Jan, 01, 2012

this is africa
from my perspective

This post will be in stark contrast to what you normally see here on our blog.   My career has me documenting extravagant affairs – gorgeous people, beautiful details, and festive celebration.  I love what I do, and I so enjoy being part of each couple’s celebration of love with their families.  My time in Africa opened my eyes and had me documenting love in a completely different way. This blog post has been a long time coming, and marks the two year anniversary of the day I left Africa, not for the last time, I am certain.

Africa has always captivated me.  I left Canada full of excitement and wonder at what my trip would hold for me, and nervous to leave behind Wyatt, my 2 year old son, to embark on a journey that had been one of my lifetime dreams.  I had in my mind’s eye the photographs that I hoped to come back with.  I envisioned landscape and wild life photographs good enough to be printed in coffee table books and hung in art shows and galleries, photographs that were inspired by Andy Bigg’s work – not photographs that would merely find the end of their road on the walls of Wyatt’s nursery (and if I’m being honest – they haven’t even found their way there yet).  I have to say, my expectations got the better of me, and I was disappointed with my seeming inability to document animals in their natural habitat. It was a learning curve, to be sure.  In the end, I joked that my “gallery” would consist only of animal butts and lone tree shots.  At least the lone trees co-operated!  My good friend Sabrina, whom I met on safari, summed up her experience with the challenge of expectation much better than I ever would, which you can read here.

I came back from Africa having learned many lessons, the least of which was the fact that I have a lot to learn about landscape and wild life photography (so if you want your pets photographed – Melanie is your gal!).  I learned that there is a reason I photograph people for a living – I was so drawn to the people of Africa.  Africa is not only a place of geographical beauty, but also a place of resilient, joyful people where a sense of community, optimism and hope resonates.  As we trekked through villages, city slums, orphanages and schools, the same messages prevailed.  We, as North Americans, could learn a thing or two from these beautiful, stoic, hopeful people where family (in whatever form it comes in) is the center of life.  In an email back to my own friends and family after I spent the day visiting Kibera (one of the largest slums in Africa – think 800 000+ people living in an area less of than 1 square mile), I wrote “…despite all of the struggle here, there is an underlying sense of community, and a joyous spirit that emanates from the people.  The people were happy to welcome us to their community, the children were exuberant, and the overall feeling was one of hope, not despair.  Amazing.  I left there feeling humbled. Materially I have everything, they have nothing, and it was they that brought a smile to my face.”

Two years later, I still smile when I think of my time in Africa.  I can’t wait to go back.

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And now for the photographs of the animals…..I have to say, I found it extremely difficult to work within the boundaries of shooting on safari.  Being in a vehicle, you aren’t able to choose your position – you can’t find the angle with the best light, or the best composition.  You are at the mercy of the driver, who is simply trying his best to get you a good view of the wild life.  The animals aren’t exactly co-operative either – just when you think you have the angle you want, you sit waiting, hoping that they will look directly in your lens… inevitably they end up turning way – leaving you with a camera full of images of animal as*es .  If I had it my way, I would have been out of the truck, lying in the grass, tiptoeing around them, finding my angles.  But then I would have ended up as lunch.  And that wouldn’t have been good either.I want to make special mention of a few people who made this trip amazing for me:

My family – Christopher, who encouraged me to go on this trip, despite the fact that our lives were in major upheaval at the time.  I often forget that if it weren’t for him, I would still be slugging it out downtown in the world of finance, dreaming about making photography a career.  He is the number one reason that I am able to be doing what I love on a day to day basis.  Also, Susan, my amazingly generous mother-in-law, who drives up from Chicago whenever I ask her to help look after Wyatt while I take flight.  And, my monkey, Wyatt, whose enthusiastic welcome-home hugs and kisses make want to keep walking out the door and walking back in again, just to draw them out a little longer.  He doesn’t understand the world of travel yet, but I am hopeful that through example, he will take an interest in the world around him, and become a compassionate little soul, with a heart full of gratitude for the life he is able to live here in Canada.

Ryan Snider, owner of Socially Responsible Safaris, and our trip guide was absolutely incredible, from the beginning stages of planning to the very end.  I chose his organization, because I knew that I wanted to do a safari, but I also wanted to see the “real” Africa – not just luxury tented resorts.  Yes, I wanted to see the animals, but I was more interested in the people, and the culture, and wanted to travel with someone who had roots there, who knew Africa.  Ryan does.  Without getting into all of the details of his background (you can look him up on his website), I went on this trip with high expectations, and he managed to meet every one, and then some.  He truly cares about his work in Africa, and supports many charity projects through his organization, Give International.  Ryan is an amazing human being, and I would recommend his safaris over and over and over again.  Also, 100% of the money donated to his charity goes directly to the projects, whether they be employment projects, schools or orphanages.  If you are interested in volunteering in school or orphanage there, he can also set that up for you.

Photographer and author, David DuChemin, was the mentor photographer on our trip.  He has a history as a humanitarian photographer, but now spends most of his time writing, partnering his own photography travel workshops and also owns Craft and Vision – an ebook publishing company.  His advice was instrumental in helping me get out of my photographic funk so that I could refocus on what was important, and come back to Canada with a couple of images that I am proud of.  If you are a photographer or want to be one, his books are worth a mention too – check it all out at www.davidduchemin.com.

And last but not least, my gals – Maureen, Sabrina, and Beate – you made the trip of my life so LIVELY.  Thank you for sharing this incredible experience with me.  I went on this trip for the photographs, but realized along the way that if I left without a single photograph, but came back with your friendship and our shared experience, I would be 100% happy.  Can’t wait to do it again one day – what’s next?

Okay – lastly for real – one more image that pretty much sums up my skills as a wild life photographer:I bet this image would have been AWEsome from the other side.