ARCHIVE 312 – FAMILY NEAR AKALA (MONO)

 

 


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Members of a farming family, near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.

I like this picture because everyone is looking in different directions, which to me gives a very “real” air to the picture, i.e. they are not all posing for the camera.  The mother is posing for the camera but I think that her pose is one of the most placid, serene, genuine and friendly that I’ve seen – she is feeling absolutely at ease with both me and my camera, and is simply looking very calmly straight into the lens.  She gives the impression of being very self-possessed.

The young man on the left is smiling – and his smile, his averted eyes and the splayed fingers and thumb of his pale hand against his darker face add to this shot.  Finally, the young child (a girl?), sitting on her mother’s lap, is certainly unposed – with her attention attracted elsewhere – but staring somewhere different to her older brother.

Using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro, I’ve darkened the top of the picture, down to the top of the young man’s head, to help ensure that the viewer’s attention is concentrated onto these three people.

Technique: OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide rated at 64 ISO; Silver Efex Pro.

UPDATE: this remains one of my very favourite pictures, along with the one in the Archive 310 postI only wish that I’d taken more pictures like this while in Kenya.  And what of Kenya after their general election?  Well, the current president has been re-elected and international observers think the election valid, but the opposition hotly dispute it.  Who knows what will happen now – and whether, for example, it will affect any of the six people shown in this and the 310 post?  Assuming they have survived, they will be 38 years older now, and living in a more modern Kenya than the one I knew.  And so to the eternal problem.  Others may vie for power, there may be violence, disease and destabilisation on a national scale, but whatever happens it is hard to see the lot of these six people improving significantly, while there must always be the threat that the chaos and aggression resulting from the ambitions of others will impinge upon them.

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ARCHIVE 311 – NILE CROCODILE (MONO)

 

 


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Nile Crocodile at Samburu Lodge, in the Samburu National Reserve of northern Kenya; December 1977.

This may look like a photo that demanded much courage and stealth in the African night, but in fact these large reptiles live in the Ewaso Ng’iro River right beside Samburu Lodge, and regularly come ashore to eat food put out by the lodge’s staff.

Yes I was using a 50mm lens and this menacing creature was very close by – but what my photo doesn’t show is a low wall between us, behind which I was quite safe!

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: OM-2 with 50mm Zuiko lens and flash; Agfa CT18 colour slide rated at 64 ISO; converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro 2, using the Yellow 2 preset as a jumping off point.

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ARCHIVE 310 – ON A FARM IN WESTERN KENYA … AND WITH HOPES FOR A PEACEFUL GENERAL ELECTION

 

 


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Luo people on a farm near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.

I love these portraits.  The man is at ease with me and my camera, he knows me well, and in his expression we see nothing contrived, just a calm and direct gaze.  The little boy is nervous, but is being reassured by the man’s closeness – while the little girl’s radiant smile is a delight.

This smile reminds me powerfully of African children in general!  I was often in out of the way areas in Kenya, often far off the well beaten tourist tracks, searching for unusual birdlife.  And I can remember entering villages where white people were only infrequently seen – and being beset by a tide of brightly smiling little children like these, chanting “mazungu, mazungu!” – swahili for “white man, white man!”.

And sometimes they were so curious to see me, maybe not having had close contact with a european before, that they came and wondered at the pale hair on my pale arms – and touched my arms and head as if they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing – it was a real, uninhibited examination!

I like children anyway, I vastly enjoy interacting with them – and especially so when they can talk – and these were simply wonderful and fascinating experiences.  And I also want to mention here how friendly Kenyan people were in general, throughout my years there – friendly, hospitable and humorous.

On the negative side of things though, it was on this trip that I first contracted malaria – and that is something truly unpleasant.

Click onto the image to open another version in a separate window, and click onto that version to enlarge it.

Technique: OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO; converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro.

UPDATE:  Today there is a general election in Kenya and, regardless of who wins, I can only hope that the whole thing goes off peacefully.  In many instances, the colonising powers of not so long ago drew lines around areas of the Earth’s surface and called them countries, regardless of the often extremely diverse ethnic mixes within those areas.  And so it is in Kenya.  Although I don’t see the fact on any of the news broadcasts, the current Kenyan president and his main challenger are from two very diverse ethnic backgrounds, and the recipe for violence, killing and yet more killing is sitting ready in the mixing bowl.  The current president has called for a peaceful vote and promised to abide by the result of the vote, and I can only hope that everyone listens to him.  Why do I hope this?  Well, I am mortally tired of the endless rounds of violence and killing that regularly break out around the world – I suppose that’s idealism.  On a more practical level, I spent many years in Kenya and found the Kenyans friendly and hospitable.  I can only wish them well – and hope that today’s election is proceeding peacefully, and that it will help improve the lives of everyone in that country.

