Posts Tagged ‘Missionvale’

SOTM World Tour – Ten Top Travel Photos

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

1660320_10153786052195241_1554794481_n“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” Robert Capa once said.

Unfortunately for the poor bugger, he got too close to a landmine one day. Still, this is one of my favourite ever quotes.

While he was clearly talking about getting close to your subjects – he was on one of the barges which landed on the Normandy beaches for D-Day – I also like to think that to get closer to the world is also to improve your photography.

And that’s what the SOTM World Tour did for me. It took me out into places I’d never heard of, to busy, neon-stained alleyways, across African plains with skies that last forever and fighting arenas stacked with sweating, shrieking, betting-slip brandishing crowds.

These are ten of my favourite images from my year-long trip around the world, from the many thousands that I took with my Nikon D5100, my iPhone 4S and then, toward the end, my Nikon D7100 after my 5100 fell apart. It was only a few months old but I guess world travel was just too much for it.

I’ve only ever self-taught myself how to take pictures, and being out in the world was the best lesson of all.

The top image shows pupils from Sekolah Rendah Batu Marang school, in Jalan Batu Marang water village, Brunei. The charming Kathy Wharton is their English teacher and she kindly took us around, showing us her school and the water village, perched on top of perilous-looking stilts, where her charges come from.

After I posted some of these images on Facebook my friend Helen, with whom I stayed, told me I’d “captured the real Brunei”. Which pleased me greatly.

999168_10153125055170241_2082429276_nThe throbbing Shibuya Crossing, in the heart of Tokyo, has many smaller roads and alleyways running away from its busyness.

The gentleman above was the waiter in a noodle place, cheap and very tasty, in one of these veins. I fully intended to return, so good was the food, but was distracted by Tokyo’s many other shiny attractions and never made it back.

So it’s fortunate that I did ask him for a photo upon my only visit. He didn’t speak English but when I smiled and pointed at my camera, posed with great confidence and grace. And I liked his white wellies.

1379715_10153361940225241_114641734_nWhen in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I was taken to the remarkable Shamwari Game Reserve by my friend Kimberley. There I went on three safari rides and was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place.

One time we spotted a serval hiding in the bushes. I saw it twitch through my viewfinder and instinctively pressed the shutter. When I looked at the screen afterwards, this shot is what I saw. It’s my best action photo, I think.

1025647_10152945200410241_220286925_oThere isn’t that much to do in Geneva. It’s pretty enough and very clean, but a bit too sanitised for my liking.

But at least Lake Geneva has public pianos for people to tinkle. I saw this young woman sat at one while delving into her bag. My camera was completely the wrong exposure levels so I was rapidly adjusting dials, willing her to hold her position for a few seconds longer – when she looked up.

I knew my exposure was wrong, but took the shot as I liked what I saw in my viewfinder. The moment then passed.

I looked at the image I’d taken and it was virtually black, totally underexposed. But as I was shooting in RAW I had hope. When I got it onto my computer, I was able to change the exposure – and was thrilled with how it turned out.

So if you’re not shooting in RAW, you should consider doing so. There may come a time when it will save you.

1377245_10153328471465241_1474946143_nI have always wanted to visit Uluru, fairly in the centre of Australia’s outback. When I was a boy it was more commonly known as Ayers Rock.

But even though I was enthusiastic about it, I was still hugely surprised about just how hypnotic it is. Enormous, red, hugely different to the landscape around it, a monstrous pimple squeezed up from the earth, back when the planet was still being formed.

Looking at the rock during sunrise and sunset is to experience kaleidoscopic colours and shapeshifting shadows. You might think staring at a large rock can’t be that exciting, but somehow, it is. You’ll never feel old again when you consider how what stands before you came into being more than 600 million years ago.

Also, about 2.5km of Uluru is buried below the desert soil. Mind. Boggled.

I chose the shot above because I got Kata Tjuta in the background, once known as the Olgas. They’re a collection of 36 domes and in many ways are even more remarkable than their neighbour.

