2012 – A Year of Travel In Photographs

Traditional Souks - The Spice Market

2012 was one of my best travel years to date.  In it I added two new continents, four brand new countries and scratched some pretty major destinations off my bucket list.  In addition to completing my first year in Copenhagen I made it to the United Arab Emirates, Scotland, England, Germany, Sweden, Zambia, Botswana, Italy, Turkey, Canada and the Czech Republic.  Experiences ranged from my first time back in North America in 15 months where I came nose to nose with wild polar bears to an incredibly awkward Turkish Hamam experience to a week spent cooking over a charcoal brazier in rural Zambian villages.  2012 also saw me upgrade from my trusty Canon G11 to a Canon 600D, my first ever dSLR.

I feel like you have all been there with me throughout my many adventures.  Your readership, support, comments, feedback and advice really means a lot and is part of what makes the hours, money, blood sweat and tears I put into this blog worth it.  So, thank you.

Without further delay, I give you 42 of my favorite photos from 2012 in no particular order.

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

Lion cubs relaxing – South Luangwa, Zambia

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Snow

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) – Istanbul, Turkey

Lilac-breasted Roller - Chobe Safari - Botswana

A Lilac-Breasted Roller – Chobe, Botswana

Polar Bear and Setting Moon in Churchill

Full moon setting as the sun rises – Churchill, Canada

Lazy Leopard in South Luangwa, Zambia

A large leopard in the grass – South Luangwa, Zambia

The Streets of Stockholm

One of many beautiful streets – Stockholm, Sweden

Rainbows - Victoria Falls - Zambia

The last of my big three – Victoria Falls, Zambia

Elephants - South Luangwa - Zambia

A young male pausing to stare us down in South Luangwa, Zambia

Traditional Souks - The Spice Market

Spices at a traditional souk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Faces of Zambia

Children clowning for the camera in a small village in Luapula Province, Zambia

Zebra - South Luangwa - Zambia

A Zebra relaxing just before sunset in South Luangwa, Zambia

Berlin - Beautiful Marbles

One of my favorite marble statues – Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany

Beautiful Sunset in Istanbul

A mosque at sunset during Istanbul’s worst storm in 25 years – Istanbul, Turkey

Faces of Zambia

Children showcasing their zeal for life – Luapula Province, Zambia

Streets of Perugia

A particularly beautiful street – Perugia, Italy

Hamish the Highland Cow

Hamish the world famous Highland Coo (Cow) – Kilmahog, Scotland

Turkey-3006

Fishing boats in Antalya harbor – Antalya, Turkey

One Eyed Leopard

This beautiful male leopard has survived with only one eye – South Luangwa, Zamiba

Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

Dancing or fighting?  Perhaps a bit of both – Churchill, Canada

Dubai at Night from the Burj

Dubai from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building – Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Wild Leopard at Night - South Luangwa, Zambia

A large leopard warning a nearby hyena not to come closer – South Luangwa, Zambia

Cappadocia Region in Winter

The famous rock chimneys that decorate and define the Cappadocia region – Goreme, Turkey

Exploring Beautiful Orvieto

A moment of love and companionship – Orvieto, Italy

The Streets of Stockholm

The historic streets of Gamla Stan – Stockholm, Sweden

Elephants Posturing - South Luangwa - Zambia

Elephants posturing near a watering hole – South Luangwa, Zambia

Sunset over Samfya Lake

Fishermen at sunset – Samfya Lake, Zambia

Elephants in a Line - Chobe Safari - Botswana

An elephant convoy walking single file – Chobe National Park, Botswana

Wild Polar Bears in Churchill

Polar Bears play fighting while waiting for the ice to freeze – Churchill, Canada

The Quirang, Isle of Skye

View out over the Quirang – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Lioness Feeding on Hippo

A lioness chewing on a baby hippo’s head – South Luangwa, Zambia

Bikes in Stockholm

A Swedish bike with a traditional twist – Stockholm, Sweden

Luapula Province, Zambia

The night sky over the village of Chisunka – Luapula Province, Zambia

Lion Stalking Impala - Chobe National Park

A lion casually stalking alert Impala – Chobe National Park, Botswana

The Isle of Skye, Scotland

An abandoned boat – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Perugia's Rooftop Textures

Looking down on Perugia’s beautiful rooftops – Perugia, Italy

Polar Bear Tears

Polar Bear tears – Churchill, Canada

Mother and Child - Chobe Safari - Botswana

A baby Baboon preparing for launch – Chobe National Park, Botswana

Geese Families in Stockholm

A mother and her babies resting – Stockholm, Sweden

Faces of Zambia

Hard at work preparing and seperating corn kernels for sale – Chisunka, Zambia

Old Painting from the Archaeology Museum

A close up of a beautiful piece of art in the Antalya Archaeological Museum – Antalya, Turkey

