In the past 18 months, Emmett Sparling has been hanging out of a helicopter over Belize, diving with sharks in South Africa, and trekking through the Peruvian Andes.
The adventure photographer has spent much of the last two years hopping around the world, photographing landscapes so surreal, you might not even think they’re on Earth.
Which is where the name for his new show at Gallery@Cove Commons comes from. “Destination: Earth,” opens September 19 and runs to October 29.
“It all started with bugs in my backyard on Bowen,” says 20-year-old Emmett.
The Instagram-famous local grew up on-island. He’s been practicing with cameras since he was in grade six, first following bugs, and then turning his lens to the forest and ocean of his home.
“That’s why I do so much nature photography – because there’s so much nature on Bowen,” says Emmett. “It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”
Hardly an idle student growing up, Emmett’s Island Pacific School grade nine masterworks project earned him a trip to a student film competition in Hollywood. In high school, Emmett branched into clothing and fashion photography, frequently doing shoots with professional models and brands. In the summer after high school, Emmett shot for the clothing brand, Guess Canada.
In a post-high school gap year, Emmett started travelling. First in Mexico and then in Indonesia. He started building a travel photography portfolio and an Instagram following.
With 30,000 Instagram followers last year, brands started calling up Emmett. In July 2017, he had his first sponsored trip and travelled to the Czech Republic. And it snowballed from there.
Twenty-eight countries (and several visits to many of those countries) and thousands of photos later, Emmett’s current Instagram following is 356,000 accounts.
Though Emmett’s Instagram feed has a moody (his word), ethereal feel with mist rising in more pictures than not, his subjects are varied. Mountains rise from the clouds, penguins waddle along a beach, and shorelines, roads and waves curve across frames. It’s all the spectacular.
Emmett’s clients range from helicopter companies to resorts, tourism organizations to clothing brands.
Sometimes clients sponsor trips and sometimes Emmett brings a product with him on a self-funded adventure and sponsors pay for photos or Instagram stories. With every adventure, his recognition grows.
“I’m home for five days a month on average,” says Emmett. His busy schedule won’t allow for more down time, though he’s trying to push for a week or two between trips now.
“It’s nice to slow down and take breaks,” he says.
Emmett has risen to fame through and on Instagram. The photographic social media platform has been critiqued for contributing to users’ anxiety and depression, and for portraying glamorous but inaccurate or incomplete portrayals of social media influencers’ lives. Emmett though, says that he doesn’t consider himself an influencer and he tries to stay out of that scene.
“A lot of the stuff I post on there, I’m having a crazy awesome time,” he says. “The adventures are just as crazy as they look.”
Emmett says that having that attitude towards social media influencing has been helpful.
“I rarely get the negative comments,” he says, “which is super rare for big accounts.”
As for the traipsing around the world, Emmett says that he’s still young and has a lot of energy, but it’s not a forever job.
“Eventually I want to go into directing feature films,” he says. “But I’m not really in any rush because this is pretty fun.”
For those who prefer not to hang out of helicopters and who want to live vicariously through Emmett’s photography, there will be around 50 photos in the upcoming exhibit at Cove Commons. The young artist’s second gallery show will also incorporate the stories behind the pictures.
The opening reception for Destination: Earth will be September 29 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the gallery and will feature a short film.