When we decided it was time for an exclusively Antipodean guidebook to add to our ever-expanding library for stylish globetrotters, our first port of call was acclaimed Australian photographer Earl Carter (right). Melbourne-based Earl has roamed the world shooting hotel, food and interiors pictures for A-list magazines and books, so who better to quiz for insider travel tips, from St Kilda’s best restaurants to Cambodia’s coolest beach hotels…
Why did you become a photographer?
I took up photography because I couldn’t draw properly. Then my parents sent me to Japan as an exchange student, and fortune smiled on me. My host family introduced me to a famous landscape photographer, and while I was there I became his assistant. That’s what I love about photography: you travel a lot, see amazing places, have incredible experiences and capture the moment.
What inspires you?
Photography is about capturing light, so no matter where I am, anywhere in the world – (left, from top) Tuscany, Sydney, Mantua or Western Australia – natural light and how it reacts and creates moods is my source of inspiration.
You’re based in bayside St Kilda in Melbourne, home to gourmet Smith getaway The Prince on Acland Street. Any other favourite local places?
I’ve lived and worked in the cut and thrust of St Kilda for 30 years, and feel like a pioneer when I look back at the early days. It has a vibrant arts, café and restaurant culture now, and reminds me of Paris, London and Barcelona. I love Melbourne Wine Room for Friday lunch – the best meal in town, with great wine and service.
As well as travel and interiors gigs, you’ve shot cookbooks for top chefs, including David Thompson and Neil Perry. Have you picked up any signature recipes?
I have to confess that I’m not hot at cooking so I leave it to my wife Wanda. After witnessing me in the kitchen once, Neil did give me one piece of advice that I adhere to – KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
You shot Smith’s Australia/New Zealand hotel guide. Which hotels blew you away?
I love New Zealand. What’s better than staying in luxurious comfort, looking at jaw-dropping scenery, drinking gorgeous wines and eating delicious food? Snorkelling at Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef (right), in Western Australia, and sleeping in tents in the dunes is the polar opposite, but just as mind-blowing.
You hit the road again for our South-East Asia guidebook. Fall for any hotels there?
Knai Bang Chatt hotel in Cambodia impressed me (left). Khmer architect Vann Molyvann, who worked with Le Corbusier, designed three perfect houses in the 1960s on the beach at Kep. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge destroyed them in the 1970s, but they’ve been restored. As you wander the grounds, the history is palpable. It’s amazing lying under the palms in a hammock, drink in hand, watching the sunset.
Describe your ideal weekend away…
I’d escape to a secret surf spot between Barwon Heads and Aireys Inlet on Victoria’s west coast near the Great Ocean Road, out of range of email or mobile phones, with a one-metre swell, an offshore breeze, cold winter water and no one else on the break. I’d stumble out of the sea at twilight, light a fire, open a bottle of shiraz and tuck into Wanda’s sensational chicken.
In a perfect world, who would be your ideal travel companion?
Iconic French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. I would learn a lot.
Any advice for taking travel pics?
Know your equipment like the back of your hand, so when an image appears in front of you, it’s a natural reaction to lift the camera and shoot – as with this shot I took at Giraffe Manor (right), near Nairobi, Kenya.
Share some secrets from your international travel address book.
New St Kilda restaurant Golden Fields – wherever chef Andrew McConnell goes we will follow, he’s a culinary and style maestro. I also love La Chassagnette near Arles, in Provence, France. To be in the Carmargue, in a courtyard sipping fine wine and feeling the warm North African winds, eating exquisite organic food by passionate chef Armand Arnal, is unforgettable. When Manhattan gets too much, the Norwood private members’ club is my great escape and solace. In London, as soon as you step inside Sir John Soane’s Museum, you step back a century. It’s like walking into a film set, or onto the pages of The World Of Interiors magazine.
EARL’S TRAVEL ADDRESS BOOK
La Chassagnette Le Sambuc, 13200 Arles, France (+33 (0)4 90 97 26 96)
Golden Fields 157 Fitzroy Street, Melbourne, Australia (+61 (0)3 9525 4488)
Melbourne Wine Room 125 Fitzroy Street, Melbourne, Australia (+61 (0)3 9525 5599)
Norwood 241 West 14th St, New York, NY 10011, United States (+1 212 255 9300)
Sir John Soane’s Museum 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2, United Kingdom (+44 (0)20 7405 2107)
All photography by Earl Carter.