Alert Impala - South Luangwa, Zambia

A very alert Impala – South Luangwa, Zambia

Luapula Province, Zambia

d’Artagnan, my brother’s cat – Luapula Province, Zambia

It was nearly impossible to select 42 of my favorite shots from the last year.  There are a lot which I absolutely love that didn’t make this post. If you enjoyed these shots, please head over to my flickr albums and continue browsing.  You may have noticed that this post only includes one photo from Berlin, and does not include any shots from England, the Czech Republic or Denmark.  I wasn’t doing much shooting in England or Germany and I have not edited my photos from the Czech Republic yet so you’ll have to stay tuned for those!  I chose to exclude Denmark because it is my current place of residence. I’ll be doing a special post featuring 10-20 shots from the past year dedicated specifically to my life here in Copenhagen.

The photo at the start of the post (technically #43) is from the traditional spice markets in Dubai, UAE.

Most of the photos in this post were shot on a Canon T3i (600D) while using either a 18-135mm lens, 55-250mm lens, or a 50mm f1.4 lens.

I would LOVE to know which of these shots is your favorite, or if you have other photos I’ve taken over the past year which you think should have made the list but did not.

Thank you again so, so much for all of your support.  Your comments mean a lot to me!  I cannot wait to see what adventures 2013 brings!

A Photographer’s Late Night Musings

Zambia's Children

As I start this post it’s 2AM on a Friday night.  I’ve opted to stay in, distracted – or dare I confess lost in editing photos from my recent trip through Zambia.  I’ve got a half empty glass of 15 year old Scotch and find myself deeply effected by the faces staring back at me from the screen. Outside my 4th story window I can hear the sound of Danes diving headlong into the usual revelry and mayhem that marks a a carefree Friday evening here in Copenhagen. It’s an odd contrast to the scenes which slowly work their way across my computer screen.

It’s a strange thing really.  These photos, some of them strangely personal each tell a story.  Some may convey elements of that story more powerfully than others but each (at least when they’re in focus) is potent and resonates with me.  True, there’s the added impact knowing I was there and because of that I can recall bits and pieces of the context they were taken in, but those are only abstract, fragmented shards.

Obama Tshirt in Zambia

These were photos taken in passing. Some were quite literally snapped out of the window of a moving car.  Others such as those of young Zambian village children clowning for the camera were more personal and came with handshakes and exchanged smiles.  Even in these cases though I was still in a transient state.  In a few minutes, an hour, a day or two I’d be moving on once again to the next town, the next experience, and the next photo.  This transient and disconnected sense was magnified in part by the language barrier.  Though Zambia is technically an English speaking nation the children and adults in the villages where I took many of these shots only speak their local regional language, which in this case was Bemba.  Culture also plays a large role and unfortunately so does race.  As one of the only white people many of the children and some of the adults had ever met I was a novelty.  Something exotic. Something interesting, but also something different….a curiosity. It bridged some gaps by drawing them to me, but created others steeped in generations of racially bound class warfare, and the simpler and more innocent challenges that come with early interactions with people who seem somewhat alien and different from us.

Photo by David Berger

Still, as I think back on my time in Zambia language and race were not really the barrier.  Sure, it was a great excuse and granted it’s difficult to get someone’s name or a piece of their story from a moving car…but I wasn’t always in a car.  No, quite often I was there in the midst of a boiling group of Zambian youths eager for the excitement of interacting with a mzungu – a white man – and excited for the opportunity to see their photo on the camera after I had fired off a quick shot. Yet despite their openness, warmth, and glowing smiles I can only tell you a few names.  I can’t tell you much about their stories, or almost nothing about their dreams.  I can’t even tell you how old they were and tragically it’s quite possible that several of the wonderful, glorious people I met will die before the year winds to a close.

This was driven home recently by the following sorrowful message which my brother (who is a Peace Corps health volunteer and who we stayed with for several days) posted to facebook.  It hit me hard because it brought to mind so many of the wonderful children I had met during our visit.  The update noted,

“Well, Zambia wins the day again. 2 year old admitted to the clinic, who I saw this morning died this afternoon.
Dehydration from malaria infection that was treated too late. Another life claimed by poor transport and delay.”

