One month in Africa

In October I will be going on a one-two month-long safari in the Masai Mara, Kenya. I have visited Africa several times now for my photography expedition, but they usually only lasted between 1-2 weeks. Now I am ready for something bigger. I am incredibly excited, but part of me is also very nervous. One month of getting up at 4.30 am every morning, being on safari for about 11-12 hours a day can be very tiring and intimidating. But it is what I love, and I am more than excited about this adventure. Every day being out with these amazing animals, taking pictures, and sharing them with the world, what an absolute dream!

I have met so many amazing people through my photography: guides, other photographers, and even scientists. We all have the same passion; protecting these beautiful animals and sharing their beauty with the world to conserve them for many more generations to see.

I believe animals can teach us so much and they can help people. For me, I am just happy when I am among wildlife, all my stress is gone and I just feel relaxed. Doing my photography has helped me a lot through hard times, and it never fails to make me happy. Getting feedback from people who admire your work is so motivating and it makes you proud to have come where you are now.

picture by author

a quick view into a Frozen Dream

The igloo that I inhabit is purely built out of ice. Blocks of ice stacked on top of one another until they create a dome that only raises about 3 feet off the ground. Before I assembled the dome, I had dug a pit that was about 3 feet deep into the frozen crust, under where I would eventually build my icy dome.

I had finished my igloo project, filling it with a deer and bear skin bed along with a small, vintage wood stove. Although the wood stove did little for me on the treeless coast of Greenland, I got creative and burned the oil collected from the fish I caught. I also brought with me a huge collection of Dura-logs which would sustain me for my stay in Greenland.

Every night I clung to the skins that entrapped my body in a cocoon of unsatisfactory temperatures, not cold enough to freeze but not warm enough to not question why in hell I would leave the Southern Californian bliss to come to the frozen tundra of despair.

But what made it all worth it was my constant adventure of navigating extreme winter conditions and the amazing art that lives and breathes in this magical place. My mornings consisted of sitting up and rotating 90 degrees to my heater where I boil coffee. The warm liquid slipped down my throat, heating my insides. My usual days consisted of taking an extremely long time to slip myself into the thick snow gear. Fur lined my hood and tickled my windburned cheeks as I crawled through the tunnel of ice that leads in and out of my igloo. From there I set off on the deserted icy planes, passing the occasional seal, with the intention of continuing my photography collection on the yearly migrating walruses.

image found on Pinterest


Up close with our cousins

2 weeks ago I went on a journey back to Africa. But this time not to Kenya. We flew from Germany directly to Entebbe, Uganda. From there we drove all the way to the famous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This is the place which one of the most endangered animals of our planet calls home, the Mountain Gorilla. The first tracking started at 7 am. We had a short briefing with some rangers and then left right into the Jungle. There are no trails so the guides cut through the bushes with machetes. The mountain gorillas are named that for a reason, they live upon incredibly high mountains. So getting there was not only difficult because of the thick jungle, but also becauseof the elevation gain. The first day we climbed about 300 meters in altitude the second we climbed 450 meters in just 1 1/2 hours. It was definitely the most exhausting thing I have ever done in my life. But so worth it.

We started hearing the gorillas communicating from the distance. We made our way closer to them until I got my first glimpse at the huge silverback of the family. It was a group of 9 gorillas. One silverback, four females and all for females had a baby around the same age. Seeing how they interacted and communicated with each other was amazing. They were so incredibly human. We share about 96% of our DNA with them! The little ones were incredibly curious and came closer to check us out.

It was by far the most magical experience of my life!

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The five boys

As already written in many of my past blog posts, I have spent a lot of time traveling through Africa, documenting my travels with my photography. My favorite place to visit is the Masai Mara in Kenya. It borders right in Tanzania and is part of the incredible Serengeti. When on safari you get the chance to observe some incredible behavior that can only be seen in the Masai Mara. The Mara is famous for a group of 5 cheetahs, the fast five or also known as the taco Bora. They are a coalition of 5 male cheetahs that hunt and care for each other. I have already written a blog post about them. This time I am writing about a coalition of 5 powerful male lions, “The five boys”. They come from the black rock pride and have been chased out. Male lions get chased away from the pride when they reach a certain age because they will get tendencies to take over the pride.

