West Africa | Travel Portraits

“When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them." - Annie Leibovitz

After completing a road trip through North Africa, I crossed into Senegal at the Diama border post and landed in the coastal city of St. Louis. Within seconds of arriving in St. Louis, my senses were enveloped in a wave of spicy cuisine, smiling locals and upbeat street scenes.   

I will never forget the day I officially arrived in West Africa. Touring North Africa was incredible, but there's something about the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, and the hip-jerking music and colourful clothing of Senegal to make one feel as if they've finally arrived in Africa. 

A smile spread wide across my face as I entered a street market with vendors selling steaming hot bowls of the Senegalese dish Thiéboudienne, and encountered women dressed in the West African traditional outfit, the boubou. I was fascinated by the way women weaved in and out of traffic balancing multiple items on their heads, or the way everyone seemed to always be smiling. 

I started dreaming of making multiple future trips to West Africa the minute I stepped foot on my flight home. I look forward to exploring West Africa's endless coastline, and discovering some of Africa's best hiking on the island of Santo Antão in the Cape Verde archipelago. 

These portraits of West Africa are a perfect depiction of the warm welcome I received while travelling there.

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SENEGAL: She was selling vegetables in front of her husband's art gallery, located in a once popular tourism hotspot along the coast of Senegal. Now that the stigma of ebola is finally fading, visitation is increasing again. Senegal had only one confirmed case in 2014, yet the disease decimated tourism and caused a major downturn in the economy. She was shy with me at first, but eventually warmed up. I could sense that she’s ready for tourism to return once again.

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SENEGAL: Senegal has a long-running peaceful political history since gaining independence from France in 1960, and it shows. Running into laid-back and happy locals like the young man photographed here is an everyday occurrence. He owns a clothing stall, which I was drawn to for the quality and style of the women’s fashions he had on display. I asked if he loves his job and he said “of course, I get to socialize and be outside all day.” Stress-free living in the beach towns of Senegal.

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SENEGAL: As she welcomed me into her home to take this photo, I was told her backyard view was the best in the Casamance, a region once condemned for a separatist violence that has had drastic affects on tourism. She did indeed have an incredible elevated viewpoint, showcasing one of Cap Skirring’s best stretches of beach. Unfortunately, governments continue to run tourism advisory warnings against visiting this area of Senegal, even though the region is now safe and open for business.

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SENEGAL: He was busy plowing the family fields when I visited his village on an island in the Casamance region. His village works hard for several months, then takes the rest of the year to relax and enjoy life. Children will leave the island to attend school, but often return after graduation to help with farming, and because the island lifestyle can’t be beat. I visited a guided tour from Cap Skirring, with a company who does a wonderful job educating tourists on the local way of life.

 
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GAMBIA: This is 'Stone Man', a regular day-to-day citizen, who also happens to be an incredible advocate for Gambia’s tourism industry. When inquiring about how to arrange a tour to see the area’s main attractions, including the Wassu Stone Circles and a boat ride to see the Chimp Rehabilitation Project and river hippos, I was immediately directed to speak with Stone Man. He invited me into his home to arrange the tour, and gave me homemade pamphlets he’d researched and written himself.

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GAMBIA: One afternoon I went out in search of a women's arts and craft collective, and found a nunnery in its place. Turns out the guide book was a little out of date, but this came at a welcome surprise. I was brought inside by a senior nun, told to sit and rest, and handed a cold soda while being asked about my home country. I showed up at their gate confused and lost, and left feeling uplifted from their hospitality and conversation.

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GAMBIA: She introduced herself as “Mamma Africa”, and after mere moments, it was obvious why. She was clearly the most popular person on the block. Friends and neighbours constantly arrived at her shop, and she sent everyone away with a belly laugh and bit of motherly advice. I didn’t realize she was in a wheelchair, until I came around to take her photo. Her positivity and charm were too powerful of a disguise to realize she had any misfortune. When we parted, she insisted I take a gift.

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GAMBIA: While visiting Banjul, a quaint and walkable city, I was welcomed with “hello’s” (most locals speak English) and abundant smiles. In Gambia you can do everything from birdwatching to learning about slave trade history, and appreciate the beauty of the Gambia River. What I will remember most though, is the friendly locals. This young woman was sitting with her Mom at her roadside stand helping sell fresh vegetables when we met. She was at ease with me even though we were strangers.

 
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