The Human Safari

As children, we often assume different roles while re-enacting grand fantasies. All hail to Cesar, riding atop a palanquin, or to the Astronaut floating above the world looking down at it.  The doctor saving lives, or the war photographer documenting the rawness of the human condition and the horrors of society as it fails. Then, we grow up.  We settle into our role within our socio-cultural strata and send subtle ripples across the fabric of the society that surrounds us.

As tourists, we recapture some of that wonder.  We gain the opportunity to stand in the midst of the Coliseum, to stride casually down the halls of grand empires and to snap photos of exotic peoples, destinations, and in some instances candid moments.  These rich experiences add to the substance of who we are and let us get back in touch with the beautiful sense of exploration which defined our youth. They are, for many, what make travel wondrous, expansive and oh-so addictive.

But, what happens when that sense of exploration leads us to moments and experiences which carry with them a taint of exploitation or dehumanization?  What happens when we suddenly become a modern incarnation of the aloof Roman dictator, well fed, wealthy, and separated by an invisible but nearly impenetrable wall from the people we’re visiting?  It’s something that happens easily, innocently and far more often than we’d like to admit.

The Stirrings of Realization

For me, two instances stand out. The first tickled my awareness with a mild sense of intangible discomfort. The second brought clarity slamming into place combined, strangely, with a sense of helplessness.

Faces of Zambia

The first was during my time in Zambia.  We’d elected to do a Safari with a fantastic company in the South Luangwa region. They invest heavily in protecting the animals, a light footprint on the land, and in the local community.  Yet, as we sat in the back of a large safari Landcruiser rolling along the pockmarked blacktop I looked out at the hundreds of locals that could readily be seen along the side of the road working their yards, walking the road, or going about their business.

Faces of Zambia

Often they’d look up at the four of us, often smiling, and in the case of the children, waving…then bursting into laughter when we’d smile and wave back.  We stuck out like sore thumbs, and not just because of the color of our skin. It was nearly everything about us – from our clothing, to our glasses, camera, and the way we were traveling. Just as often as I waved back, I’d sit, camera raised to my eye, set in sports mode snapping away while watching the landscape race by through my extended zoom lens.  Each shot allowed me to capture a candid photo of daily life. And, if I’m to be honest, each shot was much more comfortable than had I been on the ground, walking from house to house, snapping photos.  Just as fast as I snapped the photo or they looked up, the Landscruiser had spirited me away, erasing any possibility of a confrontation or interaction.

Faces of Zambia

It was only as I sat in that same vehicle the following days, snapping photos in the same fashion of wildlife that I started to register the stark and uncomfortable similarities between the two situations. Somehow, without intending it, I had gone from great explorer on a grand exploration to Dictator atop my palanquin utterly separated and detached from the local people who I was there to meet. True, I was there, but in this instance it would be far more accurate to say I was in actuality just seeing them, not truly meeting them.

Zambian Children – Weekly Travel Photo

During my time in Zambia, my  understanding of children and what they are capable of fundamentally changed. Not only did the children of rural Zambia awe me with their love of life, constant smiles, and zeal for enjoying every moment – they also showed me how many of the narratives about western children and their abilities are grossly misplaced. The children I met and observed were responsible. They were capable. They worked well together and looked after each other.  It made it clear to me that the way we coddle children in the US, Europe, and other parts of the industrialized world has come with a cost.  On the one hand it means those children get to enjoy their childhood in a carefree fashion which is wonderful and something I wish more of the Zambian kids got to enjoy.

The Elephant Crossing – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

The choice to cross obviously rested in the tusks of a powerful matriarch.  As she deliberated, surveying the water carefully for threats, her familial herd clustered around her with eyes open and surveying in every direction.  From time to time they would move ever so slightly closer to the water’s edge.  When they did, we readied ourselves, perched as we were in a raised observation platform atop a deck on the opposite side of the river. With equal care our eyes were focused as we surveyed the river as it stretched out before us…likely looking for the same threats the great matriarch worried about.  We spotted several crocodiles and a handful of seemingly docile hippos nearby. Were either threats? It was hard to know.

The Almost Brave Warthog – Weekly Travel Photo

Warthog Meets Elephant - Chobe Safari
The banks of the Chobe River in Botswana were home to a rather amusing series of events.  As we floated along and watched things transpire, we watched curiously as a rather bold warthog casually strutted in the general direction of what I believe was a young male elephant.  Full of swagger and strut the warthog marched right up in the general direction of the elephant, who at first ignored the approach and then as the warthog neared, turned a more attentive eye.  After a brief pause and standoff in which the two stared each other down, the elephant’s ears flared out and the warthog did a shockingly quick 180 before setting an energized pace for a hasty retreat.

A Lion Cub At Sunset – Weekly Travel Photo

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

With a glimmer of light reflected in its eye this young lion club relaxed with its brothers and sisters in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.  The cubs’ mothers were out hunting and enjoying some free time away from the kids, leaving them to lounge in the late afternoon sun, chew on each other’s tails, and generally do all of the things you’d expect over-sized kittens to do.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

The Lion Cub’s Gaze – Weekly Travel Photo

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

This magical moment happened in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park while I was on safari.  We had stumbled onto a group of five lion cubs between the ages of 4-6 months just before sunset. Their mothers were off hunting and the cubs were taking a much-needed break after a day full of exploring and childish antics.  This cub in particular was feeling quite relaxed, though he still kept a close eye on us.  He repeatedly lounged around, rolled onto his back, and then stared at us almost as if inviting us to head over and to give him a tummy scratch.  His gaze was incredible and cut right to my core. Hands down some of my favorite moments from the Safari.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

The Monkey Soccer Mom – Weekly Travel Photo

Mother and Child - Chobe Safari - Botswana

While we may differ from monkeys in more than a few ways, some things remain the same.  Young baboons are every bit as curious, rambunctious, and entertaining as human children. They also appear to be every ounce the challenge for their parents to deal with.  In this photo from Chobe National Park in northern Botswana I captured a healthy mother and her rather animated child right before he launched himself from her back and into the nearby grass for a playful romp, roll, and flop.

