Tag Archives: www.testigoafrica.org

Making the most of travel photography

The RPS (Royal Photographic Society) included an article I wrote in its Travel Group Travelogue Newsletter after I chatted to some members about my photography. While I haven’t made as many overseas trips to support non-profit organisations as I would like, I do have plans for more. It is an incredibly rewarding aspect of travel photography so I’ve reproduced the article here, with some different images.


Rewarding Travel Photography

When I retired early from a stressful career with an international energy company I decided to re-engage with my creative side, develop my photography and to travel in a way that allowed me to get to know other cultures. Although I enjoyed these photographic adventures I still felt a lack of purpose and I wondered: “why am I making these images” and more importantly, “why am I here at all”?

Life has a way of solving such dilemmas. When a friend contacted me in 2009 to talk about her charity Testigo Africa, a project to bring clean drinking water to a Masai village, I immediately said “If you need a photographer, just ask me”. She did and a month later I was in Arusha, Tanzania. Tracey wanted images to help her fundraising efforts; the area had suffered a terrible drought and water was scarce, livestock dying and food hard find. It was my first really close encounter with another culture and I was very inexperienced but the warm welcome and friendliness made it a pleasure. The warriors slaughtered and cooked a goat we had paid for and the women prepared vegetables. They sat apart to eat but we were treated as honorary men. We drank tea in mud huts, met Masai of all ages, enjoyed the Masai adumu (dance) and watched the women making beautiful beaded jewellery. Iwas able to capture it all.

Tracey started the charity to help the women who walked miles every day to collect water, leaving them little time to do anything else. I returned with Tracey in 2012 for the inauguration of the water supply and to photograph her wedding to Emanuel, a Masai who has become part of her team. They have since established a football academy and a perma-culture project in many villages. Women can now grow enough food to sell in addition to feeding their families.

One of the many rewarding aspects of my second visit was sharing prints from the first trip and noticing how much the women had blossomed with good nutrition and less stressful lives. My images were used in a variety of ways by Testigo: calendars, video presentations, exhibitions and greetings cards. It was a privilege to be involved.

My appetite whetted, I joined a volunteer trip in 2011 with a charity helping prevent human trafficking in the villages of Northern Thailand. We travelled with the director, essentially funding his journey, to isolated villages where he works with village heads to change ingrained attitudes and traditions. The hill tribes comprise immigrants from Myanmar, China and Laos who have for generations lived a frugal existence unacknowledged by Thai authorities. Life is hard and gangs offering loans to families are repaid by the children working in the fields, factories and brothels. The charity approaches the problem with re-education rather than disapproval as the practices have continued for generations. We stayed with families, often sleeping in their beds, ate with them and through our guide were able to get to know them a little. I found it a very difficult trip emotionally, but felt some satisfaction when the charity used many of my images on their website.

Later in 2012 I travelled to Cape Town with Momenta Workshops to work with non-profit organisation James House, which supports the township of Mandela Park. An introduction to photojournalism, I was put in touch with James House and had daily critiques of my plans and images from the Momenta expert. I had to develop my own resources, work independently and I learned a lot. Two hundred and fifty fully processed images, which were used in their annual report, had to be completed before I left. I also developed a personal project called the “Little Chair” involving clients and staff of James House.

Medellin in Colombia is next for me, to attend another Momenta Workshop. I hope to be paired with a non-profit supporting women, to improve my Spanish and further develop my skills. To enrich the experience I always include side trips; going on safari, attending festivals and finding additional opportunities for travel photography. I cannot recommend non-profit work highly enough. It’s humbling, rewarding, often challenging and a unique way to connect to the world through your camera lens.

Website: lauramorganphotography.co.uk

Facebook Page: facebook.com/pages/Laura-Morgan-Photography/146565008692998

Laura’s Advice:
• Find a cause you feel passionate about and be clear about your motives for volunteering.
• Research non-profit organisations carefully and either contact them directly or look for a company that supports such trips (see links below).
• Understand the organisation’s expectations, most likely they will want images that reflect their success in helping people, not heart-breaking images of illness or poverty.
• Be open, genuine and positive and really connect with the people you meet!

Momenta workshops: www.momentaworkshops.com highly recommended.

Photographers Without Borders: www.photographerswithoutborders.org No personal experience but has been recommended to me.

Kaya Volunteer: www.kayavolunteer.com – helpful for a first time volunteer but doesn’t specialise in photography.

Project Exposure: www.projectexposure.org – I do not have personal experience of this organisation.

Photovoice: www.photovoice.org – participatory photo projects.


Project South Africa 2013 Rural Life, Oltepesi, Longido (8)

Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand

Project South Africa 2013 Grid for blog _MG_3330 tarnished iron mod V2

Villagers in Oltepesi look at photos from 2009

Villagers in Oltepesi look at photos from 2009

Catch-22 chickens and eggs and go back to school

These musing constitute what a good friend calls my “over-analysing” … but I really want to understand why I’m feeling good so I can replicate it again and again. As NLP suggests, you can become an expert by modelling the behaviours of those already expert and who better than me to model me!

I have an up and down relationship with happiness. Right now I feel great: energised, sleeping well, smiling a lot and busy, busy, busy … doing things I love. Creative, photographic endeavours, some of which involve helping or teaching others. It seems so obvious! Keep all of that up?  Yet I suspect that the weather has a huge impact on my feelings, this constant sunshine is a power in itself. Do I need to emigrate I wonder …

So … chickens and eggs … Catch-22 … what comes first? The sunshine, the energy, the doing good things … how does it all interact … I’m curious, but as Auntie Suze would say, over-analysing … enough already!!

Below are some of the children at Manor Park School in Uckfield whose Art Club Project was inspired by the photographs from the Testigo Africa Yellow Bucket Campaign. I was amazed at their creativity and somewhat astonished at how much I enjoyed working with them, never having done this sort of thing before.

For the Uckfield Art Trail this weekend they have produced Art Books with paintings, drawings and photographs. These, plus sculptures, masks and jewellery inspired by Masai dress and the wildlife of Africa will be on display at the Civic Centre, Uckfield 19-20th July 2013.

Work in Progress!

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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.

Winter blues …

It’s winter, I’ve been hibernating and definitely not travelling with my camera. In fact I haven’t used my camera since my trip to Thailand. I feel vaguely guilty, as though I’m ignoring an old friend. But I know that inspiration and motivation will come at just the right time. Experience has taught me not to force it.

However, I’ve lots of photographs waiting for attention and some of those emerged from hiding today. They include images from a wander through the village of Longido in Tanzania in June last year and a visit to the village school there. The children were clamouring for our attention … partly for the balloons and lollipops but mainly to have their photos taken, with the usual proviso of seeing the shots immediately!

The photographs remind me of warmth and sunshine. The tentative green shoots in my garden means spring is coming soon. I sense a need to rummage for my camera …

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Blog images-1

Blog images - Longido-2

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.