2017 - thanks for being part of it!
Thanks for stopping by. If you’ve been part of my journey this year, thank you for following along, or working with me, or sharing your story with me. I wish you all a peaceful and productive 2018 – and let’s hope there is some prospering in there too!
In here are some highlights – personal and professional (the two usually intertwine) and adventures informally presented from 2017. I’m thankful that it’s been a fulfilling year for me work-wise – with some frantic periods, and also some much needed time to slow down and think about the direction I am taking with my work – which I have desperately needed to do for about five years! As a freelancer, you are your own boss and employee at the same time, and it can be so hard to wear those different hats (as well as the dozens of other hats!). Towards the end of last year I realized that I had been fogged up in the ceaseless hamster-wheel spin of overloaded "employee mode" for too long: I needed to put my Bossman hat on. I desperately needed to sit back and look at the way things were moving, what I wanted, and how I wanted to get there.
This year, on the wedding and lifestyle Photos by Mana side I limited my wedding bookings so that I would have more time to refocus on the corporate editorial side of my work – an aspect of my work which I really love as it combines my interest in documentary photography with a more curated lifestyle & magazine style photography – which I also love.
I also get a lot of enjoyment out of curating things – blogs, social media posts, travel articles or even just my own personal journaling, and I’ve reignited this aspect of my daily work. (While we’re here, I’ve found Instagram to be such a wonderful creative platform and I’ve so enjoyed making new friends and finding new inspirations through this great community! If you'd like to see more of my work please check it out here).
And then I also promised myself I would dedicate more time to telling stories which I care about. When my photography journey first began, story-telling through documentary and editorial photojournalism was part of my daily life. As the years went on I found myself telling stories less and less – and focusing more on work that would pay the bills and allow me to build my equipment. As photographers - and creatives in general, I think we all go through these traps; and usually they are necessary steps to get where you need to go, and usually they make you better at what you do because you learn a wide range of skills associated with your line of work. But its easy to forget about feeding your creative heart too!
Anyway enough talking - I hope the 2017-creative-heart-feeding habits continue to last - and here, are some pictures, just a few highlights from this year.
P.S. This is the most writing there'll be - promise!
P.S.S. Any photos of me are taken by my talented husband Matthew Blair - I was lucky to have him on many of the trips this year!
2017: assignments, projects & travels
Bangweulu Wetlands Project:
Northern Zambia, May 2017
Community engagement, wildlife & landscape and law enforcement portfolio: May 2017.
The Bangweulu Wetlands model is unique in that it is not a National Park but is instead a Game Management Area - meaning that the land belongs to the local communities who live within it and have rights to fish and harvest resources from it.
For this blog, I have mostly just shared some photos, but to see more on the great conservation and anti-poaching efforts being carried out by African Parks together with DNPW (Department of Parks and Wildlife) see here for general law enforcement and here for a story on the Bangweulu Wetlands Anti-poaching horse unit.
Bangweulu is mostly famous for its endemic black lechwe, and its iconic rare and threatened shoebills which are protected in the area against the live bird trade. African Parks have launched a shoebill guard program - where local community members are employed to safeguard nests, creating local employment and protection for the birds. Since African Parks took over management of the wetlands in 2008, other game populations are also increasing, and lechwe populations have almost doubled.
Boat and foot patrols form the main body of anti-poaching activities in the heart of the wetlands, while horse patrols operate in the east of the park in the miombo woodland areas surrounding the headquarters at Nkondo.
Bangweulu Wetlands African Parks community engagement
Continuing along The Great North Road
Chishimba Falls and on to Lake Tanganyika
A week on Lake Tanganyika:
Conservation Lake Tanganyika & Ndole Bay Lodge
Zimbabwe: Mana Pools & Kariba
The Zambezi Elephant Fund
The Zambezi Elephant Fund was formed in 2015 as a collaborative, supportive initiative to actively address poaching in the Zambezi Valley. The fund works with a number of well-known hardworking implementing partners involved in various cross-sections of Zimbabwean conservation. When elephants are safe, all the creatures of the valley are safe and through the focus on making large areas of wilderness safe for elephants, naturally the whole ecosystem benefits.
