Tag Archives: travel

Madeira Flower Festival May 2017

In May I celebrated a milestone birthday on the beautiful island of Madeira. This was my first visit to Madeira and I loved the contrasts between the coasts and the mountains, the lush valleys and the rocky beaches.

We were lucky that it coincided with the annual Flower Festival – an absolutely spectacular event in the capital Funchal. The festival runs over four days and includes a children’s parade, with local children laying flowers to create a Wall of Hope, displays of exotic tropical flowers, flower carpets and exhibitions. On the Sunday there was an explosion of colour and music as dozens of floats travel along the front watched by massive crowds. It was fabulous experience. At the height of the day the sun was intense and it was tough for the adults and children who sang and danced for the few hours the spectacle took to complete. It was very difficult to photograph, there were so many people enjoying the show and the light was really harsh but the images will hopefully give you a flavour of my experience!





Print your images!

After my photography trips and projects I print photobooks to have something more tangible than  hundreds of digital images on my hard drive. It’s a pleasure to remind myself of the experiences and to see how my skills have developed over the years. I use Albelli to print the books, not a top end product but affordable and perfect for my purposes. It’s a way to share my work with friends and family as well, although the screen version of the book isn’t as quite as good as the printed version.

At the recent RPS Travel Group Spring Weekend I gave a short talk about my non-profit work and it was helpful to share books of the projects with the travel group members as my slide show was necessarily short.

Today I realised I had a prepaid photobook with an imminent expiry date and in the absence of a new project to print I went back to 2011. I hadn’t created a book of my photo adventures with Steve McDonald in Tuscany when I was the “gofer” helping him get around the region to photograph for a new Insight Guides Travel book.  Here is the link to the book – you may want to try Albelli yourself!

Travels in Tuscany



South Carolinas, Cuba and Coloumbia …

I’ve had a break from photography which is making me all the more excited about my upcoming opportunities. I’m heading to South Carolina for a holiday break but have decided a photo project is required to keep me going. Lying in the sun and shopping doesn’t do it for me anymore (although a little shopping won’t go amiss!) so I’m going to find a way to photograph holidaymakers in Myrtle Beach. Being Scottish is a great icebreaker as it puts people at ease … “Ah just lurve your accent” is a common response and I’m hoping I’ll have enthusiastic subjects!

My first visit to an American style resort many years ago was an eye-opener when I discovered “Resort Wear” was recomemend (by my colleagues), a whole new concept to me.  I stayed true to myself and really stuck in my (scruffy) shorts and teeshirts …  So this has got to be my theme: “A Retort to Resort”, “Loving Leisurewear” or maybe “Let’s Dig ’em Out Again” (as I do).

But what’s really thrilling me is SOUTH AMERICA is coming up!!!!!! A month of travelling with my camera in June and July. Planning the trip is making my mouth water as I firm up details that include time in Cuba and Colombia; visiting Havana and Trinidad with travel photographer Ralph Valesco, independent travelling in Colombia and then (fingers crossed) another Momenta Non-Proft Workshop in Medellin. I’ll try to blog in Spanish at some point – not quite yet though!

Meantime I’m continuing to process neglected images from previous trips. Good to keep my hand in …

Ubud, Bali, May 2014

Market Wall, Bali

Project South Africa 2013

Monkey Temple, Kathmandu


Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

Shell Village, Laos

Shell Village, Laos

Passengers, Tatipani, Nepal

Passengers, Tatipani, Nepal

Pashupati Funeral Pyre, Kathmandu

Pashupati Funeral Pyre, Kathmandu

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos

Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

Earth, Water, Fire and Air …

No, not the 70’s soul/funk band (!) but the four elements that are said to make up our world. I’ve been revisiting my travel photography recently, to immerse myself again in the trips I’ve taken and to rethink what I’ve captured and why. I head to South America later this year and hope to implement more of what I’ve learned on my recent trips with amazing photographers like Ewen Bell, Jamie Rose and Steve Davey.

                 fire-icon       earth-icon       water-icon       air-icon

Yesterday, a perfectly timed “Thomas Cook Explore the Elements Photoblogger Competition” dropped into my inbox; a vehicle to explore what I’ve already seen but looking for new stories in the images. Perfect!

Or so I thought … the reality of choosing from a variety of images, thinking carefully of the remit (which requires the images to  creatively illustrate the themes) and selecting my favourites is extremely difficult. My main discoveries were that almost every image captured more than one of the elements, that the four are inextricably linked and deciding which represents the element most powerfully is very difficult. Not only that, I couldn’t decide whether to be literal (my default approach unfortunately) or more oblique in my choices … representing the fluidity of water can be done is more ways than showing a fast flowing river.

