Returning Home, Returning to Soul.

In News & Stuff, Postcards From..., Travel by David24 Comments

As always, I’m pretty sure I needed Kenya vastly more than it needed me, though I hope I served it in some way over the month I was there. Before leaving I felt like something was missing, like this digital ecosystem I’ve been so attached to was not only no longer fulfilling, but was, in fact, beginning to gnaw holes in my soul. And then I turned it all off a while, hopped a series of planes and walked out of the Nairobi airport into the warm evening air and felt like I was taking the deepest breaths I’d drawn in ages.

I spent the next couple weeks on safari, with friends and my girl and all the amazing creatures that make the Maasai Mara their home: elephants, lions, leopards, hippos, giraffe, zebra, and birds of a million colours. And then the woman I love hopped a plane home, replaced by my best friend, manager, and producer, Corwin, and we drove north for our fourth assignment with the Boma Project among the nomadic pastoralists of the arid lands south of the Ethiopia border and west of the Somalian. Somewhere in all the hard work I re-discovered my joy in making photographs, a joy that’s been hard to find lately. And I began to forget all about the pull of social media and email and the banal (but usually necessary) details that fill my days when I’m home. That forgetfulness happens when I start photographing places and people I love, when I’m doing something that feels important, vital, or urgent, when I’m making photographs I love so much that it doesn’t occur to me to wonder if others will to. It happens when what I’m doing is so important to me that I feel crushing heartbreak when I think about the possibility of failure. Makes me wonder how much stronger our work would be if that were our north star: to make work that risks heartbreak or the feeling that our souls would go hungry if we didn’t do it.

My goal this year is a return to soul, to push myself harder to experience deeper things and find new ways to express the experience, wonder, and hunger, in my photographs. It was writing my next book, The Soul of the Camera, that started to re-ignite this in me, this spark I once felt much more often, and pursued with greater desperation, as though it were life itself, which of course it is. This trip was a good start, surrounded as I was by people of such elegance, such dignity and strength. Here are a few of the images I came home with, pulled from the thousands I’m now editing.

You’ll notice an emphasis on water here. Significant parts of Northern Kenya are suffering a serious drought. President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared a national emergency. Herders are taking their herds and flocks to satellite camps hundreds of kilometers away, leaving families on their own, while the women walk several kilometers a day to get water at boreholes. Wells are drying up, one of them right in front of my eyes as men pulled the last of it up with buckets before moving on to find more.

Herdsmen, Nauno Lemagas (top), Ldisiton Leshargole (middle), and Logira Lokuria (bottom) pull water from a drying well in the Ngurunit riverbed.


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  1. ” … 18-55mm kit lens. This is a stunning little lens, and I’ve chosen it for my own work over Fuji’s more expensive 16-55/2.8 because not only is it lighter, but I like the results better.” (Mar 22) I am curious to know in what ways you prefer the results of the 18-55 over the 16-55/2.8, and if you would still feel this way is you lived in a low-light climate. Thanks.

    1. Author

      Hi Elizabeth – The big difference for me was the look of the lens flare. I shoot into the light a lot and I didn’t care for the look of things when shooting into the light with the 16-55/2.8. But on top of that it was a much heavier lens and the extra stop of light isn’t too important to me. I use the 18-55 in darker scenarios and it just means I bump the ISO a stop or just shoot a little slower.

      1. Thank you, and thank you for sharing your soulful philosophy and your soulful photography.

  2. Great photographs David, any plans for a workshop in Kenya?

  3. Thanks for putting it in such eloquent words. The way you push yourself both in words and photographs is always inspiring and always makes me wish we will meet again soon.

  4. Amazing, emotional storytelling David. This body of work, and the narrative that accompanies it, is one of the most inspiring that I’ve come across. It really makes me want to achieve more with my own photography (albeit from a low base!), and move beyond just capturing well-exposed and in-focus images to truly trying to tell a story and find the ‘soul’ as you call it. Your images are full of dignity, laughter, perseverance and fortitude – and it looks like the project was a lot of fun too. Given that I currently live and work in East Africa this project has extra-special meaning for me, so thanks for inspiring me and many others. Now where’s that camera…

    1. Author

      Thanks so much for these words, Tom. Very kind of you to take the time to say so.

