Dmitry CHULOV is a professional travel journalist, photographer, blogger and traveller. In the last century Dmitry traveled one half of the world and in this century he’s planning to visit the other half. He’s a prolific and exacting journalist who had filmed documentaries on important subjects and explored the far reaches of our beautiful planet.
You can catch him on Sunday morning on Russian television where he does a segment on travel destinations and cultural traditions from around the world on the premier Russian travel show which he and his colleagues created. As a professor of journalism at Moscow State University he also passes on his knowledge and skills in TV reporting, creating great programs and teaching how to be a journalist.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I graduated from Moscow State University in 1995. Since 1999 I have specialized in travel journalism, worked for RTR and NTV National TV channels in Russia, leading Russian travel magazine “Around the world” and plenty of other travel and inflight media. Since 2003 every Sunday morning you can see me at the NTV channel presenting a new reportage at “Their customs” («Их нравы» in Russian), a travel TV program about destinations and national traditions of different countries. I speak Spanish, English, some Italian and Russian, which is my native language. I lecture on modern journalism and travel TV journalism at Moscow State University.
How did you begin as a reporter, presenter and producer?
After University I worked for several TV programs, but it was just an ordinary job. Back in 1999 I occasionally had a chance to join the team for the new TV program “Around the world”. I grabbed it and realized, that travel journalism really inspires me. Three years later, myself and three of my colleagues received a proposal from NTV channel to start a new travel TV program from scratch, and since that time it takes all over our time and our life. After 12 years on air the name of the program is known by every viewer in the country.
What attracts you to the documentary style of films?
Probably the ability to show viewers how people live in other places. Cities, architecture, even UNESCO World heritage sites may be rich in history, interesting and picturesque, but all of it was created by people. I like it when someone watching my reportage exclaims: “Oh, look, those Finns cook fish pies exactly the same way as my grand mom did!” or “I remember, we had the same tradition in my village as Greeks, baking a coin in a Christmas shortbread!” Sure, these kind of simple things along with short interviews with locals and stories out off the beaten track let people better understand others. It’s separate from politics, the economy, and other issues and it shows that ultimately people are the most important and interesting part of any country.
Can you tell us about some of your most memorable documentaries?
Each of them was special in it’s own way. A filming trip to Yemen was an extreme event – my team and I were almost kidnapped in Marib province by one of the local tribes.
In Cuba we were arrested for unauthorized filming of a coffee plantation and for many hours we were interrogated by state security.
One of the most unusual places we filmed was Pyramide, a ghost town located in Spitsbergen, Norway. It’s a Russian arctic coal mine settlement, abandoned in 1998, located at the edge of the world – about 800 miles from the North pole. When you get there, you realize that you are in a frozen arctic world of communism in the middle of nowhere.
Another experience was in the Polar Zoo in Bardu, Norway. A cameraman and me had to go and film inside to the wolves cage. Actually, it’s not even a cage, but a large fenced field. You get inside, and the horde of adult wolves become so exited to meet someone new, that they jump, trying to kiss you, and do not stop until you let each one of them put their tongues in your mouth – it was scary, but it’s their way of saying “Hello, I’m so glad to meet you!” We returned unharmed, but anyway those wolves are wild animals. Sure, our life is full of surprises, you never know, what’s coming next!
What is it about being a journalist that attracts you?
Meeting new people and seeing new places every day. I can’t imagine myself working in the office from nine to five, seeing the same boring wall or view from a window day after day. Freedom, new impressions, new stresses, road inconveniences and surprises bring some adrenaline to my life and I appreciate it!
Can you tell us about some of your career highlights?
I’ve received many awards from Ministries of Tourism of several countries, professional travel journalist community, “Golden Tambourine” (Russian National award for journalists doing ethnographical documentaries), but one of them I received verbally in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We had finished my stand-up in front of the Ascension Cathedral (the second tallest wooden building in the world) and a pretty Kazakh lady in her early 20’s approached me asking for an autograph saying: “You know, I was grew up on your programs!” I’m 42 now and feel so young, and at that moment I was proud that we were known, followed and loved by viewers abroad. But at the same time I understood… I’m getting old.
Are there any favorite projects that you have done?
