Escape & Create - South Coast NSW Gathering

Escape & Create - South Coast NSW Gathering

Words by Vagabond Creative Guide Amber Cree @summerofseventyfive

Time To Escape

Escape and Create... it’s the Vagabond philosophy, and words to live by. How often do you escape, and what does your escape look like? An escape can take on many forms, it could be as easy as a walk in nature, or as indulgent as an overseas trip, or even as simple as 10 minutes away from a screen. Essentially an escape is a distraction from reality or routine, but it's what happens when one escapes that really matters. If familiarity kills creativity, then an escape has the ability to open new opportunities to create. This is exactly what happened when the Vagabond crew escaped for a weekend to the South Coast of NSW for the first Vagabond Escape and Create Gathering.

The Scene

Take a group of passionate photography enthusiasts, from all skill levels, and all backgrounds, escape out of the city and head south, to set up camp by the sea, among the trees. Throw in a campfire, some storytelling, a few sunrises and sunsets, some wildlife, and bucket loads of creative energy, and what you have is a weekend of inspiration, connection, learning, new challenges, and fresh perspectives, all the necessary elements to create.

Set in a natural bush camp, under a shady canopy of coastal Banksia, nestled alongside the sand dunes, with a headland at one end and a long stretch of beach beyond, there was plenty of opportunity for location scouting. The campsite was brimming with birdlife and native fauna, we even had a special visit from the resident Wallaby, who didn’t mind the paparazzi getting up close.

The idea of the gathering was to get people together, away from their usual surroundings, in a relaxed outdoor setting. It didn’t matter if you were a seasoned camper, or if it was your first time pitching a tent, it’s about challenging yourself in new situations, and we found there was a mix of outdoor experience among the group. This added to the excitement for many, being their first time camping. There were people sleeping in tents, and some in vans, while others opted for the comfort of a decent mattress in the nearby cabins.

The vibe was apparent on Friday afternoon when people started arriving, with all the enthusiasm that comes from reaching a destination after driving a few hours at the end of a working week, and the look of freedom on their faces! What better way to set the scene that to be greeted by the waft of the campfire, and the warm glow of sunset dappled through the trees. Introductions were made, and the conversations flowed easily, there were some familiar faces from previous Vagabond workshops, and also welcoming new ones. Some of us were already connected via social media, so to meet in person for the first time made it all the more authentic, and just added to the relaxed, casual vibe.

A Place To Create

With a talented pool of photography hosts for the weekend, there was no shortage of knowledge to be shared. The weekend was structured around casual workshop sessions, where guests could decide which host they would like to spend time with to learn from, and having the opportunity to photograph sunrise and sunset. There was the option of heading out with the tripod and filters, to capture land and seascapes with Mitch Pearson-Goff and Sioban Marren, a landscape duo, who on their own do incredible work, but together are a wealth of knowledge, creativity and technical ability. The other option was to join Warren Keelan and Shannon Glasson in the ocean, with a camera in a water housing or an AsixGo, and the opportunity to capture waves, water textures, light reflections, or a surfer in action, drawing from their incredible skills of creativity, technique, and watermanship. With a wide range of skills within the group, some chose to focus on improving their existing knowledge, while others challenged themselves in learning new techniques. Many of us had some experience using our cameras in water housings, although there were also first-timers, so it was a way that we could learn from and inspire each other.

For anyone who thought camping meant a lazy sleep in, got it wrong. The sunrise sessions started early, with a 4.30am wake up! The landscape group had a 20 minute hike to get to the location Mitch and Siobhan had scouted the day before, a large tidal rock shelf adjoining the headland. Positioned to capture the sunrise over the horizon, this provided creative elements for landscape photography, with some rock formations, pooled water for reflections, leading lines, and the movement of water over the rocks. The ocean group head to the beach, got in their wetsuits, and took to the sea to capture sunrise from the water. With a decent cyclone swell hitting the coast, and some interesting cloud cover, the group challenged themselves in working with the conditions. The sunrise didn’t disappoint, with golden light and pastel reflections, there was plenty to capture. There was even a lone stingray that one in the group was lucky enough to capture in the shallows, by using a dome port on the housing.

It’s these situations, outside of your comfort zone, in new and challenging environments, with the support of like-minded people, where you are free to learn and explore creativity. There was so much enthusiasm amongst the group, all keen to share and be inspired by what each other was capturing. To look out and see a group of wetsuited people with cameras in hand, laughing together and motivating each other, gave a real sense of community, what Vagabond is all about.

Campfire Stories

The power of storytelling should never be underrated, and it couldn’t have been more apparent than this weekend. As photographers, we are storytellers of a visual sense, and so the Saturday workshop which I hosted was focussed around the art of visual storytelling.

After a surprise visit Saturday morning from fellow Kombi folk, Pearla Kombi, who turned up with their converted kombi/mobile cafe to rescue the latte swilling guests from their shock of drinking instant coffee while camping, everyone was all smiles. What better way to form connections within a group of people than through sharing stories together over a coffee and campfire!

Being able to connect with others through imagery is an important part of photography. Whether that be through the feeling an image evokes, or through placing the viewer in the scene, knowing how to effectively tell a story through a single image or a collection of images, will help improve your photography and engage those who you share it with.

The workshop session was about sharing experiences of my travels and adventure through Australia with my family in our Kombi van, how through escaping it has opened a world to create, and how through sharing the story, it has attracted an audience who has connected with it, having the ability to inspire and help people realise their own dreams and aspirations. This in itself is the power of storytelling. I talked giving advice and tips on how to authentically capture and share visual stories to engage an audience, and to document through photography.

We then went around the group, with each person sharing something about their journey, their photography, and what has brought them to where they are. This was inspiring, and a highlight for many of us, learning about the stories of others, as they are all so varied and different. In itself, this feeds creativity, giving a different perspective through the lives of others. The next part of the workshop saw us head into the field with the task of compiling a number of images to form a visual story. We were encouraged to look outside the square, and challenge ourselves beyond our usual viewpoint. This was a great exercise, and it was inspiring to see how the group interpreted their surroundings through their images.

Inspiration Through Community

As the weekend drew to a close and we started saying our goodbyes, the one thing that became obvious was the connections that were made. Strangers coming together with a common theme, and walking away as friends, inspired, motiviated, with a fresh perspective and a burst of new creative energy. This is what the Vagabond community is built on. Challenging ourselves through adventure, stepping outside of the familiar, and seeking new opportunities to fuel our creative spirit.

The horizon is looking bright, and with such a positive response to our first gathering of this kind, we’re looking forward to bringing more Vagabond gatherings together around the country, so watch this space!

See a bunch of shots the crew got whilst away...