My dilemma however was a pleasure. I’m looking more deeply into my images, sensing new and alternative messages in them and it is extremely rewarding. Irrespective of the competition I feel enriched. (That’s not to say that a prize wouldn’t be lovely …)

Here are the four I’ve chosen to represent each element, see what you think.

Nepal - October-November 2013.

Earth: Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness , physicality and gravity. (Or could it be Air, the freedom of movement and compassion of the prayer flags?) Muktinath, Nepal

Water: Represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world. Associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism. Children reach their six-month birthday and are initiated into the holy waters at Tirta Empul, Bali.

Water: Represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world. Associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism. When children reach their six-month birthday, they are initiated into the holy waters at the Buddhist Tirta Empul, Bali.

Fire: Represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world. Associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit. Funeral Pyre at Pashupatinath Temple, Khatmandu, Nepal.

Fire: Represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world. Associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit. Funeral Pyre at Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Air: Represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement. Associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom. (The release of tens of thousands of lanterns could just as easily represent, Earth and Air. It is an astonishing sight as wishes are tranported into the sky by the flames of the lanterns.) Yi Peng, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Air: Represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement. Associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom. (The release of tens of thousands of lanterns could just as easily represent, Earth and Fire. It is an astonishing sight as wishes are transported into the sky by the flames of the lanterns.) Yi Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The competition ends on 16th March so my fellow photobloggers have time to enter, why not have a go:

Natalie: nataliebanton.wordpress.com

Stephen: stephencotterell.com

Cat: cateasterbrook.com

Noor: touchofinsanity.wordpress.com

Steve: stevemcdonaldphotography.wordpress.com

Hong Kong …

I was lucky to piggy-back on my partner’s work trip to Hong Kong and as he has a few days free, we explored the island, Kowloon and the New Territories. Always looking for photographic opportunities we still managed to fit in relaxing massages and some truly wonderful meals. It’s the first time I’ve really enjoyed dumplings!

My last trip to Hong Kong was over ten years ago and the construction activity that has gone on since (and still goes on) is phenomenal. Buildings just seem to pop up everywhere and in the smallest of spaces.

Our train journey to the Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls took us through small towns and villages; I had somehow been expecting vast swathes of farmland. The falls themselves were disappointing as there was little water so in one sense it was a long journey for nothing – yet no trip into the unknown is ever a waste of time. The National Park was lovely – cool and calming and I could see why so many people spend their days-off there, picnicking and relaxing with family.

It was really hot, sticky and as ever, extremely busy and vibrant. We were there just before the protests began in earnest and although a small part of me wishes I’d been there to record the crowds of protestors at such an historic time, the rest of me was glad just to have a holiday!


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More monks …

I decided to print a couple of photobooks – one with images from the UK and the other, a selection of photographs from my overseas travel. Choosing which to include was so difficult. The only rules I set myself were that each image had to be memorable for me; either the experiences I had on that day or the particular circumstances of the shot and they also had to include people. And preferably not my “favourite” shots! This meant processing some images previously neglected, or removing tight crops and including more of the scene, something I have since learned to do more of.

Some of the images below were included … they were oversights but now I appreciate them!       Travelling_to Kompong KhleangSiem Reap_040 Tonle Sap Lake & Kompong KhleangSiem Reap_193 Tonle Sap Lake & Kompong KhleangSiem Reap_106 Tonle Sap Lake & Kompong KhleangSiem Reap_074 Tonle Sap Lake & Kompong KhleangSiem Reap_032

Water, water everywhere (well almost!)

Last year I attended the inauguration of one of the water supplies successfully developed by Testigo Africa in Oltapesi, Tanzania. It was a privilege and pleasure to be part of the celebration, having seen for myself the impact of the drought three years earlier.  I travelled with Tracey Sawyer (the Director of the charity), her soon-to-be husband Emanuel plus her family from Australia. We stayed at the simple but very hospitable Tembo Guesthouse in Longido and it was a fantastic opportunity to see the changes Testigo Africa had helped implement since my previous visit.

Impact of the drought in 2009

Impact of the drought in 2009

We travelled to the site in a four-wheel drive, packed to the gunnels with Masai villagers of all shapes, sizes and ages – I wasn’t sure we’d manage to navigate the rutted, dusty route loaded down as we were, but Tracey’s latest acquisition “Old Red” was more than equal to the task. As we drew up near the water tank, and what seemed like dozens of villagers piled out of the jeep, we realised that a group of warriors had gathered to dance (the Adumu) in celebration. It’s awe inspiring to watch these tall, slim and extremely fit men jump so high – each taking turns as the others chant, laugh and joke with each other. Everyone has a go – even Tracey’s dad, who gamely tries to emulate the height of the warriors. The women watch too, then later perform their own dance – equally energetic – full of giggles and shy glances to the audience.

