One of my fondest childhood memories was going through my dads library of wildlife books and exploring them page after page. I would sit in wonder as I looked at these magnificent moments in nature incredibly captured on film.
These images, even as a young boy, would transport me into another world, a world filled with danger and excitement and exploration. These photographers were my heroes. In my youthful enthusiasm I would beg my dad to take me to the places where they go, to see what they saw.
I will always remember an image of a male lion on a sandy dune captured by Chris John, the now editor of National Geographic Magazine. It was beautiful, it was wild, it was Africa. I loved that image so much. It would transport me right to the wonderfully wild Kalahari.
Looking back today, is that image perfect? Can the composure be better? How many “pixels” was it shot at? Is the background distracting? WHAT DOES IT MATTER? Back then it blew me away, and it still does to this day.
Today I painfully miss that feeling I got when looking at images of African wildlife. Too many of today’s images lack inspiration, originality, wildness and passion. Instead of inspiring me to pack my bags and ready myself to travel, I find myself simply scrolling past as I mind-numbingly go through my Facebook newsfeed.
Seriously, something needs to change!
Too many wildlife photographers are in search of a quick fix.
If their 6 day trip to the Kgalagadi did not produce a golden-lit lion fight, a cheetah chasing down a springbok and atleast 2 proper sightings of a Brown Hyena, they return home disappointed and let down. Everyone flocks to the Masai Mara expecting to see gazillions of wildebeest heaving themselves into the Mara River, all whilst being killed by crocodile, lions, leopard, hyenas and often themselves and others around them. If their week’s safari did not yield the desired results then obviously the Mara or the Kgalagadi did not produce to meet their high expectations.
What has happened to us?
Where did romantic, wild, dangerous Africa go?
I long for the days when the photo came second to the incredible life-changing experience of being immersed in the wilds of the Serengeti, the Kalahari or even Kruger National Park.
I long for the days when the excitement to travel to all of our favourite wild destinations trumped the expectation to get a BBC award-winning photographic moment.
At times and with the advent of social media and the ease of travel, it feels as if Africa has shrunk, as if it is too accessible! Where did all the mystery go? Is Africa not dangerous anymore? So many people shy away from areas because of the possibility of a mosquito bite, a tsetse fly or a little too much sun on their sunscreen-plastered skins.
Has Africa become a convenient destination? Perhaps as a child the Africa I imagined was just exactly that. My imagination? Perhaps the thought of menacing lions, dusty dry landscapes and photographers immersed within this raw beauty was a little far-fetched? I mean today you can get just about any image you want from the comfort of a brand new Land Rover and an air-conditioned hide with reflectors for optimal light.
You know what?
I will dare to be different!! I refuse to believe that these places don’t exist. I have always and will continue the fan the flame that burns within me to discover, explore and share my beautiful Africa for the world to see.
Yes, I will visit the Masai Mara and stand alongside hundreds of other people as they watch one of the wonders of the world unfold.
But will I take it for granted? Am I there in search of my next BBC entry? I answer you with a resounding NO.
I am there to engross myself in a natural spectacle few have laid eyes upon. I will strive to talk about this to others and to live out my childhood dream. I will refuse to accept that Africa is fully explored and over traveled.
I will revel in my childhood fantasies and partake in a romance with this dark continent I know still exists.
I dare you to join me.
Africa is not for the weak nor for the feint-hearted.
The Africa I know is for those with a daring spirit ready to dive into a journey of risk-filled adventure and life-long memories.
If you take that first step she will reward you bountifully…
Marlon du Toit
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