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ARCHIVE 296 – TIMBER (MONO)

 

 


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Stack of mangrove poles; Lamu, coastal Kenya; July 1978.

The (Western) human eye scans images from left to right, and from top to bottom. Here, my eye enters the image from the left, and then travels right along the parallel poles, until arrested by the vertical pole and its binding, at the far end – positioning the vertical pole on the right of the picture does not work so well.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide rated at 64 ISO; Silver Efex Pro.
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ARCHIVE 290 – THE VIEW SOUTH FROM BABOON CLIFFS

 

 


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The view south from Baboon Cliffs at Lake Nakuru, Kenya; 27 Apr 1980.

Looking out across the lake on a calm day – which, in this area of convectional rainfall, can often turn into a towering thunderstorm later in the afternoon.

Nakuru is a soda lake in the rift valley’s floor and this view looks southwards down the rift.  The hills on the horizon, below the white clouds, are a group of small volcanoes, and the freshwater Lake Naivasha is just over the horizon to the left of them. 

Technique: OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens and polariser; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.

UPDATE: the polarising filter – arguably the most useful filter of them all in these digital days – produces the very deep blue of the sky at upper right, the good definition of the clouds below that blue and (even in this ancient, scanned slide), good clarity of view off into the distance. 

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ARCHIVE 289 – LUO FAMILY

 

 


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Luo family on a farm near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; April 1979.

The backdrop is the painted wall of a wattle and daub hut, the smooth surface layer of which is starting to flake off on the far right.  Minor points, maybe that I’ve only really appreciated now, after all these years, are the Vicks poster and the kitten.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO.

UPDATE: The people in Kenya were in the main very friendly and hospitable.  I very much enjoyed my years in that country.  Again – once again – I wish that I had photographed more of the people that I met there.

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ARCHIVE 288 – THE KAISUT DESERT AND MT MARSABIT

 

 


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A small settlement in northern Kenya’s Kaisut Desert, looking northwards towards the distant highlands of Mt Marsabit; 1981.

The settlement consists of a few buildings with mud walls and corrugated iron roofs and some hemispherical mud huts.  Each group of buildings is surrounded by a fence of dead thornbush, within which stock animals are kept at night.

The desert is unusually green after recent rains.  Each conical hill in the distance is a small volcano, and the massif on the horizon is Mt Marsabit, a national park of entirely volcanic origin.  Marsabit rises over a thousand metres above the surrounding plains and, in its higher reaches, supports dense forests that derive their moisture from the clouds that frequently cloak the high ground.

I love the colours in this picture.  Agfa CT18 was an excellent but quite slow film which tended if anything to err towards brownish hues perfect for many Kenyan landscapes.  I used to slightly underexpose it to further saturate the colours.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

OM-1 with 28mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO.

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PEOPLE 258 – THE THIRD LARGEST LAND MAMMAL, AND ME

 

 


Photo credit: Bill Stripling

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Years ago, I used to lead bird and general wildlife/nature safaris in Kenya.  It was hard work, not least because, rather than relying on a driver, I did all my own driving, of which much was either on bad roads or on no roads at all.  But I greatly enjoyed the work, because the company I worked for provided tours for naturalists, and these could be anything from out and out birders, to those wanting to see the large mammals – and especially the large predators – to those who wanted to see and hear about a bit of everything, including geology (my university subject) and Kenyan peoples and history.   We handled a lot of groups from museums and nature/conservation societies.

And sometimes the itinerary took us to Meru National Park, which is situated in low, hot, thornbush country to the northeast of Mt Kenya.  And there in Meru, in those days (the late 1980s), there was a small herd of White Rhinoceros that I think had been given to Kenya by another country – I think South Africa – as a diplomatic, goodwill gesture, and which the Kenyan government kept under the watchful eyes of some armed National Park staff in Meru.

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Photo credit: Bill Stripling

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Now there are two types of rhinoceros in Africa, the White and the Black, and they vary vastly in general temperament.  The Black Rhino, which is native to Kenya, is aggressive, violent and extremely dangerous – they kill people, and fiercely attack vehicles.  You really don’t mess about with a Black Rhino, you treat it with enormous respect.  But the White Rhino is really something else.  Its not so aggressive and, living long term under human care, these few animals in Meru were more docile still.

