I'm always taking photos, I have been since I got my first DSLR in 2008 and longer. However, this will be my first exhibition. I’m happy to hold it somewhere I have spent most of my recent working hours – at least those in England – The Boston Tea Party in Salisbury, my hometown.
The photographs on display are all from my recent travels in Kenya. I’ve been lucky to have visited a number of different places in the company of friends – not quite a tourist, and certainly not a resident – it has made for many interesting adventures. Although after years, my Kiswahili is still awful.
Just over two years ago I landed in Nairobi, setting out toward Mount Kenya and the small town of Nanyuki. Henry, one of my oldest friends was getting married to Sissa, a Kenyan and childhood friend of another of our school friends Dave, also from Kenya – a little confusing I know. The three of us had been largely inseparable in the latter years of our education, we went our own way as university began. However, wouldn’t you take advantage of a friend on the equator? This is where Henry eventually met Sissa. So, now they’re getting married and having a massive party – well technically they were married in England a few months before – I arrive well travelled and tired on the eve of the party, and the following day end up considerably worse for wear, also having forgotten to take my camera to the event at all.
At this point the adventure really begins, my remaining three weeks were to be filled with exploration. First the family of the groom and some friends travelled a familiar route, Nanyuki to Baringo along the shortest path, and quite a fractured one. We crawled up the side of the eastern rift valley escarpment passing a village called Muchongoi nestled in the Marmanet forests, descending back down toward Lake Baringo and Bogoria is an incredible sight, one I remember fondly from previous trips. It’s in Baringo i’ve taken many of my bird photos, as well as many landscapes. The light and colours are amazing, wildly different from anywhere else I have been in the world.
We returned south away from Baringo to a town named GilGIl, at this point the majority of the wedding party that had remained left for their respective homes. I had the opportunity to explore Soysambu a private conservancy, here I took many photos of Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, and many other plains animals. Sadly, no lions had strayed from Nakuru national park. It was here I came face to face with one of the realities of poaching.
There were no elephants, or rhino hiding in the bush, yet catching unsuspecting small game is poaching all the same. We drove around the conservancy, pointed out the strange patterns of giraffe, had a picnic, inevitably nature called more than once throughout the day. It seemed as if every time we stopped the car and walked away from the road we immediately stepped upon a snare, and not only one, we removed dozens of them at each stop. By the end of the day we left with a car load, looking out at the border fence of the conservancy I could not help but feel it looked suspiciously bare.
From Gil Gil we headed back up north, farther than Nanyuki, but only a short way east of Baringo to Mugie conservancy. Mugie was another private conservancy, not at all similar to Soysambu, this time it was home to lions, as well as a rather grumpy breed of elephants – who wouldn’t be grumpy when their numbers are decreasing by the day – the glimpses of animals through the early morning mist, the landscapes with the slight hint of Mt Kenya on the horizon are some of my favourite memories, there are photographs to match them. Perhaps my favourite moment was on our first day sitting atop a large rocky outcrop, out of reach of any potential prowling animals, we were having a sundowner – a common pastime in Kenya – the light was failing and I scanned the horizon looking out for wildlife below. In the distance, almost of the horizon I saw my first elephant of the trip, a great hulking rock rolling along the plain below. I have a photo. A very grainy distant photo. But the memory of it is clear. It was here that I gained my first serious scars of the strip, but what can you do when you’re miles from anywhere in the middle of the bush.
We left Mugie and that was the end of the planned adventuring. The remainder of the wedding party left and I headed south to the house of my school friend Dave. He lived in perhaps one of the most beautiful spots I had visited. He needed housemates to pay the rent. It was far too tempting a place to stay, I spent the next 6 months getting to know the area, taking photographs of the wildlife around me, and venturing farther visiting Baringo again more than once.
Within very short walking distance of the house there were many things to see. Hippo slept just off the shore of the lake during the day and stalked the garden at night. Kingfishers flitted from papyrus stem to tree branch, then darted to the water for a fish – I still have yet to capture all of the species of kingfisher Kenya has to offer on camera the Giant and Woodland kingfisher continue to elude me, but then the common (european) kingfisher always has – I took great pleasure in sitting by the lake for hours, watching the birds and trying to capture them on camera, without of course stepping too near the water and its resident hippopotami. In those days we had a resident staffordshire bull terrier, she would scamper about and make me feel at least slightly secure in the knowledge that a buffalo was not coming up behind me. She didn’t quite help when I nearly stood on a bafflingly new boulder making my way to the shore, the first and not the last baby hippo I saw in the garden during the day. I could live with one near miss.
It was during these months and travels around the lake to sanctuary's like the beautiful Crescent Island that I captured some of my very favourite photos. The herd of giraffe walking amongst the green acacia of the island I will always remember. Especially as I was nearly run through by an Impala beforehand. The rift valley lakes had risen greatly in years before, now that they were going down to their former levels my perch on the side of the lake became more and more unsafe. The poachers arrived. We didn’t have any large game other than hippos but fish poaching in Kenya is a very real problem and those who practise it are largely unpleasant. So much so, I could hardly ask them to stop walking across my garden. I wasn’t going to parade a camera in front of the twenty or so who I saw on a daily basis.
It was considerably over a year before I had first arrived in Kenya – and of course left a number of times to renew my visa – that I managed to take a trip to the Maasai Mara. Specifically Mara North conservancy. We were idling around the end of a wet – but not really that wet – season and the plains were green and full of life, animals, boggy car traps, and most importantly lions. I had yet to see one properly in the wild. I had heard them sleeping in tents in Mugie, but never laid my eyes on one. It took all of 10 minutes after getting off the plane. Our driver, a maasai named Dennis quickly picked three faint yellow blobs from the horizon, double checked with his binoculars and we were off. It’s amazing how close you can get to a lion when you're in a landcruiser and I must admit, I had to keep telling myself "This guy knows what he's doing," when we stopped a few feet away, only empty air and a wheel arch in height between three male lions and a clicking camera lens. This was a feeling repeated after sitting beneath a tree full of lions dangling above us, and later a number of leopard.
One afternoon I visited the Mara Reserve, here you couldn’t drive off road – which wasn’t quite as fun – seeing game this time of year was difficult. The rains had made the grasses grow incredibly tall. I saw some elephants. That was about it. The strangest thing was, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Dorset countryside, minus the elephants of course.
There are countless other places to visit here. All in all i’ve barely scratched the surface, especially as it’s been over two years now since this all began. Perhaps I simply don’t want to photograph everything and have nothing left.