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From South Central To Ethiopia

At glance, one would think a “Born & Raised” album blasting boy from South Central L.A. would feel out of place in rural Africa sipping tepid coffee from a calabash shell, yet there are few times in my life that I can recall feeling more comfortable.

After just 20-minutes at our first stop, I realized my lifelong pursuit of Nat Geo recognition would have to wait. These strangers, donned in aquatic adornments and intricately-braided hairstyles mirrored people from my neighborhood: cousins, friends, uncles, aunts … hell, myself. As a guest in the Hamar tribe’s village, I found a comfort unlike any other in past travels. I was, in some recklessly construed thought process, home. The restless spirit inside of me — the one that took days to settle in at the Temples of Luang Prang and farms of the Scandinavian countryside, instantly found serenity in the Omo Valley.



My Kanye-sized ego wanted to be first, but I knew I was not the first to cover this terrain. Hundreds if not thousands of photographers and writers had already visited this region, bringing to periodicals, websites and social media their stories and imagery. Surrendering to this realization enabled me to shift my focus from apertures and shutter speeds to presentness and meaningful conversation through interpreters. A seductive epiphany whispering in my ear: “The best photos will come from putting your camera down. Trust me.”

At minimum, I would say it was interesting to be among a village of kin … and on the Trumpian spectrum, YUUUUUGGGGELY profound. Don’t let the significance of what is in front of you be lost I reminded myself. The physical similarities between the villagers and myself, while initially disarming, eventually evolved into deeper discussion and even confusion once our superficial dialogue concluded. Who was I? What is an “African-American”? What is America? The matriarch of this home, to my surprise, had heard of neither, nor of the diaspora that led to millions of our West African ancestors shackled skeletons in the seas separating our continents and the soils beyond the crest of waves.

What was there other than Ethiopia, Kenya and … London? In their estimation, I was not a “Ferengi” like the other visitors that came with cameras; they believed I was an Ethiopian from the capital simply having fun at their expense. After downing my third calabash of java, I retired from convincing them otherwise, willingly accepting my designation of “city boy.”

I spent the next week traveling around The Omo Valley, meeting with tribes, learning about their cultures, futility attempting to convince them I was from another continent. But just before my departure down an unnamed, unpaved dirt road, I took my camera out to capture the bond I had established with my distant relatives, mindful of the all skeletons that led to our divergent stories.

Someone once asked Henri Cartier-Bresson how he makes his photographs? His answer, in true French fashion, was concise: “I don’t know, it’s not important.” Before traveling to Ethiopia, I would have echoed his sentiment, but since that trip, things have changed. I’ve changed. My answer now: “Through conversation, connection and recognition of shared history. The best pictures come from putting your camera down.”

 

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This Music Video Is Why I’m Going To Senegal!

I was recently in Paris, jet lagged and wide awake in the middle of the night, so as I tend to do when I can’t sleep, I turned on the TV. I started watching music video’s, French music videos, and got sucked in by Senegalese Trap Rapper MHD. Apparently he’s a big deal here in France… I had no idea who he was, but I loved his video A Kele N’ta. It’s shot in Dakar, Senegal and is all about his well wishes for a friend who is getting married. Mon ami a nkele n’ta—the chorus of the song directly translates to, “My friend has chosen only her,” and we follow MHD as he joins friends and family on the wedding day. The bridal party is dressed in a gorgeous blend of African prints and western clothes, also watch for the tributes to everyone from Tupac to fellow Senegalese musician Youssou N’dor (they happen quickly). Its festive, positive, the scenery is breathtaking and its full of beautiful black people. It literally put a massive smile on my face and had me searching out Senegalese food in Paris the next day (that was adventure for another post). But watching the video also made me want to go to Senegal TOMORROW.

After watching the video, I did some digging and the pictures of the vibrant city, the beach culture (the African Surfers), and the music scene, have me sold. Senegal is one of Africa’s more stable countries and has a bustling tourism industry. You can find everything from Luxury Beach resorts to Club Med or even accommodations for the traveler on a budget. The Travel Squire posted a great article about the country, and specifically Dakar. BTW If you have made the trip please share with the other members of the Coterie pictures and stories below in the comments. See you in Senegal, and make sure you join the Coterie!



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The Story Behind The Photo: Morocco

The images I’m most proud of as a travel photographer, are the images captured in Morocco.

I’m one of country’s biggest detractors, finding Marrakesh, Fès and Chefchaouen absent of the charm advertised by fellow travelers. And while I did find comfort in the seedy souks of Tangier, it hadn’t been the Morocco I was promised. Not by Bourdain. Not by Frazier. Not by Burroughs. Still, there’s this image and others that recently lead me to reflect on my time traveling around Northern Africa.

Morocco

This photograph was taken in Chefchaouen on a wet and charcoal like afternoon, the only Christmas Day of the 29 prior that I remember. The Berber man seen here was sitting outside his shop, likely a reserved conversationalist. Breaking beams of sunlight accentuated his worn skin, and his attire blended effortlessly into the background. It was an image I wanted desperately to capture, so I did as always and asked if I could photograph him.

“This isn’t Disneyland,” he quipped back lightheartedly. My response was quick, and just as lighthearted, “I’m aware this isn’t Disneyland. But this is a place a lot of people back where I’m from don’t know a lot about. So while I’m here, I’m hoping to capture some images that tell the story of Morocco and it’s people. I have no intention of exploiting anyone though.”

My answer sufficed, and after talking for a few more moments, he let me take five photographs. In Morocco, capturing people, capturing moments, capturing life … took work. It took days of conversations, accepting no for an answer, having one chance to get it right.

It was the first time that the universe had challenged me to create without its spoon. In past expeditions, I stumbled across something beautiful at the right time and triggered the shutter on my camera. The universe did all the work, and I just recorded it. I’ve been fortunate in this way, but it was thrilling to not have that luxury, to have to figure it out.

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