I’m not a fan of photographs from windows- any windows- as a rule, but when you’re in the field you spend so much time in four-by-fours (see Field Visit Bingo) that sometimes, you have no choice.
Shots from car windows tend to be bland and blurry. It’s a rule of thumb in landscape photography that you don’t take a landscape from where you are, but you move into the landscape to take the photo. Very rarely do the elements line up to give you the right composition- and when they do, they’re usually shooting by so fast that if you’re late by a tenth of a second you miss the moment, and if the shutter speed isn’t high enough, they blur right out. It’s rare to get a sharp image- although by shooting more forwards and less sideways, you reduce the movement of the landscape relative to yourself.
For me, the above image, snapped from a speeding Land Cruiser several hours out of Nairobi, isn’t perfect- but it somehow works for all its imperfections. There’s no hiding what it is- a photo taken hanging out of a car window: the location of the cyclists and the little corner of road make that clear. The foreground is blurred, and the cyclists moreso. The rear tyre of the second cyclist has been clipped by the edge of the frame, and there’s even a little lens-flare catching against the low sun.
But I love the elements. It was a gorgeous sunset, and the sky and terrain were both full of drama. The cyclists- one in a football shirt- are typical of the area and tell their own story about place. And I actually think their blur adds something to the image, a sense of moving towards a brighter horizon. For all its quirks, I was pleased with how this shot turned out.
A handful of shots from a village in south-eastern Kenya. May 2012.
NGO-funded water kiosk. Villagers travel by foot and bicycle for many miles to purchase water from the tapstand managed by this kiosk. The system was installed via a combination of NGO, government and community-raised funding. Several years ago, the management of the project was handed entirely over to the community, and it continues to operate as planned, with revenue from the sale of water going back into maintaining and even expanding the existing water distribution network. It was an encouraging success to see at work, and a moment of sustainable development to be proud of.
A bicycle leans against a mud-brick building in the village centre.
A fruit and vegetable stall in the village centre.
On a work assignment in Haiti, it was easy to see why Port-au-Prince was considered a bit of a no-go zone. Crime and the risk of kidnapping kept us behind coiled-wire barricades in hotels and using alternating routes to drive through the streets, while Brazilian blue-helmeted peacekeepers were stacked, fully armed, into the back of circulating pick-up trucks patrolling the streets. Favellas crammed the steep mountainsides that hemmed in the capital and overlooked the sprawling harbour, fragile and impoverished, and washed away by every passing cyclone. While the scenery was alluring and the people colourful, there was an intensity and oppression about the place that was quite invasive.
The second half of the trip, however, was spent on the island of La Gonave, a half-hour flight by light aircraft off the coast. Peaceful, idyllic and eye-wateringly beautiful, the white rocks and rich green flora leant the place an air that suggested the Swiss Family Robinson could have settled well here. The people were friendly, the village streets safe to walk. The roads were horrendous but the beautiful landscape and diverse vegetation made the journeys worthwhile.
Before catching our flight home, a colleague and I asked the driver to take a detour down to the coastline near the airstrip. In the tropical sun, clouds billowed over the mainland and the white coral beach was searing to look at. Within the reef, the water was still and quiet and bath-warm, translucent and quite magical. We walked a little way along the coastline, then went for a swim in the shallow sea. It was an absolute highlight of our time in the country, and a place that I hold in a special place in my memory.