  5. David,
    Love the back story and each and every photo but the women in the prayer circle just really tugged at my heart. Thank you so much for sharing your craft and thoughts.

  6. My friend, these images are so full of life and “soul,” there are almost no words to describe them. Black and white is perfect. Each and everyone is beautiful, tells a story and leaves one wanting more. What beautiful people, perhaps poor in material belongings, but so rich in spirit.

    How did you ever achive the one of the circle of hands? Were you lying on the ground in the middle of the circle? Just fabulous.

    It can be hard at times to remember “the soul is here for it’s own joy.” (You know me and my quotes, but here is a little poem. ?)

    “An eye is meant to see things.
    The soul is here for its own joy.

    A head has one use: For loving a true love.
    Feet: To chase after.

    Love is for vanishing into the sky. The mind,
    for learning what men have done and tried to do.

    Mysteries are not to be solved: The eye goes blind
    when it only wants to see why.

    A lover is always accused of something.
    But when he finds his love, whatever was lost
    in the looking comes back completely changed.”


    1. Author

      Thanks, Tom! The circle photograph was made as the women let me into their circle to stand beside them – then I just bent down, used the LCD screen on the Fuji to compose, and pointed the lens as directly up as I could. Not easy. Then I had to stay there long enough for the women to get bored of looking at the camera and return to the matter at hand. Such good fun.

  7. I love that phrase: “return to soul.” It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of creating photography for clients. When client work and soul food intersect is the most inspiring and magical.

  8. Marvellous, humane, emotive images, David! And, as ever, your writing strikes a very deep chord… the hungry soul, indeed.

  9. Gosh, I’m no longer certain which I enjoy more,,,your words or photos?! I love your energy and kind spirit – it comes through in spades with both you photos that are just incredible and you words – so inspiring, Yes, I am pretty sure all this technology can be great in many ways…like this post reaching so many but when you see people on their computers, cells, etc, and literally missing amazing scenes because they’re too caught up in games, etc. it makes me a little sad – we’re only really here on earth such a tiny time, Thanks for the post! The black and white really did the photos justice!!!

  10. Thank you for putting this into words, David 🙂

    “Makes me wonder how much stronger our work would be if that were our north star: to make work that risks heartbreak or the feeling that our souls would go hungry if we didn’t do it.”

    Looking forward to your new book.

  11. Tremendous pictures, David, both from an aesthetic and from a human/humanistic point of view. This is so much needed in our world, where loudspeakers of all kind try to steer us towards more selfishness and material values. Keep on the good work!

  12. David,

    Thank you for taking time to share some of your work and story with us on your blog. I have been returning here for years to get inspiration beyond camera and lens reviews. Life is short, so we must make wise choices about our time; there’s not so much of it we can afford to frit it away on Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and YouTube and Instagram and Google+ and Netflix and CandyCrush. In your own weights and balance of your time I hope you realize the amount of good your blog has done for me. I am stingy with my time when it comes to online interaction; no arms length list of photographers to follow. You made the short list.

    I was hoping you might make time to write about how you came to be part of Boma Project, who you met, or who found you, what you did to gain the right person’s confidence that you are the photographer for the job, and perhaps a look back on a single story from your trip telling how you gained permission to spend the day with some of the people in need of water.

    Cory MacNeil

  13. Beautiful David!
    And a strong reminder that dignity is everywhere. Nowhere more and nowhere less. Humans = Dignity. Period.

    The black and white does the images great justice, but also the beautiful picture of the sunset and mother and child you posted on Instagram goes right to the heart. Yes, it’s an image that’s bound to do that, but isn’t a great poem like that as well?

    Keep it up because you live what you preach and your pictures are a strong testament of it. To the great benefit and honor of your subjects.

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