Yes, it’s a documentary about Russian natural gas. It was not a travel project, but a very challenging one to work on. I was contacted by CNN-Turk, who’s top TV presenter wanted to make a documentary for the Turkish audience explaining what is natural gas and how it gets from Yamal peninsula in Russia to Istanbul and Ankara. It is a three lingual international TV project; TV teams from Russia and Turkey, filming in both countries, crazy logistics and geography, chartering flights and helicopters, hundreds of kilograms of equipment, customs, lawyers, and finally the extreme Russian north and freezing temperatures up to minus 50 degrees Celsius. Did you know, that in these temperatures rubber and plastic even of the most professional sound cables deteriorate after being exposed outside for only 15 minutes? Not to say anything about inner parts of our TV and photo cameras. This project took me half a year. At the end we all were exhausted, but we did it!
What are you looking forward to in the near future?
When I was a teenager an 82-year old professional photographer retiring from his long career, presented me his “Leica” photo camera produced in 1943, which he worked with for many years. Since that time I fell in love with photography. I even worked as a photographer for a local newspaper as a student. And now on almost every trip I carry a backpack with my favorite Nikon photo gear weighing up to 35 pounds. This year I organized my photo portfolio website at PhotoShelter and started selling stock travel photos. In September I set up my personal travel website, which at the moment is in Russian only, but I hope I’ll have time to translate it into English in the near future. I have loads of images and stories from trips around the world, which could not be included into TV reportages, but it would be nice to share with my readers and followers at social networks.
What would be your advice for someone starting out as a journalist?
Do what you like. To become the best in your chosen profession, you have to really love your work. Because if you do, it will take all your time, your efforts, your soul, and often cut you from family and loved ones. But in exchange it will bring you satisfaction and happiness, recognition and respect from viewers and colleagues. No one says it is easy. But doing things that inspire you during every day of your life and career is much better than the opposite.
Do you have any particular favorite places around the world?
The more I travel, the more difficult this question becomes to answer. For sure, it is northern Thailand along the border with Myanmar. Not your typical tourist destinations like Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai or even Mae Hong Son, but places not spoiled by mass tourism such as small villages of the hill tribes: Black and Flower Lahu people, Lisu people and others. Did you know, that in Black Lahu tribal language (Thais do not understand this language) the funny word “akumumu” means simultaneously “hello”, “thank you” and “good bye”? My favorite places in South America are in Chile: fantastic El Tatio geyser valley at 4200 meters above sea level, which is the best to enjoy at sunrise in cold weather and Patagonia, especially Torres del Paine National park. In Europe: Lofoten Islands in Norway and exclusive local dishes – fried cod tongues and cheeks – not heard about even in the Norwegian capital of Oslo!
What stands out for your as a must see journey or place for other based on your experience as a journalist covering cultures and places around the world?
For backpackers – Mongolia. Did you know that two horseback riders or car drivers after seeing each other at the horizon in steppe (even if they were heading in parallel trajectories) always meet? For ages this was the only way to spread information on the steppe, even in the days of no cellular coverage or where there is no television available. People in remote areas of Mongolia are extremely hospitable. They don’t meet foreigners often or even ever. And if you happen to be a guest at a real Mongolian marriage ceremony – it can be a memory of your life!
For landscapes and nature lovers – Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean with beautiful volcanic landscapes or Costa Rica with its unique nature and fantastic blue marlin fishing.
I can make this list very long, every corner of our planet has something to offer that is very, very special. We just have to do some research and know what we want.
What would be your dream project?
New Caledonia. I imagine the green color of grass there is different from anywhere in the world and the sky is blue with nice white clouds like in heaven.
Where are you going next?
I’m going to Lithuania to cover a story about local hot air ballooning enthusiasts. Due to the local airport being not very busy, Vilnius has been converted into the capital of hot air ballooning in the Baltic States. Every evening you can see 12-16 balloons flying over the Old town with tourists. Their pilots fly daily (when weather permits) almost for free in order to collect enough from sponsors and tickets selling to take part in international competitions. All life of these people is about ballooning!
What is the best thing about being a journalist?
Bringing people stories that will inform and inspire them, the chance to discover something new and interesting, that other people don’t even see. And for the journalist himself it’s changing environments every day.
Can you tell us about some of the places you have been? What was it that was special about each place?
