As I am writing these lines, I have all my photographic equipment covering every single square meter of my studio, suitcases in the living room and a long check-list of things to bring with me on the table. In a few days, we will be leaving to lead our photo-adventure trip "Namibia: Desert & Wildlife 2013" along with a wonderful group of fellow photographers. I have always thought that great trips are never ending. They start well before you embark on them. Months before you hop into the plane, you already dream of the destination, of the unexpected, of finally getting to know a place which still only exists in your imagination. This is the time when a map in the Atlas speaks to us about incredible sunrises, exciting encounters and a dose of adventure under each of the names we can read on it.
The arrival is always a magical experience. I would say it is like finally meeting a pen pal with who we have been exchanging letters for a long time. The imagined becomes real. Sounds and smells add to the visual experience. We are finally there. A door is opened to exploration, to breaking up the expectations we had. We sit down at a table where a mysterious and unknown menu is about to be served. Being open to the whatever comes is the trick to fully enjoy it, never saying "I do not like it" before it is tasted...
Even once we come back home, the trip is far from being over. I have always been amazed about how many people think of travelling as a short-period activity, which is consumed like a bottle of water of a pack of cigarettes. Travelling is like climbing up another step in the ladder of life. You are not the same when you come back. You are more you.
Photographers, provided they travel with the good attitude, have the potential of enjoying even more any travelling activity since the creative process of making photographs can very much foster a deeper emotional connection with the place they visit. Not only that, their memories of the visited places will eternally become bound to those images engraved in emulsion or recorded as digital files, each of them becoming the catalyst of a myriad of feelings and emotions. Feeling the light, listening to the landscape, observing the world go by and slowing down the pace to engage into a more personal experience of the place can also be some of the beneficial side-effects of photography for the traveler...
However, we can also get eaten by the monster we create. We photographers run the risk of allowing the camera to become a barrier, a dampener of the joy of travelling and a mask to the real face of the place we visit. Bringing with us too many preconceptions or a list of trophy shots to be ticked off will certainly open a box of Pandora filled with frustrations, negative feelings and an almost guaranteed impossibility to connect, enjoy and fully experience the places we visit.
So, as the day of departure arrives, it is not only important to pack up our gear, clothes and equipment, but also to prepare our mind. In the same way we check-list the equipment we will bring with us, it is a good advice to un-check any mental structure or strong preconceptions we might have about the place we are about to visit and the photographs we might bring back. We have dreamt about a destination, thought about it and imagined it. In a way, we have so far enjoyed a mental trip to an imaginary place of our own, and that is wonderful. But now, it is time to free the mind, open the eyes and become a dry sponge eager to be soaked up with that liquid we call life.
Africa, here we go.