Photographer Callum Snape visited the southern African country of Namibia for the second time in February 2016. Callum, an outdoor photographer, traded the mountains for desert when he spent 10 days exploring the central and southern regions of the country.
What were you expecting Namibia to be like and how did the reality compare with your expectations?
The first time I went there, I had this generalization in my mind that Africa had wild animals everywhere. And the reality was that, when I was flying in for the first time a year and a half ago, Namibia was just a desert. I landed in the city of Windhoek, the capital of the country, and everything around me was just sand and desert.
It was different the second time I went. I landed and everything was bright green.
The two times I visited were so distinctly different, and that definitely changed my perception of the country Namibia is not just jungle, and there are not wild animals everywhere.
What kinds of observations were you making about the country?
What I really liked is that we were shown both sides — the really developed parts of the towns, but also the undeveloped parts and how most of the people were living. It was still pretty shocking to see people who live well below the poverty line in a place where I had the perception that everything is okay. You’re blindsided by the tourism side of things. It still is a culture shock. We got to go into those communities and buy gifts from them and help with local children.
Did you have any interactions with the people there? What were those interactions like?
Quite a few. In one of the locations — a town called Swakopmund — we got to go in and meet a bunch of the locals and the people who are trying to develop and help people out in the impoverished areas.
Everybody’s just really happy. The people there are always smiling and always want to help. I feel like Southern Africa especially has this stigma against it [about it being] unsafe. And there was not one point during the whole trip that I didn’t feel safe. I felt comfortable around everybody and everybody just wanted to help and have a good time.
What kind of vision did you have for what kinds of photos you would be taking and how you were going to photograph the country?
I try not to do a whole lot of research, just so that I can be more creative when I get there. I’d seen photos of Namibia and I had concepts in mind, but it was all quite a lot of surprise to me when I went. I went to new locations both times, so it was a lot of working with what I had in front of me at the time.
As you got to know the country, what kinds of things were you trying to photograph? What moments or landscapes were you looking for?
I’m just looking for things the country is known for and trying to capture those aspects in a really unique way. For example, there’s a tree there called the Quiver Tree, which only grows in Southern Namibia. So it was all about using those iconic Namibian scenes or specialty trees in my photos and incorporating them into a photo that’s unusual and creative.
Was this your first time photographing wild animals?
I originally got into photography to photograph bears a long, long time ago. But I stopped doing that and moved more toward landscapes. So I really liked this trip because I was able to photograph animals in the landscape, and not just close-ups of animals. It was my first time seeing rhinos and giraffes in the wild.
Was there anything difficult about photographing in Namibia?
The biggest challenge was coming up with something creative in a place where it just looks like there’s nothing there. Creating compositions out of a desert where the landscape can be monotonous is difficult. I tried to incorporate any feature of a landscape into my photographs.
I scoped out locations prior to sunrise or sunset. I would go in the early afternoon just to make sure there was something for me to work with, then would come back with the concept I had in mind and photograph it.
Were there any places or landscapes in Namibia that you really loved photographing?
There’s two places I fell in love with, and one became my favorite place in the world.
The first is Fish River Canyon. It’s the second largest canyon in the world, behind the Grand Canyon. It’s so undeveloped there, and there’s no one else around.
The second is a place called Sossusvlei is where I took my favorite photo of the previous year. A person stood on these rocks at sunset with a pink-orange glow in the sky in the desert.
If you were going to describe Namibia to a friend, how would you describe it?
That’s a tough one. It’s a place that has a variety of landscapes and it’s constantly changing, even as far as the weather. If you go around one corner, it would be this really intense storm, and then the next minute you’re back in 42 degree Celsius weather. It has a huge variety from north to south as you travel throughout the country. From these clay pans with dead trees in them, to the Kalahari Desert, which has these desert springs that draw wildlife, and up to the north where it’s more jungle-like.
Were there any moments that really impacted you?
The first time there, I was on a fly safari and we visited Fish River Canyon and that was the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at in my life. It was called the Fish River Canyon Lodge.
And the second time, I already knew it was my favorite location. There was this really intense rainbow and then this huge bright orange glowing sunset. That would stand out as one of my favorite moments of the past decade — just this ridiculous weather followed by a beautiful sunset.
While you were there, in the middle of it all, what kinds of thoughts were running through your head?
Especially on this trip, I put my camera down quite a bit. I made sure I captured what I wanted first, then just put the camera down, sat there, listened to music, and took it in for myself rather than looking through a camera.
Has photographing Namibia impacted the way that you photograph other places in any way?
It’s challenged me to try to be more creative. I specialize in mountains so working in a desert environment is pretty much the opposite. It makes me look at the way I photograph people in the mountains completely differently as well.
Why would you encourage people to travel to Namibia?
The way that they describe themselves is a boutique travel destination. So my favorite thing was going there and feeling like I wasn’t in a tourist trap. They don’t allow these huge busloads of people to come in, so you do experience it for yourself and you’re not surrounded by thousands of people with iPhones and iPads taking photographs. It’s still a really unique experience, and the fact that it hasn’t been commercialized and it’s not really developed means that right now is a pretty good time to visit. They have no plans to allow that to happen, but I’d say that’s the special thing about the country — you go there and it’s still got a “wilderness” experience about the whole country.
Did your time there impact the way that you view travel in any way?
Being able to go into some of those poverty-stricken areas just makes you feel more grateful for everything you have. Some of the ways I travel can be pretty luxurious and some of the other ways can be intense, so it definitely makes you feel a bit more grounded when you visit these people and see what they have.
What kinds of projects are you going to be working on next?
I’m just finishing a project with Clif Bar, and about to start a project with Samsung working with some of their new products. And I’m going to be working on some personal projects just to travel more — I have this crazy passion for China right now, and pretty much the whole of Asia actually. So that’s my personal project, to get over there and capture some of the places and mountainous areas that haven’t been as documented previously.
Interview conducted by Britton Perelman.