I’ve been to about 50 countries and counting. But it is not the number that matters, only the quality. Let me tell you about one place, it’s Coober Pedy, South Australia. Have you heard about the Gold Rush that happened in the United States in the 19th century? Believe it or not, in Coober Pedy the Rush is still on a full scale. It’s an Opal Rush. Everyone can come to Coober Pedy, claim a piece of desert and start digging for opals. Opal is a precious stone and the national gemstone of Australia. Lucky opal miners can get rich in one day. I met a guy, who lives there. He found opals worth $200,000.00 USD in one day! Not so lucky people can hire equipment, buy fuel, water, dig for months, spend all their money, but at the end find nothing and go bankrupt. Some enthusiasts arrive in Coober Pedy for a week to try their luck and stay for years and sometimes for the rest of the life.
Locals run a golf club there. They have all equipment, carts, all you expect to see in a golf club in the US or anywhere in the world. But how can you play golf with no grass at all? Cobber Pedy is in the middle of the grey dusty desert. Its a former sea bed (under which due to complicated geological processes opals where formed in prehistoric times). It is so flat, colorless and lacking contrast, that it’s impossible… to see the holes. What do the golfers do? They splash diesel fuel around every hole. The dust becomes dark and thus makes holes visible for players. Sound like playing golf in hell? Well, yes. But also in the heart of the Opal Rush capital, which one day can make you extremely rich!
A little bit about Moscow, Russia
Can you tell us about your favorite Moscow neighborhood and why?
For me it’s Sparrow Hills – the most green place in Russia’s capital with a panoramic view over the whole city. I live a couple of miles from there, and I like bringing my guests to the viewpoint at magic hour, everyone gets very excited!
Where do you shop for the tools of your trade?
For decades now I have used Nikon only. It’s my favorite brand and there is no reason in the world that could make me change from Nikon. So I have a long list of Nikon top end zoom and prime lenses. As usual, camera bodies change, lenses stay. At the moment I primarily use a D800 body and among my “must always have with me” lenses are 24-70 and 70-200 zooms. The rest depends on the trip planning; it can be tilt-shift 24mm or 16mm fisheye or something else that I add to my staples for that trip. I normally prefer to take more than I probably need, instead of “whipping the cat” when I am already at the location, even if it is going to make my photo backpack unreasonably heavy. But on the other hand, I never go over 16 kg.
One thing I’ve learned from the very first days of working as a travel journalist: never ever check-in any of your photo gear as luggage with the airlines. All you need for filming must be with you at all times as hand luggage only. To keep your gear in working order throughout your trip you need to keep your equipment with you (how many broken tripods I have received due to airport belts! Imagine what can happen to camera or lenses!). Also you need to keep your camera gear with you because of tight trip schedules: bags can miss connections, be lost or whatever. Airlines might be able to bring your delayed bags to you tomorrow or two days later, but they will not run after you from one city to another. On a normal trip you are moving around and it will inevitably be difficult to get your gear. And, you need it for filming here and now! Sure, some items you can buy on the spot, but even disregarding unnecessary expenses, do you really think you can find Nikon D800 or a top end Nikon prime in a photo shop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia or Kathmandu, Nepal? Absolutely not. So struggle, fight and never give up. Once at a check-in desk I had to put on my camera around my neck with the heaviest of the lenses and flash, and take my laptop in my hands, and put all I could into my pockets so I could make my photo backpack weight under the maximum allowed limit.
Once, my colleagues had a flight route from Moscow-Delhi-Kolkata. They were assured at check in in Moscow, that the luggage will fly with them to the final destination with no problem. What happened? The bags where stuck in Delhi, because passengers had to pass customs formalities there themselves. But my colleagues where not informed about it by the air company staff. Can you imagine them in hot Indian Kolkata for three weeks in cold November clothes from Moscow for…. three weeks of filming? Without even a toothbrush from their missing suitcases? Sure, they bought some Indian clothes, looked like locals… now it’s fun to remember, but what really saved the trip was – they had all their cameras and gear, money and passport in their hands!
For me it is always a problem. For my regular luggage after many broken hard suitcases, suitcases on wheels and without wheels, and ranging from fancy brands and Chinese no-name, I decided to go only for big strong soft bags without wheels (and very important – not a very common color to avoid being taken by other passenger by mistake!) which don’t have any detail and that can’t be broken. But with photo gear bags it’s a total nightmare…
Yes, you are right, there are so many brands that produce photo bags and backpacks. But making a choice here is extremely personal. For me the photobag has to give enough protection for the camera gear itself (how many times my backpacks fallen down from minibuses trunks?). They have to be thick, lightweight and at the same time strong enough for the heavy load and be reasonably waterproof and with reliable zippers (imagine if the backpack with your 10-15K USD gear becomes broken and unusable in the middle of a dusty Ethiopian trip?). Also, when making a choice, you have to keep in mind all the configurations you could possibly need for lenses, bodies, laptop, converters, chargers, cables and all the small staff, etc., etc. Last time I was buying a photo backpack, I brought all my usual trip gear to the shop (funny?) and only after half an hour of experimenting by packing all the gear which I assumed I may need in different variations in different bags did I make a final decision. Maybe it looked funny in the shop, but it was me, who was going to use this bag, so I wanted to be completely sure.
