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Explorer of the Week: Becca Skinner

When photographer Becca Skinner was nine years old, a friend told her to give up on her dream of shooting for National Geographic. Despite her friend’s advice, Skinner achieved that dream with a Young Explorers grant that allowed her to document the post-conflict society of Banda Aceh, Sumatra—a province effected by the 2004 tsunami.

What project are you working on now? 

I have some big trips that aren’t set in stone yet, but my biggest project lately is learning how to live in one spot after having lived in my car to travel.

How do you choose what subjects you photograph? 

Societal resilience has always interested me and my larger projects have been about post-natural disaster communities, but in general, photographing people is what I would prefer.

Have you ever been lost? How’d you get found? 

Yes, both mentally and physically. Whenever I’m feeling lost in the world, I drive into the mountains and take photographs, which always seems to give me a paradigm shift. Physically, I get lost all the time. I have a terrible sense of direction but a great memory. Once I’m in a place twice or more, it starts to look familiar and I can find my way back but could never tell you the street names.

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve discovered in your work or in the field? 

The biggest surprise of working the field was how excited people were to share their culture, homes, and knowledge with us while in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, for my Young Explorers grant project. It was my first trip abroad, so the kindness of strangers made all the difference in making the expedition easier and photo locations more accessible.

Photograph by Becca Skinner
Photograph by Becca Skinner

If you could trade places with one explorer at National Geographic, who would it be and why? 

I’m not sure that I would trade places, but there are definitely a couple National Geographic explorers whose work I really admire. The late Bobby Model always created images that have inspired me. Jimmy Chin‘s work is consistently jaw-dropping and I would love to jump on an expedition with Lynsey Addario, who is a role model of mine.

What do you think National Geographic explorers will be exploring in 100 years? 

I’m sure National Geographic will keep uncovering secrets about lost tribes, researching the deepest and darkest places of the ocean, and exploring the far corners of space.

Where is your favorite place that you’ve traveled? 

Even though it’s one of the most traveled places, Yosemite National Park always amazes me.

If you had unlimited funds, what would your next photography project be?

I would love to go back to Sumatra and research the post-conflict society of Banda Aceh. Before the devastating tsunami in 2004, the province was immersed in a brutal civil conflict that had lasted over 30 years. The tsunami acted as a peace treaty between both parties. Aceh is unique in that way, as it is both a post-disaster and post-conflict society learning how to live again.

If you were to meet your eight-year-old self, what would you say? 

When I was about nine, I remember telling a friend that I wanted to shoot photos for National Geographic. She told me that it was everyone’s dream, so I should probably give it up. I would go back and tell my nine-year-old self to keep exploring, not listen to her advice, and ask a lot of questions about the way the world works.