4.1: Critical Review Proposal: Beyond ‘Safari’

Beyond ‘Safari’ – approaches to photographing Journeys

The word ‘safari’ means journey in Swahili from the Arabic root ‘safar’ travel. It was used by colonial powers in Africa to refer to game hunts. This meaning is now being changed by African governments and tour companies to refer more to eco-travel to photograph national parks, and also to African tourism more generally. This shift does not however remove either political concerns, or the colonial overtones.

There are intensely conflicting interests between large private companies and/or governments and local people about the use of national parks as a generation of revenue. Although some national parks are managed in the interests of local people as well as animals, farmers living in or on the boundaries of the parks often have their livelihoods and crops decimated by incursions of animals – particularly where the areas are not large enough for the animal populations and/or where poaching and illegal logging and other types of exploitation by large vested interests are also involved.

Moreover the tourists are generally from rich nations eager to find a ‘lost wilderness’ where animals are free in a way that would not be permitted at home as for example in opposition to reintroduction of wolves and bears in Western Europe. For these tourists the people are often secondary. Aiming to ‘shoot’ photos (Sontag) and capture as many memories of the exotic as possible to take home. Leading to ossification of ‘quaint’ cultural traditions. eg pygmies etc. The focus is on difference rather than human similarities. It is also far from clear that the foreign appreciation of ‘wilderness’ corresponds to local perceptions of ‘beautiful landscape’ or indeed the types of landscapes encouraged by global commodity companies or development agencies where the focus is more on efficient and in some cases sustainable agricultural practices.

This review is an attempt to work through implications for my own work. I travel a lot for work, but unlike professional photographers I am employed to do a job training people in local communities in participatory methodologies. As such I do have privileged access to the views and issues facing local people and people in the organisations working with them.  But, like a tourist, I have fleeting opportunities to do more contextual landscape or environmental work. The questions that really interest me in order to make the best of the opportunities I have is:

  • what can one learn from this type of ‘safari’ – are there things that one can do with the idea of journey in terms of understanding and contextualising images that cannot be done through staying and studying one place (as for example in ‘space to place’ and ‘transitions’).
  • what can these fleeting impressions on the move show? are the issues of photographing journeys in Africa necessarily different from in UK? is one necessarily any more an ‘outsider’ – in UK I am often travelling through new or forgotten places. In Africa there is always the driver to consult and I often travel with NGO staff some of whom are local, and also talk to the people I am training. Bearing in mind much of the colonial conditioning we all have.
  • what are the implications for different approaches and different techniques? what does this mean for planning my trip?

In deciding how to portray particular landscape/s key considerations are:

  • Who created, owns, uses and changes this landscape? How do these people relate to each other?
  • How is this ‘landscape’ distinguished from other similar places (who decides what is and what is not similar? by what criteria? why are those criteria important?)?
  • How do (different) users and inhabitants of a place feel towards (different aspects of) the landscape (pride, indifference, disrespect, fear of loss)?
  • What attitudes do (which) outsiders have towards it?

Underlying all these considerations must also be a consideration of:

  • How are these feelings, identities and relationships manipulated, why and by whom? (See Part 3 landscape as political text)
  • Self-awareness on the part of the photographer of their own identity/ies and assumptions and power/desire (or lack of it) to manipulate and change things.

This review considers what can be learned from professional photographers, African and non-African and my own experience from this course in an attempt to move beyond ‘travel photography’ to ways of photographing journeys that can discover and communicate more about the places and people ‘outside the window’. It reviews a number of different types of image series taken on journeys before, during and since Assignment 2. These include:

  • ‘Free safari’: Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda – taken before Assignment 2 and the closest to common understandings of ‘safari’ though taken as we travelled along the main road rather than paying to go through the national park itself.
  • ‘Urban voyeur safari’ taken from the car as I returned from rural areas back to the capital city through peri-urban areas in Kenya and Ivory Coast. Looking at how far this type of photography can say something about African urban life – compared to eg Paul Seawright’s Invisible Cities.
  • ‘Objective Safari’: Journey through Sumatra in Indonesia where I alternated my approach between ‘subjective’ framing and automatic ‘objective’ clicking the shutter at intervals of 3 seconds as I moved through urban areas to see the different effects this gave.
  • Documentary safari: Journeys to communities in Rwanda and Tanzania (3-5 series) I was with both local NGO staff and/or local drivers and had more opportunity to stop, get out and consider ‘shots’ and also to travel off the normal tourist routes and see things more from the local perspective. Including one journey with local people to select what they considered the best photo spot for a picture for a calendar they had asked me to produce. And one journey where I focused on the contrast between my transport and they way local people travelled. One other journey for Gesture and Meaning Assignment 1 I used manual focus to speed up the camera reaction time.

 

‘Free safari’: Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

– taken before Assignment 2 and the closest to common understandings of ‘safari’ though taken as we travelled along the main road rather than paying to go through the national park itself.

‘Urban voyeur safari’: peri-urban areas in Kenya and Ivory Coast.

taken from the car as I returned from rural areas back to the capital city through  Looking at how far this type of photography can say something about African urban life – compared to eg Paul Seawright’s Invisible Cities.

‘Objective Safari’:  Sumatra in Indonesia

See: http://www.zemniimages.com/Photography/Documentary/Indonesia 

where I alternated my approach between ‘subjective’ framing and automatic ‘objective’ clicking the shutter at intervals of 3 seconds as I moved through urban areas to see the different effects this gave.

Semendo to Bataraja: Series 1

Semendo to Baturaja: Series 4

Semendo to Baturaja selected images from random series

Semendo to Baturaja considered images

 

 

Documentary safari: Rwanda, Tanzania and Kyrgyzstan

Journeys to communities in Rwanda and Tanzania (3-5 series) I was with both local NGO staff and/or local drivers and had more opportunity to stop, get out and consider ‘shots’ and also to travel off the normal tourist routes and see things more from the local perspective. Including one journey with local people to select what they considered the best photo spot for a picture for a calendar they had asked me to produce. And one journey where I focused on the contrast between my transport and they way local people travelled. One other journey for Gesture and Meaning Assignment 1 I used manual focus to speed up the camera reaction time.

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