There follows many (many!) speeches, each translated into English, Swahili and Masai to ensure that everyone understands. It’s mainly (of course) the men who talk … yet both charities involved in this project are led by women and one of the main drivers for providing the water supply is to help the women here. It is they who walk miles every day to ensure their families have water – they bear the brunt of drought and the lack of clean, fresh water – so I’m delighted to see two of the women come forward and express their gratitude to Testigo Africa. Namnyak speaks of the close friendship she has with Tracey, developed during her years of involvement with Longido, and explains how much the water supply means to her and the other women. It’s very moving.

Then, as no Masai celebration would be complete without the ritual slaughter and roasting of a goat or two, we follow the men to a clearing where various parts of goat are being roasted over open fires. Soft drinks are shared round and everyone tucks in, although the Masai women are not invited to this part of the ceremony. I manage to politely nibble at some of the offerings but freshly slaughtered meat is fairly tough and I’m not that sure what the pieces of offal are …!

As foreigners, we don’t count as women and are allowed to eat with the men. It’s a very different experience being a woman in this part of the world and not one I’d care for. The women however are strong and determined, the backbone of their families and it’s good to know that the fundraising efforts of charities like Testigo can ease their load, even a little.

Celebrations at Oltapesi, Tanzania.

Celebrations at Oltapesi, Tanzania. Clockwise from top: the women sit near the tank during the speeches; the warriors perform the Adumu, soft drinks all round; a view of the speeches; Tracey and Emanuel in front of the pump house.

I’m a photographer, not an activist … Part II

Okay – so maybe I will tell you more about trafficking, let’s face it, not everyone is going to delve deeper to learn more. It’s shocking and upsetting and it’s happening everywhere in the world, there are workers trapped in enforced servitude in chicken farms in the UK for goodness sake. But that’s another story. My experience was in the remote hill tribe villages of Northern Thailand. In this case it’s all about culturally ingrained ways of living that have little to do with the lucrative sex industry in Bangkok (although for many, that’s where it might lead).

While there are indeed gangs of dangerous traffickers that swoop in and abduct children and adults and force them to work in all kinds of industry from rice-picking to prostitution, polishing gems to domestic slavery (or some similar cliched image), there is also a much more subtly corrupting root cause: families.

Poor families without a means to change their circumstances, whose only asset is their children.

Grid for blog

TL: outside the brothel in the village centre. TR and BL: young village girls playing, none of them are in school. BR: young boys abandoned by their parents have been taken in by their grandfather.

You can’t and we didn’t judge these lovely people as we were welcomed into their homes. The tribes people, Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Yao and Lisu for example, are mainly migrants from China, living on subsistence farming in an area more and more depleted of natural resources. They are illegal immigrants, unlikely to achieve Thai citizenship and not entitled to education or help from the kingdom.

Over generations it has been the cultural norm to “monetise” those assets, as happens in other parts of both the developed and third-world countries. So why am I focusing on these people … the small children you see above? Because I met them. There is a personal connection, small and tenuous for sure, but it’s there. I played with them (cue silly photograph of me on a bike) and watched them play as children do, unselfconsciously and with joy. They have no idea what their future holds.

Me on bikeBut we do. Most of the young girls will work in the village brothel. It’s just another house in the village, no red light or dancing girls. It’s an ordinary house where the men of the village have sex with young women. Sadly, younger and younger girls are desirable. The boys are more likely to work in the fields, picking rice for hours on end. Some of the girls we met pick maize. We spoke to the girl on the far right (below); she was intelligent and funny but without the opportunity to go to school she and her sisters have a bleak future.

Some of the girls do end up in the big city. They return home smelling of perfume, with pretty clothes and money to feed the family … but not from “selling handbags”. The younger girls long to follow in their “glamorous” footsteps and so it goes on. One girl, home to visit the family, spoke English and told us she had an Aussie “boyfriend” whom she believed was going to marry her … her family was so proud and showed us a photo. I don’t hold out much hope to be honest.


Sisters, having cooked breakfast, are heading off to pick maize.

And it’s sometimes worse, if that’s even possible; families may obtain a loan from traffickers and the children work it off. This can take years, if ever. And here it’s even seedier; promises are made of jobs and opportunities for the kids … but the reality is more often slave labour, imprisonment, rape and beatings.

