So after a month in Southern Africa, where the temperatures were rapidly rising with the onset of summer, here I am in Russia. I must admit that I was expecting it to be considerably colder than it has been while I’ve been in St Petersburg and Volgograd. I thought there’d be at least a foot of snow on the ground wherever I went, but no, they’ve not yet seen any snow at all this winter. Sadly, this is yet more evidence of climate change, which I see everywhere I go. Just three weeks ago, I was hearing how rain and drought at unexpected and untypical times is wreaking havoc with Malawian subsistence farmers’ efforts to keep themselves fed throughout the year. I’ve told similar stories before from both Thailand and Kenya. On the face of it, it would seem that Russians have considerably less to complain about; let’s hope they don’t get an even deeper, more severe winter when the sub-zero conditions finally come.
The Motherland Calls in Volgograd, Russia.
Anyway, on a more cheerful note, here’s a postcard for you. It’s of ‘The Motherland Calls’, built in 1967 to commemorate the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II, one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare (did I just say ‘cheerful’?!). At the time, it was the world’s largest statue, though it has since been trumped by 11 others. I captured the image after completing the first day of my current assignment for SmileTrain (who I was recently shooting for in Malawi) here in Volgograd. “There’s only one sight to see here”, I was told by my host. So off we trotted, shortly before sunset. And what a sight it is! From this angle, it appears to dwarf even the clouds.
I have the impression that most people in the West can think of two reasons for a photographer to go to Africa: one being to photograph the many less than positive things this continent gets into the news for (civil wars, starving children and so on) and the other being to capture images of its bountiful wildlife, much of which exists nowhere else on Earth. In my case, neither of these two motives brought me to Malawi. Many of the children I have so far photographed for EveryChild may indeed be hungry at times owing to the protracted ‘lean season’ the country goes through most years. Nevertheless, my focus was of course the tremendous difference this organisation and its partners are making in enabling disadvantaged children to live secure and dignified lives. So why, you may wonder, does today’s postcard feature two zebras?
Zebras at Game Haven Lodge near Blantyre, Malawi.
A hard-working photographer needs a break from time to time, doesn’t he?! My typical day in the field starts early, perhaps before 6 am, and after the long, bumpy and often dusty drive back to wherever I’m staying after sunset, there tends to be several hours of desk work to do (backing up images, initial selecting and rejecting from the hundreds of shots I captured that day, charging drained batteries, etc.). To recharge my own batteries, I like to head somewhere peaceful wherever I get the opportunity. Last weekend, that ‘somewhere’ was Salima, on the shores of gorgeous Lake Malawi. And today, it was Game Haven Lodge near the country’s second city and commercial hub, Blantyre.
Sometimes, I love how interconnected the world is these days (though sometimes I curse it). It was after a recent meeting in New York that the lady I’d been talking with told me I must contact her friend in Malawi if I had any time on my hands. I did just that, and received a really warm welcome to her home in Blantyre as I was travelling south en route to my next assignment (which starts on Monday with Concern Worldwide). Today, I enjoyed a very civilised lunch at the lodge - including Greek salad beautifully laid out on a slab of glass – followed by a short game drive. It was just what the doctor ordered after a couple of weeks’ intense (but thoroughly rewarding) fieldwork.
In collaboration with writer Meera Vijayann once again, I’m proud to bring you the second in my mini series of photo essays on the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. While the last one focused on the Vietnamese people’s love for their country, this one concentrates on two beautifully preserved Hanoi temples. Click the image below and I’ll take you there.
Catapult through a thousand years of history in Hanoi. Religion is everywhere; yet a sense of calm washes over when you step into Văn Miếu, the old Temple of Literature. Breathe deep. King Ly Thanh Tong’s serious gaze holds your wandering eye.
Deeper inside the temple, a young student offers her prayers in silence. Devotees sit in quiet corners around the courtyard, taking in the scented air and beauty. Several important temples were destroyed during war-torn times, but locals remain rooted, protecting dying traditions.
A painter skilfully practises his art as observers look on with curiosity. Calligraphy artists sketch the language of Vietnam’s Northern neighbour, reminding visitors of shared history while hoping to impress tourists and make a sale.
Dressed in ceremonial red robes and a traditional headdress, a priest talks to assembled students. Proud parents and teachers look on, listening intently. Their young have worked hard, and today’s the day to mark their efforts.
No temple is complete without a metal pot brimming with incense sticks. Visitors often light two or three as they pass, to honour their families. Tradition and age-old ties run deep in Hanoi, so simply surrender – and let the city refresh your spirits and soothe your soul.
This month, I teamed up once again with my favourite writer Meera Vijayann to bring you a slice of my recent travels in Vietnam. We’ve called this photo essay ‘From Hanoi with Love’ as a means of sharing some of the love I experienced while I was there. I’m not speaking of love for me, though my Vietnamese hosts were certainly wonderfully hospitable! I’m talking more of the passion they clearly have for their country, shared history and culture. Click below to see what I mean.