Professional photo equipment shops in Moscow provide all you can imagine you might need. (Just in case do your research in advance for price difference if you are planning a purchase and going to visit Moscow; especially if you are not against “grey” import and ready to rely on an international warranty). And even if they don’t have something very special, you can easily order it. Often they have very competitive prices compared to European prices. So mostly I get my gear from Moscow. Sometimes on trips – the last GoPro and D800 body I brought from Hong Kong – I cannot not resist the temptation of the shopping rush. The only thing I never do – ordering bodies and lenses by post/internet. I do order online a lot of things, but not lenses or bodies. I want to touch, test, feel it with my hands and not take chances of a surprise connected with postal delivery.
My favorite photo shop is an old “Kinolubitel”, but mostly because of nostalgia – it exists from 1960-x or 1970-s (deep Soviet times) and everyone who was born in this city knows this brand and it’s location at Leninsky Prospect.))
Where and what was the last great meal you had in Moscow?
I’m a beef eater. And it was a fantastic ribeye at Goodman’s steak house last Sunday. Also one of my favorite restaurants in Moscow is the “White rabbite”, I definitely will bring my guests there if I want them to have good impressions about dining, wine and views. “White rabbit” is on top of the building with huge glass windows next to the famous Stalin architectural wonder, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building which is known all around the world.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning (when in Moscow)?
In the summer – cycling from my place and back along Moscow River to the Kremlin and back. I normally do a 18-25 mile circuit.
Where do you go in Moscow to have fun?
I’m not a big night life goer, especially in Moscow )) Seems that I can tell you more about the rich night life in Bangkok, Thailand then in my native city. But I have an excuse: I don’t spend much time in Moscow, and when I’m in Moscow I prefer to spend it with my family and close friends.
What is it about Moscow that inspires you to create?
Moscow is boiling and bubbling 24/7. And like everywhere, you just have to know the events, people and places. There are plenty of interesting modern exhibition centers like “Winzavod” and others (not to mention traditional museums), The choice is so wide, that it depends only on your sphere of interest. Here you can get new ideas virtually from everywhere. For me Moscow recently converted into a street light capital (if not of the world, then of Europe at least). Imagine: even when you go to UNESCO World Heritage sites, for example, to the old city of Regensburg, Germany or the majority of others in Europe, after sunset you can barely see local architectural highlights in the dark. In Moscow it’s absolutely the opposite: buildings in the historical part of the city are artistically lit, it’s all bright and colorful. Moscow even runs a yearly light festival, when many historical buildings like Big theatre, Ostankino TV tower, Central exhibition hall (in 2015 even including Ministry of Defense building) become the base screens for beautiful dynamic light installations and shows, which are free for all people outside in the streets.
Moscow’s best kept secret?
Moscow’s Metro, Red Square or popular tourist locations, which you can find in every guidebook, are well known by foreign visitors. There is one place they normally do not visit or have no time to visit. It’s Patriarshiye prudy (Patriarch’s ponds), it’s a piece of old Moscow with it’s own spirit, architecture, and background in Russian literature (“Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov). It’s located in the heart of the capital and at the same time it’s a quiet square with a pond and it’s a perfect place to relax in the middle of the city. Looks best in autumn with yellow and red leaves on the trees surrounding the pond reflected in the water.
More information about Dmitry Chulov:
– My personal photo web site is www.dchulov.photoshelter.com. You are welcome to browse it for my photos from around the world and, if you like, download images, order prints, products and more. I have only recently started it and at the moment it has only about 1500 images, but I’m constantly uploading new ones from my extensive photo archive.
– My fresh new web site and blog is at www.dchulov.com. Right now it is in Russian only, but I hope to find enough time to translate it into English soon.
– Follow me on social networks: Facebook: Dmitry Chulov; Twitter: Dmitry_Chulov; Instagram: Dmitry_Chulov.