She’s the flashy one, who puts out with her russet looks, getting most of the attention, hogs all the postcards, while Kata Tjuta is visited as something of an afterthought, an added extra for tourists who’ve come to see the hot girl in the neighbourhood. But I loved them both.

1497771_10153699331050241_17606286_nThe Lumpinee stadium is beautiful because it’s fragile. It’s about to be knocked down and relocated, which makes the sweating, kicking, yelling all that more intense.

Like the last time you make love to someone you’re soon to part from, you savour everything because you know it won’t happen again. Their imperfections become adorable because it’s about to be all over.

Built in Bangkok in 1956, the stadium looks like it might not last too much longer. Look away from the shiny ring, where respectful Muay Thai fighter knee and punch and kick one another.

The apparently leaky ceiling is made of corrugated sheets, with many long-stemmed fans shivering like leaves on a trembling pond. The cheap seats aren’t even seats, they’re benches and people just stand anyway.

And the VIP seats are just part-plastic chairs, although they do afford an excellent view of the action. Despite this, I really wanted to move into better positions but was restricted to shooting where I was perched.

As a result, my 18-200mm Sigma lens came in handy, and of all the shots I got that night, this was my favourite. I turned it grayscale to add a bit more mood to the young man’s determined glare.

1656396_10153863531660241_1299583810_nI was on a food tour in Hong Kong and was taken to a dim sum place for breakfast by the smashing Laura, who runs Hello Hong Kong Tours. 

It was a local place for local people, and I loved it immediately. It’s one of the places in Hong Kong that still has people pushing food carts round, which supply you with your choice of dishes.

While there I spotted this chap walking around with a big metal kettle, topping up the ubiquitous Chinese tea that sloshes around in eateries all over the city. I was desperate to photograph him, he looked fantastic.

I grabbed some half decent shots of him at the next table, and then suddenly, out of nowhere he shimmered and appeared at our table, directly opposite me. I managed to take this photo, and then another.

I preferred the second image, but it’s not pin sharp because the focal point was over his shoulder. So after suffering that slight disappointment, I decided to have my camera on autofocus sometimes, especially in an unpredictable environment, to ensure that focus isn’t an issue at least.

After my shutter had flickered a couple of times, he spoke in Chinese and apparently said: “You have to pay me now, because everyone wants my photo, because I look like Buddha.”

We all laughed, and he said: “No, seriously, you have to pay me.” But he was joking, and when we left I shook his hand. It was like a lobster with a grudge.

1521421_10153707330765241_2000555735_nThere’s nothing so good for the soul as seeing a happy elephant.

There are plenty of these at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand. These remarkable, beautiful creatures have been abused at some point, often by some of those in Thailand’s logging industry. The guilty ones must have black souls.

Eye-gouging, beatings, pelvises broken by forced matings, the stories run a chill though your blood. And if you ever want to ride an elephant, do bear in mind that they are beaten and broken as babies, treated horribly, in order to get them to allow humans to ride them – so don’t.

At least they are happy here in this sanctuary. This chap was having a damn good scratch of his nads on this concrete pole. Or it might be a female. I was too polite to ask.

photoWe were out of Kampot, at the very bottom of Cambodia, when a tremendous storm shattered overhead.

After making it back via a slightly traumatic tuk tuk journey, we found the town flooded. This is a common occurrence in these parts, and the population were clicking into gear, chucking out buckets of floodwater from shops and restaurants, using squeegees to push back the tides in a well-practiced fashion.

The local children seemed to delight in all the fuss. These two characters were going up and down the flooded road, so I got several shots of them with my camera. But this one was the first that I got, grabbed with my iPhone as they rode past and run through an Instagram filter.

It’s not totally sharp but captures their spirit best of all the ones that I took.

993629_10153064585165241_104983892_nThis lady lives in a shack in Missionvale township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

She lives alone and says she is lonely. Someone told me later that her husband had died in a fire after they lit a stove indoors, which also destroyed all her possessions. She is also HIV positive and washes clothes for her neighbours, in exchange for food so she can go on living.