Once chased off, they either go off solo but most of the time they will get together with other nomads. These groups can become very powerful and are very threatening to lion prides around as they are looking to take over a pride for themselves. I have had the chance to follow the five boys for many days and observe them while playing, cleaning, and hunting. We spent three 13 hour days with them. They had found a huge herd of cape buffalo. Buffalo are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa and they oppose a very big danger to lions as well. They can seriously injure or even kill a lion. The five boys feed 90% on buffalo and they have created a strategy that works every time. Once they find a herd they will follow it for a few days and test it several times throughout the day. That means that they will charge it and try to pick out young, old, or weak individuals that will be easy to take down. Once they get the chance they will single a buffalo out and take it down together.

Being able to observe them for days at a time is something I will never forget. Truly incredibly.

Three of the five males

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Nothing but empty promises…

In October I wrote an article about one of the most famous wildlife photographers, David Yarrow. For years I looked up to him and saw him as a role model. That changed when he started endangering wildlife just to get the best shot. From chasing a giraffe to get the perfect shot, to using a “photography game farm” in Montana that has a record of abusing their animals, to putting one of the last big tusker Elephants in the world in close proximity to a model for a good shot. This could’ve not only endangered the people around but also the Elephants as if they would’ve acted out they would’ve gotten shot. He has been calling himself an active advocate in wildlife conservation yet embodies everything that is not wildlife conservation at all. The first, biggest, and most important rule in wildlife photography is: do not interfere with the wildlife.

David Yarrow apologized for his actions and promised he would change to the better. But he did not hold that promise. Yesterday a picture of him with two of his friends cruised around the Internet. He was lying on the ground with his camera while his friends were feeding Foxes in the Grand Teton National Park. A FED ANIMAL IS A DEAD ANIMAL! Especially foxes can get very dependent on humans if they are fed. They will start going up to humans begging for food and stop actively hunting for themselves. 99% of the time these foxes will die or have to be taken down by Rangers because they have no chance of survival anymore.

It is very sad to hear that David Yarrow continues to be a bad example, and there was nothing behind his promises in October. He needs to be held accountable for his actions. Feeding animals in a National Park is against the law and he is currently being investigated. I hope he will not just get away with a slap on the wrist this time.

Davis Yarrow laying down taking photos while his friends are feeding the foxes rests of their McDonalds meal.

Photo credit: https://www.jhnewsandguide

For Africa

In about three weeks, I will finally return back to my second home: the Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa. This will be my fourth time visiting the Mara and I am more than excited. While I am there, I will work on a big project for school; working with different wildlife conservation organizations as well as Park rangers that wander the park every day in search of poaching traps. The work these rangers do is incredible. They dedicate their whole life to the park and the animals that live there. I and so many other people are incredibly thankful for the work they do. Without them, the parks wouldn’t work the way they do.

But also, tourism is a very big part that makes these parks work. Many people are not happy with tourism in these wild parks and think that tourism should be completely banned. I do agree that sometimes tourism in the parks can be overwhelming, but it is such an incredibly big and necessary part of Africa. Without tourism, rangers would not be able to save the animals from poaching because the park would have no money to pay the rangers anymore. So many people would lose their jobs, and the animals would lose the protection they have from poachers. Tourism is a big and vital part of these parks.

When COVID hit, and traveling was shut down, these parks suffered immensely. The poaching numbers rose into the sky and many lost their jobs. A lot of photographers as well as myself donated money to an organization called “prints for wildlife”. This organization collected prints from hundreds of different small and well-known photographers in order to raise money to send to these parks. They were able to raise $660,200 in just one month. It was absolutely incredible to see so many photographers work together to save what they love most.

pictures by: https://www.printsforwildlife.org

The fast five

Through my photography, I have been able to travel to the most beautiful places on this planet. But one definitely stands out to me like no other. The Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa. A heaven for photographers. It is one of the best places on earth to see big cats. I have traveled there three times already, and I fall in love over and over again. Last summer I was able to observe one of nature’s seven wonders, the big migration of the wildebeest that come over from the Serengeti to find fresh grass in the Masai Mara.

Many big cats use this chance to hunt wildebeest that got injured during the crossing. There is especially one group of wild cats that are known to almost all photographers. The fast five. The fast five are a coalition of five male cheetahs. Two brothers got together with a set of three brothers and formed a coalition to hunt and live together. Nowhere else on earth can this be observed.

I have had the privilege of observing these magnificent cats hunt, and it is truly incredible. Each one of them has a special dedicated role and their hunting is extremely coordinated, I have never seen anything like it in my life. They know that they have a higher survival rate if they work together. They hunt every day and are more successful than any other group out there. I am excited to see them again on my next trip to the Masai Mara, and I hope that many others get the privilege to see these beautiful cats.