Hard to imagine this situation? Think of your eight year-old child, out playing in the snow today or dashing around on her bike in summer, carefree and joyous. Just like the kids I met in Thailand. But despite complaining about school (all kids do!) she has a future and even in our uncertain economic climate, can you imagine selling her to traffickers?

No, I bet you can’t. But you’ve never had to. You haven’t lived in a family where this has happened generation after generation. Where the culture accepts it as the norm. Where there a few other choices. And sadly, where evil traffickers can take advantage.

The hill tribes are not bad people but they are victims of circumstance. The only way to change things is to offer alternatives … and that is what many charities are trying to do. It’s a softly, softly approach of re-education. It’s not about judging. In the case of the charity I worked with, it’s been about saving only a few girls, but surely that is better that than none at all. It’s meant some villages are aware of the dangers and are looking for other options for their children.

Small steps, but stepping forward nonetheless.




I’m a photographer, not an activist, but …

There are far too many injustices in our world. It’s overwhelming if you really think about it, even more so if you start to wonder what you can do. First comes impotence: “it’s too big an issue”“I can’t make a difference”“other people are better equipped”. Then perhaps a sense of guilt creeps in: ”I’ve got so much – surely I can (should?) do something?” But life intervenes and we move on, safe in the knowledge that others are sorting out the world. Or maybe that’s just me; after all I’m a photographer, not an activist. Nevertheless, those nagging thoughts prevail:isn’t there something I can do?”

So last year I joined the Human Trafficking Photography Expedition to Promote Social Change. I wasn’t sure what to expect, what we’d do and how I’d feel – but I was excited about an opportunity to develop my photography and learn more about a cause I feel strongly about (those nagging thoughts remember?)

I was a little apprehensive; would we encounter dangerous traffickers and see tragic and seedy sights? Would we even be allowed to take photographs? Would we cause more hassle than help? What in fact would we be doing? So many questions, most of which were not answered through my initial research or during our induction. In fact the reality was much more prosaic. We visited hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand and we encountered nothing but friendliness and warm hospitality. Five of us in a four-wheel drive, or with our guides and curious villagers in a truck, moved between the villages in relative (if bumpy!) comfort. We did trek one day and there was a lot of walking with cameras – but all in all it wasn’t physically arduous. I was both disappointed and relieved. Our accommodation was very basic: other people’s mattresses, sharing beds and extremely simple (but always clean) toilet and washing facilities. Not five-star but considerably better than I’d expected.

So what does this have to do with human trafficking, slave labour and the sex industry? At the time it was confusing. Where was the evidence? What was the issue? These were lovely, kind people. Gorgeous, fun-loving children. Poor but proud villagers eking out a living in remote areas. Nothing nasty or frightening here?

But as the trip progressed we learned that poverty and lack of citizenship was far more insidious that it might appear. This post isn’t to explain the issue of trafficking in Northern Thailand; there are links below that do that more eloquently. But it’s with hindsight, processing the photographs and trying to figure out how I can tell this story, that I feel such sadness. It was truly delightful meeting these children, playing with them and taking and sharing photographs, but pretty photographs hide a stark reality and a vulnerability that makes me deeply uncomfortable. I’m still struggling with a way forward (after all, isn’t there something I can do?) …

Links for more information about the issue:





This baby girl’s mother is a teenager working in the village brothel. It’s likely to be her future too. She may be even be a “lucky” one who makes it to Bangkok or Pattaya to earn even more money for the family …

Giggling and happy now, in a few years they will probably be working in the village brothel, helping support their families.

Giggling and happy now – such gorgeous little girls! But in future it’s possible their extremely poor parents may solicit loans from traffickers who promise the girls good jobs and opportunities in the city … that future most likely to be enforced labour and / or prostitution.

Not at school. May never be educated. Guess what her options are?

Not at school. May never be educated. Guess what her options are?

Airplanes are dangerous!

Home sweet home … such a cliche and yet so true. Shame that I’ve picked up a bug of some sort and am seeing rather more of my cosy home than I’d like! Being crammed into a small space with hundreds of travellers is never ideal …. those pesky viruses and infections must have a field day … all those tired immune systems just waiting to be infected.

The journey home took a while as I had reroute to get a seat and I spent a couple of days travelling between and at airports. It gave me space and time to mull over my trip and consider what I learned and saw. I’m still no clearer to be honest, about what I’m going to do with around 3,000 images … some are “holiday snaps” – just for me, memories of my trip and simply fun. Others are more meaningful and require some thought .. an exhibition, book, online gallery? I don’t know yet.

Meantime I’m a bit grumpy and congested … so I’ll share some of the images I currently have exhibited at The Hawth in Crawley in support of Testigo Africa’s Water Project.

The Thailand images need to simmer for a while.