She has had her room tidied up by Missionvale Care Centre, a charity which does incredible work in the community. The floor is mud, so they’ve put mats down, but when it rains the ground is still soggy beneath her feet. The roof leaks also.

The light was perfect as she sat near the doorway, so I took her photo with her permission. I’m very fond of it, and yet it upsets me whenever I look at it.

The world is both a beautiful canvas to work with and a terrible sight to see. Thank you for looking at my pictures.

SOTM World Tour – South Africa

Friday, November 15th, 2013

DSC_0584Back in July, I bid farewell to Adventurous Kate and headed down to South Africa for two weeks, to visit my friend Kimberley who once posed for SOTM herself. 

The country came with a big reputation – it’s Kate’s favourite, and she’s been to 46 nations so far. She can’t stop raving about it, so my expectations were high.

My friend Kimbers, as I like to call her, used to live in London but in recent times has moved to Port Elizabeth (PE) to be with her fellow, the excellent Andrew. An example of the Port Elizabeth coastline can be seen in the top image.

She had very kindly lined up a number of people for me to photograph for SOTM during my stay. These included some people who worked at or attended Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

While there I learned that, as the main campus is on a nature reserve, they frequently have monkeys come and try to snaffle people’s lunches.

Hence there are lots of warning signs up about keeping your food out of sight, and advice pinned to the fridge about what to do if you’re confronted by a monkey pilfering your sandwiches.

Apparently raising your eyebrows is seen as a sign of aggression by those primates, which is a bit of a shame as it’s just the kind of thing a human does if we come across anything unusual or exciting.

I spotted this monkey looking longingly through an office window at someone’s apple.

DSC_0851Kimbers also lined up an afternoon at the Eveready factory in PE, whose management kindly allowed me access to their staff. I wandered about and got a number of them to take part, hearing some great stories along the way. Here’s one example:

09112013And she even managed to get me in the Weekend Post, an edition of the Port Elizabeth Herald.

paperBut without a doubt, the highlight of my trip was visiting Missionvale Care Centre, which feeds, educates and cares for people from the adjoining township. It’s run by the amazing Sister Ethel, an Irish nun who 25 years ago started giving out aid to people while under a tree in the township and running a school beneath it.

Today there is a bustling complex at the entrance to the township which is home to some 100,000 people, of which about 70% are estimated to have HIV.

Brilliantly, the tree where it all began is still there, even though many other trees have been cut down in the area.

DSC_0986And Sister Ethel is still there too – she posed for SOTM, which I was delighted about. She had a great story to go along with her photo.

The landscape of the township was nothing like I’d really seen before. I’d been close to slums in India, but never entered them, and there are many similarities between them and this township, particularly in the flimsiness of the dwellings.

This time I got to walk around for quite some time, as the smashing Linda, who oversees much of the daily operations of the care centre, said it would be useful for her to have a new batch of images from the area, to highlight the work that they do with supporters etc. So I went back a second time and photographed the township and its people, giving the images to Linda afterwards.

Seeing how poorly the township’s inhabitants live, but how friendly many of them are, was a difficult experience. When it came to the photography, it was a fascinating time and I learned a lot about portraiture out in the field, with harsh sun and people with expressive faces on dark skin, most of who were happy to have their image captured.

This lady was shy and had to be softly coaxed to pose for me, but I really wanted to photograph her. She had a wonderful face and I liked the backdrop of her neat and tidy home. Finally, she was all smiles and seemed to like how she turned out.

mv2During my first visit to Missionvale we passed these four children playing in a wheelbarrow. I got the car to stop on the dirt road, jumped out and took their photo. The chap in the cap came sauntering over and got in on the act.