This message came crashing home again tonight as I came to a photo of a young child.  David (my brother) had just finished showing us the spot along the local stream where water is collected.  We were walking back towards his hut when we came upon a small boy.  He was shy, dressed in a yellow hoodie, jeans and nice shoes.   In his hand he held a tattered piece of folded paper.  As we approach he smiled and waved.  We smiled, and waved saying “allo!” the local variation of hello.  My brother leaned down and gently took the piece of tattered paper the child held.  It turned out it was his health report card.  Basically a chart to document his weight and nutrition over time.  With a quick glance and a gesture he explained that though the child was doing much better now he was an orphan that had been taken in, and that when he was younger had suffered severe malnutrition and been terribly underweight which had stunted his growth.  At the age of 2 this young child had already suffered more than most westerners do in 20 years and yet there he stood sheepishly smiling at us with a childish grin.  It’s almost impossible to know as an outsider but I hope that based on the state and quality of what he was wearing (eg: the mere fact that he had shoes on), that he’s found a family to take care of him who can afford to get him the food and safe drinking water he needs.  Ultimately though, it’s impossible to know – and I can’t help fear that the two year old David wrote about might have been him.

A few photos later I sat staring at another shot.  This one was of a young child squatting in the dirt beside the road.  In the photo he’s in a tattered beige shirt, black shorts and sitting sideways in profile.  His right arm is resting on his knee and his left is lifted to his mouth chewing on something filthy.  What it might be given the dirty field he’s perched in the midst of, I dare not guess. There’s what’s likely dried snot on his cheek, and what looks like a fly resting just below his left eye. His gaze is piercing.  Powerful.  The whites of his eyes clearly visible as he looks my way, face partially obscured by his hand. The photo echoes hints of Kevin Carter’s crushing photo of a starving young child collapsed in a field and being stalked by a vulture in the midst of S. Sudan.  Carter’s photo rocked the world, but ultimately also embodied the suffering he had seen which eventually led to his suicide. Luckily the child in my photo and the photo itself is far less dire. Still, the photo resonates elements of that same bleakness and despair.  The air of tragedy that goes with it embodies the sense of injustice and internal tragedy that accompanies seeing young children facing profound threats, challenges and harm.  With this in mind and in light of the daily tragedies which mark life in many of these villages I find myself torn.  On the one hand I know it has the power to resonate with people….to convey the risk and tragedy of deaths like that of the two year old David wrote about.  On the other hand, I can’t help but feel it is also slightly disingenuous, insincere and a disservice to the wonderful Zambians I met to focus and convey almost exclusively these types of images.

You see, there were other moments – moments that I’m frustrated with myself for not capturing. These were wonderful moments which showed these same children at their very best.  These were the moments which were profoundly inspiring.  The moments when these kids would scrub away the caked on dust, set aside the tattered shirts and torn pants they had been wearing, and don their school outfits.   Dressed in their school finery, these kids will sometimes walk for miles without complaint all for the chance to attend somewhere between 1 to 3 hours of school….if, that is, the teacher decides to show up to class.  There’s a beauty to the way they carry themselves and their eagerness to learn.  There is a pride and dignity which is part of what makes the Zambians I met so wonderful.  It’s also a side of life in rural, impoverished Africa which you don’t usually get the chance to see when clicking through photos or reading reports from westerners discussing their visits.

At the end of the day it bothers me that I don’t know each person’s name or more about their story. It’s an odd feeling to know that even if I tried to seek out information about them, there’s no way I could find it.  I also wonder how they would feel and respond to the way I’ve captured and conveyed them. Would they appreciate it?  Enjoy it?  Be angered?  Embarrassed? I suppose what I’m really asking myself is, “how honest is this photo?”.  Then there’s the what if side of it.  What if I did learn their name, their story, and we spent days, weeks, or months together? At a certain level I’m not sure that’s an emotional weight I’m willing to bear and i’m still not sure if that’s a fact I am content to accept or if it’s something that shames me slightly.  Then again perhaps despite it all it is the interaction or the moment itself which is what is valuable and important.  I suppose in some ways it really is just enough to be there and to capture a moment which can be shared.  At the end of the day though, there’s also a certain responsibility  to be honest to the moment that comes with taking those photos.  It’s a responsibility which isn’t widely discussed – oh, sure people talk about model release forms and the how to cover their ass in case they want to sell or publish the photo – but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about something beyond that.  Something far less certain.   I suppose I haven’t really answered any questions with this post but perhaps, just perhaps, it will help you to better understand my photos, travel photography, and I hope your own experience as a photographer abroad.

If you’ve got any insights, reflections, or personal thoughts to share – I’d love to hear your take.  For my part, the Scotch has run out and if I dally much longer I’ll be nose to nose with the rising sun.

You can read David’s blogs from Zambia at DavidBerger.net.