Portraits of Medellin: Through The Lens of Matt Tuapola

By: Naomi Matlow 

Header photo by Matt Tuapola

Matt Tuapola is a freelance photographer and travel guide who joined us to live Unsettled in Medellin this August. Not only did the experience spark a personal exploration into his Samoan roots and an opportunity to intentionally evaluate his next creative and professional ventures, but he also embarked on an epic photography project to document the faces and emotions of the whole Medellin August team. What better way to visually honor a newfound community in new surroundings? Thank you Matt for sharing your story and your art. We are eagerly awaiting your documentary 🙂

Name: Matt Tuapola

Current Location: Sydney, Australia

Next travel destination: New Zealand

A current word or intention in your life: Purpose

Recently, where have you found your sense of wonderment? 

Definitely discovering common threads between Samoan and South American culture during my recent Unsettled experience and subsequent travel. 

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your life before your Unsettled retreat.

I am a New Zealand-born Samoan working as a freelance photographer and travel guide. I had reached a point where I was in a creative rut trying to figure out my next project and the direction I wanted to take in my career going forward.

What inspired you to live Unsettled in Medellin? What did the city teach you?

I have always wanted to travel in South America and Unsettled gave me the opportunity to finally visit and take some time to think about my next move. The people and the city of Medellin taught me what resilience and mental fortitude really means. To endure a 60 year civil war and the Narcos years, and come out the other side and show the world who they really are through art, tourism, and developing a transport infrastructure, is a testament that those years didn’t define them. The Medellin I have seen in the media is not what I found when I was there and this reminded me that real life travel to new places is always rewarding and surprising.

In your opinion, what makes a great photograph?

For me, photography has always been about emotion. Most people don’t like to have their photo taken so it’s an incredibly vulnerable process that requires me to connect with my subject and make them feel comfortable so they show their true self. If you can capture that split second in an image that communicates emotion, then for me, that is the secret to a great photograph.

Please tell us a little bit about your Unsettled: Medellin photography project. What gave you the idea? How did it feel to work on it? When did you unveil the photography series to the group?

The photography project came about during our intention setting workshop and felt like the best way for me to share my skills and strengths with my group. The idea of capturing everyone’s portrait in new surroundings during a time where they were away from their ‘normal’ was appealing. The professional challenge for me was completing 9 mini shoots spread over 8 days as this was a higher workload of shooting than my usual and felt crazy busy. We did the big reveal at the Experience Leader, Corey’s apartment over a few drinks in the final week and this allowed me to share how I saw each of my Unsettled team and give them a new view of themselves.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your life after your Unsettled retreat.

After my month with Unsettled in Medellin I travelled onto Peru. I was able to connect with a Lima-based anthropologist and discovered more common threads between Samoan and Peruvian culture. I have now returned to Sydney and am continuing my research into the links between these cultures, and I’m planning a return to South America. I plan to print my findings in a photo journalistic method and I’m looking into the possibility of filming a documentary covering my journey as I feel there is a story to tell. The greatest gift I could have found during my time with Unsettled was finding a new direction and purpose which brings together my curiosity, creativity, skills, and my love of travel.

Inspired to explore what living Unsettled could unlock for you?


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