Kariba Animal Welfare Fund Trust
The Kariba Animal Welfare Fund Trust is one of those admirable organizations where an awful lot is done with an awful little. Driven by the passionate Debbie Ottman and Sonya Macmaster, two concerned Kariba residents who co-founded the trust in 2010 when snaring around Kariba was spiraling out of control, the fund employs just two community scouts whose main daily work is snare patrols. Over the last seven years, the patrols have removed tens of thousands of snares. Game populations have started coming back to the area. The team also tackle the dangerous and often heart-breaking job of raising funds and awareness for treating and helping injured or distressed wild life in the Kariba area. If you'd like to know more about KAWFT please visit their website here.
Last Nyoni (right and below second right) first began working with KAWFT in 2011. Part of his work with KAWFT is trying to educate fish poachers on why they shouldn't use illegal fishing methods to catch fish. Unless local communities change the way they think about the natural resources, he fears fish stocks will continue to drop.
"Fish poachers tell us: 'There is nothing you can tell me – fish can breed; they have thousands of eggs.' But it’s easy to finish our resources, you can’t see it because the resources are underwater. But people can’t understand that. It’s better to come with your hook, then try to fish that way, just to take a little bit. It’s better to fish like that than to come with twine nets and take everything. Everything is [being] taken – all sizes, so in the end we are going to lose the fish here in Lake Kariba and in Zimbabwe."
“When we started doingthe snare patrols in August 2011, if you walked from here up to Charara areayou would see far fewer impala than what you see nowadays. Nowadays when youwalk along the lakeshore to do gamedrives you can see four or five groups rangingfrom 20 up to 40 or so up to 200. Before that it was one or two groups – neverthree, never four or five.” LAST NYONI, KAWFT SCOUT
Zambia: Kafue National Park:
southern Kafue: Nanzhila Plains Lodge
Kabompo River Weekends
Fishing and birding near the West Lungu National Park. No fish were caught in the making of this post.
September & October
New haunts and returning to first-time favorites
My second visit, and from what I can tell so far, just one of many. There are no words to describe what you see and feel in India - it is so giving and so crushing at the same time.
As wildlife lovers, its funny that after our second six-week visit we still hadn't explored even one of the true wilderness areas this mind boggling country is home to. I think its so we'll always have an excuse to come back. This time I returned to some first-time favorites - Rajasthan - more specifically Jodphur and Udaipur and surrounds; and new turf being Kerala's Marari beach and Fort Cochin. The actual reason for the trip was to visit an Ayurvedic clinic in Kerala with my mom for two weeks for some arthritis treatment for her, and we also spent another two weeks gadding around.
A month later I met up with Matt for two weeks in another first-time favorite: Ladakh.
Northern India: Ladakh
Of mountains and monasteries
Since coming here four years ago, both Matt and I always longed to come back. We returned this year to explore the areas around Leh - once again doing chilly day trips a beautiful Royal Enfield Bullet. We arrived as the town of Leh was shutting up for the season - Kashmiri peddlers were leaving town, Indian workers from other states were catching buses before the weather turned, and guesthouses were closing their doors. It was cold. Very cold. And we seriously underestimated how much we'd struggle from the altitude sickness. After three days we put my mum on the plane and sat down to decide our next move. Plans for trekking in the mountains soon fizzled as headaches and light-headnesss confined us to our beautiful guesthouse room - we had overdone the first two days and the altitude let us know. We grumpily hunkered down by the heater, drinking constant cups of Tulsi ginger tea and reading books on Buddhism and Ladakh. When we eventually acclimatized two days later we headed out on whichever roads looked good. Drifting with no plan, just dried apricots, freshly picked apples, yak cheese and hot tulsi tea in the backpack. And three pairs of thermal underwear below my jeans.
Watch Matt's film!
The Rusty Mokoro (aka Matt) has put together a fantastic film of our trip - if you'd like to check it out, please click here.
Imire Rhino & Wildlife Conservation
Meet Peter Wilson: his best friend is an elephant and he herds African buffalo and if they were mildly mannered dairy cows. Peter is one of Imire Rhino & Wildlife's most trusted scouts - and he also looks after one of Zimbabwe's most interesting elephants. In December I shadowed Peter for a few days, documenting his relationship with a special elephant cow called Nzou, and her family, a herd of buffalo. More on Peter and the rest of the Imire animal & people family in 2018.