Our Tribe | The Mavericks - Rob Fraser

Our TribeThe Mavericks - Rob Fraser

Within each of us resides a mindset to create our own path – we call this ‘the maverick streak’. Our Maverick Collection namesakes are people who have made an inspired choice to pursue their own route in life.

The Maverick Streak starts with Rob Fraser (Fraser the Rucksack) – the Lake District based photographer, adventure guide and creative spirit. We asked him to share his personal journey.

Other ways of seeing. Words and Photography by Rob Fraser. 

I remember picking up my first camera when I was just fourteen years old. It was cheap and plastic and I had to peer through a tiny, fogged window on the top to see what I was framing. I clicked the shutter-button, manually advanced the film then moved on to another part of the Pembrokeshire beach, mindful of being limited to only 24 pictures. The film was then sent off to TriplePrint, and I had to wait. In 1977 photography was real, not virtual, and a large chunk of the learning curve was though patience.

Two weeks later I excitedly opened my first print pack to see what I had captured. A cascade of images spilled out onto the table and amongst the blurry, grainy, ill-framed snapshots one gem of an image stood out: a herring gull perfectly captured in flight. That was the moment I got photography and I was hooked. Since then my professional life has morphed from being a photo-reporter for a provincial newspaper in my hometown of Tenby, to being trained as a Ground Photographer with the Royal Air Force. I turned my back on the service in 1990 and became a freelance location specialist working on commissions for architects, advertising companies and corporations all over the world. It was all fun and exciting, but not quite me. I was never the angry-young-man type, or driven by fierce ambition. In fact what really drives me is curiosity, and that’s what led me to turn my back on what might be thought of as a secure city-based existence with more than enough money, and head out into the wider world, following my quest to look more closely, and have that wonderful feeling that I’m still learning, every day.

In 2001 I forced a seismic shift in my life and spent a year backpacking across the USA, down the eastern side of South America and through New Zealand and Australia. I moved to the edge of the Lake District soon after returning and settled on a different course. A significant moment was being offered the chance to guide for Keswick-based KE Adventure. Initially reluctant – for some unfathomable reason – I did my short apprenticeship in the Everest region of Nepal in 2003 and then was given the chance to lead in the Cordillera Real mountains of Bolivia a few months later. Since then I have led more than 70 treks to some stunning parts of the planet including Kamchatka, Ethiopia, Patagonia, Pakistan and a whole heap more. This summer I was in the high regions of Kazakhstan and Bolivia. My knees are still strong enough to carry me and my camera kit, and I am still really curious about what lies out there. I largely feel as if I have stumbled to this point in my life. But looking back I can see that there were moments when hard decisions were made, Rubicons crossed and new lives forged. And opportunities grabbed.

About four years ago I had a crazy dream – literally a dream formed high up in the mountains whilst guiding in the west of Nepal – to become a porter and work on the trail up to Everest Base Camp. I spoke to a few people expecting them to dismiss the idea as foolish, but all of them thought it brilliant. I became nervously committed, and armed with a rough plan and a wonderfully adapted rucksack by Vera at Millican (I named the bag in her honour) I flew out to start my new (short-term) career last April. However, it was not enough for me to just do the job, I also wanted to capture the experience through photography, video and an audio diary. I obviously fooled myself that I would have the energy to do this on top of lugging 35 kilos up to 5000 metres, in hot and dusty conditions and on a low-calorie diet. I love the fact that I am still learning. That I did no training whatsoever helped me succeed, because if I had strapped a large load on my back and walked on the hills close to home I am sure that I would have given up before I’d even started. It was hard, and getting horribly sick on day two only added to my woes, but I’m a determined sod and managed to finish the 18-day trip. Heck, by the end I was almost enjoying it, but I always knew that I was only going to be doing the one journey; some porters manage three or even four trips in a season.

And therein lay the nub of the project I called i porter; there were porters I walked alongside who were far smaller than me and a few even older, so if they could do it for the equivalent of two pints of beer for a day’s hard graft then what could be my excuse for failure. I dug in when it got tough, lost a fair few kilos and learnt a lot about their lives as well as myself. Carrying out the project opened a few doors for me and unleashed a flood of new ideas that I am now mulling over: some will happen, many will fail. It is the process of thinking of new things to point my cameras and my self at that I really enjoy: feeding my curiosity. I have become much more at home working in the wilder parts of the planet: off the beaten track, or away from any track at all. Over the past three years in particular it feels like karmic gravity has gradually pulled the two constants in my life together: my love for being outdoors and photography.

But it has never just been about the grand vistas; the breathless sunsets from a 5000 metre peak, or a sunrise lighting a soundless, empty desert. I also get childishly excited by the small worlds that lie within a few yards from my house; the call of the returning curlews after a winter away, snowdrops pushing through the base of a hedge that I planted, or the pick of the season’s first blackberries So, here and now, I am at another change-point. My photographic practice is starting to open up into a new sphere. Having met and married my best friend Harriet a few years ago we are now starting to work together – she is a writer - and it all feels rather grown up and, dare I say it, professional. Since awkwardly holding my first camera 40 years ago a lot has changed in my life and the ways of the world. But I am still a photographer and I will always be passionate about what I do. That kid on the beach is still within me.