feeling like an adventure then I move on.

Over your career, you’ve shot a number of festivals. What is it that lures you to such experiences?

For me festivals and events are the last bastions freedom for expression and creativity, we live in such a regulated world, I like going to places where there's a bit chaos, within the chaos I feel that you can find sanity. The rules of these places are different from the real world, people behave differently, their attitudes change and they seem to be less judgemental. I love being able to meet people without any of the bullshit we have to deal with day to day, you can make friends for life in these places and time you share is very special.

What gives you ideas and inspires you?

I like to seek out new worlds and experiences having a camera has allowed me to explore worlds I would never normally gain access to. I guess the common ground is if i am passionate about something I will go out of my way to photograph it. If it ceases to be fun and stops feeling like an adventure then I move on.

How would you describe your style?

With a strong focus on nature and freedom of expression I like to find inspiration through travel. My recent adventures have led me to explore human gatherings, like Burning Man and the Kumbh Mela. Within these experiences I like to capture moments of heightened consciousness and unity within these gatherings and in doing so i like to encourage the viewers inquisitiveness to be stimulated by my images.

What do you see yourself doing in a few years?

I am currently working on publishing my photographs of Burning Man, I have been attending this festival for over decade and I hope to have my book out next year.

Later this month i am heading down to Marie-Sur-La-Mer to photograph the Gypsy festival for a project with Olympus and then onto photograph the wild horses of the Camargue.

Next year I have  signed up to do the Mongol Derby, the longest and toughest horse race in the world. The 1000km course recreates Chinggis Khaan's legendary empire-busting postal system. I think I'm a bit mad but let's see.


To see more work by Philip check out his site:

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