Africa. Such a misunderstood continent. There are more than 50 countries and countless languages and cultures in this huge piece of land and yet, a lot of people still refer to Africa as if it was a country. Much of press coverage Africa gets is about its poverty problems, complete with faces of sad looking children. Only positive images you get from Africa is when you watch NatGeo channel, where wildlife of Serengeti are usually shown. But even that’s not half the story. There are so much more to Africa and yet there are a lot of people who are afraid- travelers and photographers included. I guess I was in that group before I made my own journey into this this colorful, mesmerising continent.
After almost 200 days and 18 countries photographed, you could say I’m somewhat an expert on Africa. At least I know what to expect when I go there now. I fell in love with it, and it is still one of my favorite places on earth. I even published a photography book on it combining all those works I’ve done in those 2 years span, so you know my feeling is genuine. Many Koreans have associated me with Africa past few years, although my photographs are made all around the world. They seem to particularly enjoy the works I’ve done in Africa.
It wasn’t always like that, however. I too had that fear of traveling to Africa. While the prospect of photographing this vastly unknown(to myself, anyway) region sparked my curiosity, at the same time, I didn’t know what I could be facing once I went there. Then a opportunity presented itself right in front of me, in the beginning of 2013. I’ve got to know a NGO type organization named Dreaming Camera, and they were making a trip to Chad. They said they could use a photographer. In the end I decided I would go. Beginning what would become 75 days of my first African journey.
Dreaming Camera was a Korean organization that were doing many things to help children all over the world. I really liked their approach to things. Instead of just gathering money and giving to need children, they prioritized at kids having a good time. They brought a bunch of disposable, one time use film cameras. Handed to kids, and let them photograph whatever they wanted. After few days they collect the cameras and return to Korea. They then would develop them and have exhibitions with photographs that they’ve taken. All the proceeds go back to helping the children, and when it was all said and done they returned one more time to the country to give the kids the photographs they’ve made. As I’m a photographer myself this was a beautiful concept. I really enjoyed not only meeting these children but also seeing them photograph on their own, for the first time in their lives.
Chad, or Tchad to those of you with french origins, isn’t exactly a tourists’ destination. You won’t see anybody planning their holiday to Chad. There is no tourism board, and no infrastructure built for travelers. I wouldn’t have been able to navigate my way at the time if I wasn’t a part of Dreaming Camera. The president of the group was a priest and he could get help from many parishes, where they were a few trying to convent the people to catholic and also help them in many other ways. I have no religion but they all welcomed me regardless, and with their help I could visit the local people and see what they do. They were a fun loving people, for sure.
Chad is located at the center of Africa continent and its northern region is a part of Sahara deserts. Thus there are some nomads tribes still moving around from north to south and vice versa. I had a few chance running into them and also once visiting one family’s settlement was a learning experience. I guess you could say I started my Africa trip a little bit hardcore, but I loved it. All I wanted was to see how the locals really go about their lives, and I was able to see it, first hand.
During my time there I also participated in a funeral. This was really a unique experience and I’m just glad I had a chance to photograph the proceedings. This was first time ever I’ve actually seen how a death is moaned in a form of celebration. Since this day I’ve travelled 17 more African countries and I am still yet to be a part of another funeral so this was really special moment. I’m only thankful that they allowed me to be in there.
When my job with Dreaming Camera was done, I flew to Cape Town, South Africa. And what a change of scenery. I’ve come from one of Africa’s most underdeveloped country to one of the most modernized. The difference was like night and day. Cape Town was a type of place where your prejudice about Africa is shattered. You could say it’s just somewhere in Europe. All the tall buildings, shopping malls, nightlife, it was all there.
So I travelled Cape Town around on my own, and it was much safer city than I would have expected it to be. Taxi fares were a bit too much, but if you use trains and buses costs were pretty low. I toured around the downtown, visited Mabu Record of Sugarman fame, had lunch at the Kitchen, a restaurant made famous by a visit from Michelle Obama. I had some nice coffee here and there too. I almost forgot I was in Africa. But then again, this was also Africa. Africa can’t be described in just once sentence. I was only beginning to realize, Africa was a continent with so much flavors.
The Table Mountain was my favorite landmark in Cape Town. I just happen to like big huge mountains playing a backdrop to modern cities. I photographed them from different parts of the town as it can be seen from almost anywhere, and also toured around the area. Gotta say, Cape Town is not just a great African city, it’s one of the best cities in the world. The combination of nature and modern lifestyle was just perfect. I could definitely live here. I still think so. If I can only earn enough money to make the move.
You don’t have to go all the way to Antarctica to see penguins. Cape Town is home to those endangered African penguins and it’s one of Cape Town’s biggest draw. Many men might not admit to this but I will. This was my favorite part of being in Cape Town. I’m such a sucker for a cute looking wildlife. And It didn’t disappoint. Just being at the beach on a wooden platform, watching them going about their businesses, listening to that sounds of the ocean. What more can a man ask for? I could just stay there all day.
As I was leaving Cape Town, I’ve also paid a visit to outskirt parts of the town, where they’re called townships. These are places to remind you the city is by no means a paradise. There are still works to be done. But I don’t think you have to take a pity on them. I loved how they were making the most out of their situation and still trying to have a good day, which leads to good life.
So I left Cape Town and ventured north. As this was my first African trip I’ve decided take one of those trucking tours, all the way to Kenya. I’ve met 24 people from all the different countries and we took off. I usually travel alone and this is only time I’ve travelled with others during my time in Africa. However I wasn’t so sure about Africa at the time so I thought I’d take this trip with a bit more caution. Looking back, I could’ve done it all on my own. While there were disadvantages to being in a group, however, it was overall a good experience. Not having to plan out where to go and how to go every night allowed me to solely focus on my photography.
So I settled in a huge truck full of people, made myself comfortable, then crossed a border. Onto Namibia!
That concludes the part. 1! On part.2, I’ll be taking you to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and all the way to Malawi. See you soon!