The mother’s mixture of vexed parent and half-ignored mode of transport reminds me vividly of the small army of soccer moms (and dads) that descended on the rich green grass fields behind my apartment back in Arizona every weekend.  The kids could often be seen half-tumbling out of the mini-van’s sliding doors moments after the vehicles came to a stop. The raised voices of vexed parents chasing after them.

Both sights brought a smile to my face.  Though I will admit that I’m ever so slightly more partial to the oversize ears and awkward tail that define a baby baboon.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Three Hundred Twelve Boot Shots, Five Years and Five Continents

Traveling Boots - Isle of Skye - Scotland

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to craft a signature photo. Something that I could easily carry with me, that I could insert into photo after photo that would help humanize shots.  I wanted something that could be used or done anywhere – even if I was alone in the depths of rural Argentina.  What I came up with was a series of boot shots.  I feel that they help convey a sense of wonder, add a human element, and at the same time are something that is readily and easily identifiable as part of a long term photography project.

Traveling Boots - The Austrian Alps

Upon returning from my recent trip to Austria and Turkey, I sat down and edited the most recent batch of boot photos. The final candidates numbered 26 and brought the total number of boot photos I’ve uploaded to 312.  The oldest of the photos was captured in late 2008. The most recent on April 2nd of this year.

Traveling Boots - Zambian Safari

Within the album you’ll find photos from North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.  Subjects in the photos range from penguins, polar bears and sharks to castles, cliffs, and caves. A number of current and former wonders of the world are also featured.

Bergen - The Old Warehouse District

To my knowledge, this is the most extensive project of its kind based on number of photos taken, time period covered, and sheer diversity of locations featured.  While many of the photos showcase one of three generations of Keens I’ve owned and traveled in, flippers, flip-flops, snowshoes and bare feet can also be found.  The boots are my go-to for travel, but were never intended to have meaning beyond that – thus, it will be interesting to see if future photos continue to feature them, or other footwear becomes increasingly common moving forward. What do you think – would a pair of neon-green running shoes spice things up a bit?

Belize Barrier Reef - Foot Shot

Why Do It?

This is an album dedicated to wanderlust and the open road.  It is dedicated to conveying the spirit of travel, of adventure, and of the unknown. Of reminding us to sit, pause, and to relax while in the moment.  To soak it up, and to enjoy it.  To be inspired and to have our imaginations run wild.  It is also an album about memory and reflection.  It is about re-visiting rich experiences and re-living them.

Perito Moreno Boots

As I sit here writing this post, I find myself going through old photos.  Each of these photos takes me back to a special moment.  It’s amazing how time blurs our memory if we don’t have anchors to bring our experiences back into focus.  As I flip through photos from mere months ago I find myself re-living the minutes that led up to and followed the taking of the photo.  Small details come back to me.  Smells. Sensations.  All of it.  Without these anchors and small reminders these sensations might easily be lost to the ravages of memory and time.

Grand Canyon at Sunset - Boots

The photos themselves also tell their own story.  They do more than showcase where I’ve been and a set of locations.  They document my growth as a traveler, photographer and travel writer.  The quality of the photos has gradually increased as I’ve slowly mastered the art of photography and editing.  Of equal aid is the progression in equipment.  The first photos were captured on a point and shoot Canon G6. Later generations were recorded with a Canon G11 while the most recent photos were taken with a Canon 600D dSLR.  When I started I shot almost exclusively on automatic.  More recently I’ve begun to tackle the delicate dance that is Av, Tv and M modes, white balance, f stop and ISO. The art that is editing is also its own adventure and challenge – sometimes I succeed, other times…well…other times I learn.

Tikal - Boot Shot

There’s also an element of disbelief.  A surreal type of surprise when I sit down and look through this album.  In 2007 I decided to make travel a fundamental part of my life.  I chose to prioritize it in a major way and to invest heavily in it.  Over the past few years that decision has payed off with the chance to see, experience and do things I never imagined possible.

Caving in Budapest

Yet, when you’re caught in the midst of it – of planning the next trip, reflecting on the past one, and trying to document everything in-between it is easy to lose perspective over all you’ve done.  I don’t think that’s something that is limited to serial travelers either, I think we all do it on a regular basis and in our day-to-day lives. It’s just that most of us lack an album that helps document and showcase those accomplishments and experiences.  To that end, it is my hope that these photos and this post help inspire you to not only take a moment and to reflect on your own adventures, but also to consider how you might begin your own project. Something to tie your experiences and life-changes together.

Playa del Carmen - Sunrise Boot Shot

I am also reminded by these photos just how awe inspiring the world is. We live surrounded by incredible beauty and while some of it can make for one heck of a difficult journey to get to, there are always incredible sights to see, places to explore and moments to discover in our own back yards and within reach regardless of what resources we have available to us. The weekend is just around the corner – have you decided yet how you’re going to use it?

Iguazu Boots

I invite you to head over to the complete album on flickr and to look through the photos.  I hope you enjoy the story they tell and that they resonate with you in some way.  I hope that they trigger memories of your own, and that they inspire you.  I hope that they pull you out of this moment, and allow your mind to wander and your imagination to run free. I would also love to hear which photos resonate with you the most and what format you prefer.  If you have questions about where they’ve been taken, feel free to ask.  I’m always happy to share, and of course please feel free to share this album and this post with anyone you think might enjoy it.