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Hanging Out With the Locals
Natives inspire young pro to pursue travel photography.

James Neuendorf

James Neuendorf

James Neuendorf

James Neuendorf

James Neuendorf

James Neuendorf

James Neuendorf

James Neuendorf

Sleeping on a hammock suspended from the top of a grass hut may not be a traveler's idea of a good night's sleep. But for fledgling photographer James Neuendorf, it's a great way to meet the locals.

Establishing a relationship with indigenous people almost always translates into better pictures, the 20-year-old says.

The Michigan-based student has already traveled the world's most remote spots in China, Russia, Panama, Haiti and the Philippines.

Now a junior at Concordia College in Ann Arbor, studying biblical languages and journalism, he's a new travel photographer with much promise, working on his first photo book.

He credits his quick photo talent evolution to the notion of stepping outside the tourist bubble, as well as his frustration with his past photos of world travel.

Neuendorf's globetrotting began with missionary trips at age 6, but his interest in photography was sparked after a recent trip to China.

"I appreciated how much a picture is worth because I was interested in capturing my trips but was disappointed with the photos when I came back," he says.

It was after he upgraded his camera and studied art, drawing and basic photography that he began to produce solid results. And it thrilled him.

That experience was followed by a job writing press releases for the university which also required him to use the school camera, a "real Nikon D70." He says this type of work is a great place to start and have access to a professional camera.

A trip to Panama was the birth child of a book idea on missionary work in a tribal setting. The location for the book, the Darien Rainforest, is a remote section of the region, eight hours from the Transamerica Highway that can be reached only by plane. It will explore the Embera Indians' approach to religion told through their words and photos.

Neuendorf is drawn to the rougher areas of the world because that's where he believes he can do the most good.

"People there have a harder time being reached [by others] and are more interesting [to photograph]," he says.

To solidify their cooperation for the book project, he simply talked to the community's pastor and began living with Indian families in their huts.

Likewise, to get his China shots, he simply left the hotel room, went to a slum and began kicking a soccer ball around with the kids. In turn, they began to trust him and let him take their picture.

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