Travel

The 'National Geographic' Photographer Who Likes His Phone More Than His Camera

An interview with Ivan Kashinsky about the joys of the camera phone.

by Ivan Kashinsky
Feb 12 2015, 12:00am


Strolling on the slopes of the Illinizas, two volcanic mountains in Ecuador

Today, a lot of photographers might start with a phone and work toward an expensive camera. Ivan Kashinsky has gone the other way. While shooting for National Geographic, Time, and Geo, he's amassed an Instagram following of 116,000, mostly from stuff he's taken with his iPhone. He says this has been so satisfying that he now often leaves his professional gear at home. I was curious about how this universal shift in journalism could be embodied in one photographer, so I called Ivan at his parents' place in California. We talked about his story, the speed of internet-led change, and about shooting in his adopted Ecuadorian home.

VICE: Can we start with some background? Who are you?
Ivan Kashinsky: I'm from LA originally. I got into this by playing with my dad's Nikon F when I was in high school and I fell in love with taking photos of my friends. But I never thought I'd make a living with photography so I went into psychology. I did that for a while and ended up in a class called social documentation where I started taking photos of homeless people. It felt so good to be in the darkroom and people liked my photos so I decided it was my calling. So I went back to community college, did a few internships, and met my wife—she's from Ecuador—who edited the university newspaper. We moved to South America in 2004. I've been there since.


Investigating the toxic waste left behind by Texaco in the Ecuadorian Amazon

And why photography?
I like to tell people's stories, and especially when they can't tell their own. I've been doing a lot of environmental stories lately for that reason. I also work a lot with my wife and we try to spend time with people, get to know them and their lives. I guess it's all about seeing others live.


Due and posing, Ecuador

Why have you switched to using phones?
A year ago my wife was pregnant, so we were at home a lot. And I just started shooting photos with my iPhone around our town in Ecuador. So I got excited about it and started uploading my photos straight to the National Geographic Instagram account, and linking it back to my own. That got me heaps of subscribers really quickly and I had full creative control. I realized I was onto something.

Is this the direction for photojournalism?
I think so. I think photojournalism has already changed so much over the past few years. Now, if you have a big enough name and followers through social media, you can take it into your own hands and be your own publisher. You can publish your own books using Kickstarter and upload all your own stuff to the web. You don't need the middle guys. It's scary in some ways because magazines and newspapers are going downhill, so we don't know how we'll survive, but then I'm probably working more now than I ever did.


Heavy metal fans in Ecuador

Maybe the internet has sped up that rate that people consume images.
I think that's true. And you know, I heard the other day that more photos were taken last year than have ever been taken in the history of photography. With all the camera phones out there now, I believe it.

But don't photos from a phone look kind of shitty?
No, you can take really beautiful photos with phones now. The technology has become that good. You have less control, that's true, but then there's something freeing about the phone. It's less intrusive. People are intimidated by big cameras but with phones, it's like, You take a photo of me then I'll get one of you . Another thing is that you always have a phone. If you're walking to the store or whatever, you're always ready to go if you see something. I love that spontaneity.

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You can catch more of Ivan's work at Runa Photos. This is a collective he runs with his wife and another Ecuadorian photographer.

Quiet time

Taita Cotopaxi

Ecuadorian lawyer Marco Navas in his office

A man and a boy look at flat screens in the Scala super-mall in Cumbaya, Ecuador

A farmer washes carrots on the side of the road

Ecuador mud over a window

Hugo Benalcazar carries a calf back to his house in barrio Chonta in San José de Minas

Ivan's artist neighbor and his psychedelic paintings

Karlita and Pichón

Three children from Rumipamba guide their cattle through the fog in the fields below Imbabura, a volcano in northern Ecuador

Sincholagua is an inactive volcano in Ecuador

David enjoys a break in the clouds on the summit of Fuya Fuya, an inactive volcano towering above the Lagunas de Mojanda in northern Ecuador