DSC_0022The terrain of the township is very rich to look at, but incredibly difficult to live in. New properties are being built, of much better quality than the existing flimsy homes, and you can see the concrete foundations being laid next to this tin shack, an increasingly common sight in the township.

mv3I saw these two, whom I assume are mother and daughter, a little way off and waited while they walked past me. Right at the decisive moment, they both looked my way.

missionvale1This woman was sweet and gentle. She had a very organised garden and was all smiles as she spoke, probably in Afrikaans.

I asked Linda if I could take her photo, and the lady agreed. Afterwards I thanked her, in English, and she said something that sounded like “my pleasure”.

DSC_1016This lady is the neighbour of the smiling woman above. She has HIV and lives along in a leaking shack which also floods, meaning the soil floor becomes a pool of mud. Staff from Missionvale Care Centre have patched things up a bit for her, and given her some possessions as she lost all of hers in a fire.

Commonly, some people in townships light fires within their shacks to cook on, and frequently this results in them being burned down. I understand that this lady also lost her husband in the same fire.

DSC_1030After experiencing the townships, Kimbers organised a couple of days for me at the luxurious Shamwari Game Reserve, out on the African plains, which turned out to be a quite memorable experience, not least for the contrast between the five-star luxury I was sleeping in, and the townships that I couldn’t get out of my head.

First of all – I was in a car crash on the way to Shamwari, just five minutes away from the entrance. My driver and I ended up backwards and on our side in a ditch.

Luckily, apart from a few bumps and bruises, we weren’t hurt. This is the first photo I’ve published of the crash – you can see the car sadly didn’t make it out of the ditch in quite the same shape as when it went in.

photoWe were heading in the opposite direction to how the car is facing here, meaning my passenger door, now on the top, was the only way out. I got my camera and computer out of the wreckage before I left, though. I know the value of things.

Shamwari is an incredible place and being on safari there is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I can’t recommend it enough, and I was lucky enough to have the brilliant Julius as my guide for a couple of days.

He is a fount of knowledge, once took out Margaret Thatcher and her family on safari, and has eyes as sharp as an eagle who’s just opened an opticians.

“See that flash of grey on the other side of the valley?” he’d say.

“Er, no,” I’d reply.

“Yeah, that’s a rhino,” Julius would say, shifting about excitedly in his seat.

We’d bounce around over the African plain for a bit, and lo and behold, there would be a rhino, an animal as short-sighted as I am (quite literally, I wear strong contact lenses).

Here’s Julius’ SOTM:

14112013And here are some of my favourite shots from Shamwari. First, getting up close and personal with a young male elephant.

elephant“I saw her first.” “No, I saw her first.”

hornsWhen lions yawn it means they’re ready to start running about, eating things. This made me a bit nervous.

lionThis is a Serval, and capturing him in mid-flight is the best action shot I’ve ever done.

servalCheetahs. Fast on paper. Much slower in real life (most of the time).

cheetahI’ll never forget my time at Shamwari, or in South Africa. I can’t wait to go back.

shamwariAfter my time in PE I moved on to Cape Town for three days, and loved that place too. I was a guest of Cape Town Tourism who kindly put me up in a nice hotel and organised some activities for me also.

The hotel was on the 27th floor, which afforded me some super views of this utterly charming city. Most of the photos I took up there were done while I was naked, incidentally.

I just seemed to keep catching the light pre or post-shower. I didn’t take any selfies while doing that, you’ll be relieved to hear.

DSC_0138The buildings in Cape Town definitely have character, especially when you can look down on them.

cape1At the top of Cape Town is the unmissable Bo-Kaap district, which is fantastic to walk around with a camera on a sunny day.

DSC_0414Once a township, the area is now highly desirable as a place to live.

Finally, Cape Town Tourism got me over to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in this cell.

DSC_0110Seeing it was another of the most memorable things I’ve ever done, and even the jabbering tourists, who were running around Robben Island prison like it was a theme park, thankfully fell silent as they filed past it.

That’s it for this post. From South Africa I headed up to Dubai, just in time to catch up with old friends and be reunited with Adventurous Kate for her birthday. More on that next time.