So, on safari, I would take my clients to walk amongst and be with the world’s third largest land mammal (after the African and Indian Elephants), which was a wonderful and intriguing experience.  For their part, the rhinos ignored us completely – to the point of calmly walking through you if you were foolish enough to stand in their way.  But we could touch them – it was like laying your hand on a rock-solid, cold, stone wall – and, being young and stupid, I remember going round to the front end, getting hold of the fabled horn and shaking the creature’s head – whereupon I was unceremoniously tossed aside very much as you or I might impatiently wave away a nuisance fly – which was, of course, exactly what I deserved.

Amazingly, after all these years (this would have been sometime in the period 1987-1989) I recall the name of the photographer – Bill Stripling.  He took these shots and, after the trip, was kind enough to send me these large prints, and also lots of the other excellent wildlife shots he took during the safari, which I’ve housed in an album and which I treasure.

What else is there to see here?  Well, the two pictures were obviously taken at different times of the day, as the light in the second one is very yellow – it must have been around sunrise or set.

And also there’s the younger me, with beer gut already evident, and around my neck the Zeiss 10x40B Dialyt binoculars that took such a hammering on those safaris, and which I still have.  Also the more discerning of you may notice my slightly big-breasted look – I mean, just how fetching could I get? – which resulted from the fact that, for reasons of security, I always used to carry all of the tours’ petty cash, in cash, in the breast pockets of my safari shirts – I was a walking bank, with a chest that slimmed down as the tours went on.  Is that exotic or what???!

And now I suppose, because I try to be honest on this blog, I should tell you the full story of these rhinos.  I apologise in advance for the sadness of what I am about to relate.

I was accompanying a party of British birders, and took them to see these rhinos.  And then, later on on that safari, we bought a local newspaper and learned that, soon after our visit, all of these animals had been killed by poachers, and their horns stolen.  I can imagine the scene.  A few National Park guards, most probably armed with British Lee Enfield .303 rifles of WWII vintage, up against superior numbers of poachers armed with AK47s – I expect the guards ran for their lives.  I would have run too.

But, sad ending though this may be, after all these years I still retain wonderful memories of being able to be so close to those great creatures.

(You can enlarge these images by clicking onto them – they will open in separate windows.)

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ARCHIVE 272 – BOY ON A FARM

 

 

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Young Luo boy on a farm near Akala, in the far west of Kenya; Apr 1979.

He is standing in front of the painted mud wall of a hut and is vastly amused to be having his picture taken – what a pity that those weren’t digital days, so that I could have showed him the result – or that I didn’t carry a polaroid camera with me.

Looking for rare birds – I was an out and out birder in those days, photography was very much a subsidiary thing – I remember entering villages deep in the western countryside where the africans seldom encountered white people, to be greeted by little children running at my VW Beetle, shouting “mzungu, mzungu!” – “white man, white man!”.  They crowded around me, looking at my skin and touching it with wonder and great curiosity – and all around were excited grins and smiles like the one above.

Olympus OM-1 with 50mm Zuiko lens; Agfa CT18 colour slide rated at 64 ISO.

UPDATE: this picture was taken 38 years ago and, getting older as I am, I find myself looking at this broadly grinning face, a face from my distant past, and wondering what has become of him.  For a start, is he alive, has he survived?  This is after all the Third World, and an area brutally infested by malaria – which I myself was struck down with – so that nothing can be guaranteed.  Assuming that he is still alive, he will now be in his 40s, perhaps with a family of his own.  So has he stayed on these far western farms, or maybe been drawn by the lure of the cities – nearby Kisumu, or even far off Nairobi or Mombasa?  I can have no answers here but am nevertheless left with one certainty: being a geologist and naturalist, most of my Kenyan photography was of the spectacular landscapes and wildlife – but now, with hindsight, I wish that my photographs had a more of a human element, that I’d taken more photographs of the Kenyans themselves.

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ARCHIVE 266 – STORM AT NAKURU

 

 

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A large thunder storm heads down the rift valley in Kenya, and looms over Lake Nakuru; the late 1970s.

Large storms like this are common in and around the rift and, this being convectional rainfall, especially so in the afternoons, i.e. after the sun has been going long enough, sucking moisture up into the heavens.

The birds in the water in the foreground are flamingos, and the flying birds further out comprise three pelicans on the left, followed by yet more flamingos.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

OM-1 with 75-150 lens at 150mm; Agfa CT18 colour slide, rated at 64 ISO.

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