Not only are we lucky enough to do a job where we get to go out on the road, seeing beautiful wild places and weird and wonderful spaces to stay in, we’re also lucky enough to meet and work with some incredible people too. We caught up with Sarah Afiqah Rodgers, photographer, explorer, and van lifer (and figure skater) – and asked her about her work documenting some of the wildest places on earth, some of which are in our own back yard. When she’s not providing us with some incredible photography, she can be found (most recently) touring the NC500 for the most beautiful hidden gems.
Hi Sarah! Let’s start at the beginning, the question is, where is that? When did you realise that you wanted to do this for a living?
My journey to photography was kind of sudden. It was never something I wanted to do or considered as a child. It was my love for travelling and being outdoors that pushed me to find a way of making that my living, and photography so happened to be the thing that propelled me to do that. The beginning was at the start of 2018, when I decided to do a solo trip to Norway, with the hopes of learning photography and improving my skill set.
When you look back at your childhood and early life, what do you think inspired you to do what you do now?
As a child, I was a figure skater. Starting from the age of two and working my way towards an Olympic career. Circumstances meant that I had to stop, and for a long time had no direction. I took it upon myself to travel and capture my journey throughout, and while doing this noticed the success people were having through social media, showing me that this was something I could pursue.
The few hints that I have looking back to my childhood is that I always had a love for arts and being creative. Whether that be my arts and crafts classes or even my pottery classes every Wednesday. My family are also incredibly creative, with many of my relatives being very successful musicians and/or photographers themselves.
When was the first moment you felt like you were truly a pro? Or is imposter syndrome still hanging around?
Imposter syndrome is very much alive and present. It’s something that I think every single person goes through, and experiences in any profession. It’s something that is very difficult to overcome. However, the first time I truly felt like a pro was when I saw my photo on a billboard over a highway in Manchester. It was one of the few moments in my career where that imposter syndrome vanished, and I truly felt like I achieved something great.
You’re actually living van life right now – is it all you dreamed or is it harder than you imagined – or both?
It is definitely both, but arguably 80% of it is the dream and the remaining 20% is harder than I imagined. Being able to wake up next to the coast one day and then next to a mountain the next is something I remind myself to never take for granted. The sense of freedom is everything I could have ever hoped for.
However, you need to have a good relationship with the person you’re living with, if there’s two of you. Because there is no such thing as personal space in a van! This can be very challenging at times, but it hardly outweighs the positives of being able to be anywhere whenever you want.
Are there any moments you hunger for a ‘normal job’?
While I hunger for the stability of income, as being a freelance photographer can be highly unreliable, the idea of being constrained to a “normal job” genuinely brings me deep sadness. I don’t think I would feel fulfilled or satisfied with myself if I ever went back to that lifestyle. While it isn’t something I have completely removed from my future as circumstances may change, it is something that I consider a last resort.
What’s your best travel ‘horror story’?
I have too many! But here are some of my best ones:
I’ve almost drowned playing in the ocean in Australia because I was ignorant to the strength of the waves. The waves were so strong, they spun me around causing my heels to hit the back of my head and smashing my face on the ground, until this gentle giant of an Australian man came and rescued me.
I have also been charged at by a dingo in Australia while my then boyfriend pushed me out the way to save himself!
I once travelled from Scotland to England before a flight the following day when I realised I forgot my passport in Scotland! Meaning I had to take the train all the way back North again to collect it, just to go back down South to catch my flight.
And finally, my personal favourite, in Jordan, where the cutest, but most evil little kitten scratched the tiniest of scratches on my hand, causing me to get 11 injections due to a rabies scare…Turns out I had cat scratch disease, who would ever think that was a thing! There have been some wild times!
What’s a place that’s surprised you? Or where your expectations have been shattered or exceeded?
I have to say, Kyrgyzstan was a place that exceeded all expectations. It was a country that I found to be alluring and mysterious, with minimal knowledge as to what I would find. Once I got there it was an adventurer’s goldmine. With free rein as to where you could explore, it was a country that made you feel like you were discovering unknown territory for the first time, bringing out the love for the adventure even more.
Luckily, I am still yet to experience a scenario where my expectations were completely shattered!
There’s a moment from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty that made the rounds of socials recently – where a photographer talks about not taking a photo, as the moment is just for him – what’s a moment you’ve felt incredibly lucky to experience?
My favourite movie!
This is something that I try to do quite regularly. There are many times when you get over excited and lost behind the view finder of the camera. But I truly believe that will never be the same as seeing it with your own eyes, and I find it so important to ingrain it into your own memory.
A moment I felt incredibly lucky to experience was when I got to see a live and very active volcano erupt in front of my eyes. Completely in a trance watching the lava spew into the air and move at speeds you wouldn’t imagine, is one of the more appreciative moments in my life. I don’t know anything that could compare to seeing new earth form right in front of you, and I am so lucky to be able to say that I’ve seen it.
Where’s your ‘wild’ happy place? Where would you go for a break in nature?
My breaks in nature are mostly spent in the van among the highlands of Scotland. It’s my home and where I experience the most joy. Being able to open the van door to a different scene every day is so fulfilling and gives me a lot of contentment.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?
I’d tell them that it is worth it. It’s worth the harsh budgeting, long hours at work, the lows. It takes a lot of hours to get this lifestyle started, but once the ball gets rolling, it is one of the greatest things you’ll ever do for yourself. Mainly, while it feels out of reach, it is very much possible, and I encourage one to keep going!
If you want to see some of Sarah’s adventures, follow along exploring the NC500 – or even just want some inspiration to live a life more wild, you can follow along her incredible journey on Instagram or TikTok or her site The World with Sarah.