It is truly incredible what nature has up its sleeves sometimes.

picture by author

An uproar in wildlife conservation

For many years I have been an active advocate and participant in wildlife conservation. With my photography, I am hoping to reach people and show them the beauty and diversity we have on our planet and show how important it is to keep it alive. There are so many incredible photographers out there that do just that, and who use their voice to stand up for animals. I have many role-models that I look up to, but recently there has been an uproar for one of them.

David Yarrow is one of the most famous photographers and one of the seemingly biggest advocates for wildlife conservation. But in reality, he embodies everything that is NOT conservation. From chasing a giraffe to get a perfect shot, to using wolves and bears that are enslaved, to game farms with a record of abuse, there is one image that has caused the public to hold their breath. A picture in which a model is standing just 15 feet away from 3 elephants.

Now many will probably wonder why that is so bad. If anything would have happened during the shooting, say if one of the elephants started to feel stressed or threatened, they could have firstly endangered the life of the model, but also their lives. If one of the elephants would have attempted to charge, he would have paid for it with his life and would have probably gotten shot. One of the three elephants is named Craig, one of Africa’s last big tuskers.

Now I wonder, is it really worth it to risk a animals life just to get a perfect shot. And most importantly, can you call yourself a wildlife conservationist while actually exploiting animals. I don’t think so.

Yarrow has finally said something and apologized for his actions. It is not much but it is a first step in making things right.

picture credit to David Yarrow

Finding Inspiration

Inspiration has to do with pretty much anything we do. If it is writing, drawing, dancing, cooking, playing an instrument etc. But sometimes it is hard to get inspired and we feel stuck. We sit at our desks starting a sketch or a choreography for a dance over and over again and we just get frustrated because nothing seems right. I get this feeling a lot.

After school I spend a good amount of time sitting in front of my laptop, looking through photos I have taken on my travels around the world. For me, photography is something to escape to and to relax. Going through pictures is almost like you are reliving these moments. I always think it is so overwhelming how much meaning a picture can have. I pretty much only take pictures of animals and it has grown to be my biggest passion. When I look at my pictures, and I get to look an animal straight into the eyes through a picture I have taken, it almost feels like as if I had some sort of connection to it. For a moment everything is quiet and it is just me and the animal.

Photography has its many amazing sides. You get to travel the world, see the most amazing spectacles that nature has to offer, but there is also a side to it which sometimes brings you down. I follow hundreds of other photographers on social media, and sometimes I scroll through certain accounts just thinking: wow. I wish I could capture pictures like this.

I have a bad habit of comparing myself to others and being very harsh to myself when it comes to the pictures I take. I try to find inspiration through others but in the end it just makes me feel like my pictures aren’t good enough. I have spent hours and hours trying to find a style, that when people see my photos, they know that they are from me. Every time I post something I think it is just not good enough, my pictures all look the same and they all just look flat. I get frustrated and I can’t find any inspiration or whatsoever. But this is part of the progress. Nothing is ever perfect. But there are moments, when I see a picture that I like, and it just makes me so incredibly happy and proud. And these are the moments that keep me going.

People text me telling me that my pictures inspire them. That they enjoy my work. And these are the moments that make everything so worth it. I love what I do and I am so incredibly thankful for all the amazing moments I have got to experience thanks to photography. I love sharing my work with other people, bringing people closer to our wildlife and nature, showing off the beauty and diversity our planet has to offer.

Photo taken by the author.

Portraiture

There is something deeply fascinating in the looks people give no one but themselves.

Right after you drive by someone smiling, waving out the window.

And it’s unbearable eye contact with yourself in the rearview mirror.

So deeply it cuts, your focus lands into your own conscious 

Like staring through the viewfinder

And as you rotate your hand the background comes into focus

your eye lands upon your own face staring back at you

Frowning

And you can’t figure out why you might look so sad

I think I ignore myself so often that sometimes when I happen a glance in a mirror

It can actually be scary

Disturbing

Upsetting even

Is that a function of me forgetting to be introspective?

Maybe focusing so much about what other people think of me

That I don’t think of me

I want more than anything to capture those moments

In other eyes

So that maybe I could make someone think of themselves

So that maybe they might glance into their own eyes

And horrify themselves 

To allow for excruciating introspection

And to showcase

or maybe even just to see

those moments of introspection.

The moments where instead of looking out

Your vision rests precariously on the inside of your eye

That would be a good portrait

The kind of portrait I want to take

But I have to figure out how first.