In 2016 I won first place for the Wanderlust Travel Photo of the year competition with my entry THE KARAOKE KING. My prize was a photo commission to Swaziland - the smallest nation in Africa [Fun fact - Swaziland recently changed it’s name to ‘The Kingdom of Eswatini’].Here is some of the coverage from the November 2017 article for your reading, listening and viewing pleasure.[…I metthe three boisterous characters in the audio recording above as they were circling around my table at the Bushfire Festival. We ended up playing doodle jump on my iPhone as one of them wrecked the mic - yeah!]Q+A//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////What were you looking forward to most ahead of your trip to Swaziland?
A couple of years ago I mapped out all the nations that I’d been to in my life and realised that the Central and Southern African continent was a huge unchartered piece of my travel puzzle. When the Wanderlust team told me that my commission destination was Swaziland, it felt like destiny!
My travel partner was Ermanno Becchis, an Italian music producer with a love for travel, culture, bootyshaking and - music! I asked him to book some time off work and all that he knew was that we were flying - SOMEWHERE. I managed to get him through the boarding gate blindfolded and so I have to say, the look on his face when we stepped off the plane in Swaziland was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing haha. (I had a lot of fun throwing him red herrings of where we were heading in the weeks running up to the trip, remember to pack your Thermal underwear Erma! And try and get hold of some XL elbow pads - we will need them).
What impressed you most about Swaziland? Looking on the map at Swaziland, one of the smallest nations in Africa, it seems like a drop in the ocean of what is the African continent. After spending three weeks there I think one of the most impressive aspects of this kingdom is the diversity of landscapes. From African savanna to lush forests and fresh mountainous highlands all packaged within accessible distances, it’s claim of being 'Africa in a nutshell' didn't seem far from the truth, and it’s size creates a real sense of community across the nation.
What/where was your favourite spot photographically and why?
On our very first day in Swaziland we stayed in Shewula mountain camp, in the Lebombo mountain region. It was magical. As a curious fellow I love to get lost, wander off the beaten track and make unexpected discoveries and this location didn’t disappoint.
We wandered through a small village, met farmers working in the fields along the way, watched kids playing football lit by the warm evening rays and gazed at the stars by night. Looking east over the valley we could see the Mozambique capital. The next morning we followed the sound of cowbells, which turned out to be vaccination day for 1000 or so families, mostly farmers, governed by the local chief. Hundreds of cows and goats being led by their masters into a big dip!
Do you have a favourite shot? (and why?)
I find wildlife photography pretty similar to capturing people, yet seldom do I have the opportunity of testing where I can push the genre. Encountering two male elephants on our Hlane reserve ride took my breath away. It was the first time I'd ever seen elephants in their natural habitat and I immediately felt an amazing sense of respect for these wise and mysterious mammals. Their movements, communication between one another, the look in their eyes - I was captivated.
There are four shots I took in a 20 or so minute timeframe which remain my personal favorites, capturing this experience and evoking what I felt in that moment.
What was your most memorable experience? We were on our way to the beautiful Phophonyane lodge when we stopped in pigs peak to pick up a coupe of treats from the street markets. It was early evening and we ended up having a coupe of beers in one of the local bars, maaaan the vibe was electric!
Within half an hour Ermanno and I were booty shaking with the locals, our guide Banele was pulling out some moooves, and it wasn't long before I got involved in a dance battle. With a dude crawling under my legs and another grinding next to us with empty beer crates on his back (?!), I looked over and saw Ermanno’s face haha! It was hectic, hilarious, random, a little bit scary and remains one of my funniest and most intense memories!
What types of social events/traditions/groups of people were you able to photograph - was there a particular highlight?
Our trip to Mantenga cultural village was a real highlight. It gave us a beautiful insight into Swazi tradition and we had the opportunity to witness a performance by Sibahle Ngemasiko - 26 musicians and dancers from all over Swaziland who formed the group to preserve Swazi heritage. They were incredible.
My trip also coincided with this years BUSHFIRE music festival which was another huge highlight of my time in Swaziland. It was three days full of good vibes, incredible music and new friends - all wrapped up in a stunningly picturesque setting. All these ingredients provided an incredible source of photo opportunities. Highly recommended.
Sum up what the trip and the competition has meant/done for you in terms of your passion for photography.
I think that photo competitions are an important stepping-stone in making the transition to professional photography. The wanderlust brief allowed me to be playful and explore my 'specialism' yet also develop my skills in making the selection (kill your darlings!) which for me is based on trusting my instinct and ultimately aiming to tell a story with a single image. This process has come full circle and now influences me when shooting - trying to say in one image what I once might have said with several [random snapping is all too easy with digital photography!].
I treated the trip as a serious photo commission, not a free holiday. It that sense it wasn’t all fun and games, I really was trying to sculpt my skillset as a photographer. With Ermanno by my side we made a great team; me on visuals - him on sound, and we pushed, we made things happen - because we wanted it! We covered the Swazi cup final, saluted the king (!!), interviewed famous musicians, politicians, footballers, we were in the newspaper and on the radio. We maximised the resources we had - a 4x4 and a well-connected guide called Banele. All this was possible thanks to the opportunity gifted to us by Wanderlust. It has left me in no doubt that I want to do this job, and that I can do this job! Sincerely, Allan.