By Alexis Deenen
In September last year, I left The Netherlands for Kenya to do a photo-essay on the Turkana tribe, a nomadic tribe who travel through northern Kenya, southern Sudan and southern Ethiopia. My trip started in Nairobi. With Dan’s book under my arm, I set off to see the few highlights of this depressing city. After a week I left for Lodwar in northern Kenya, the capital of the Turkana province; it would be my home base for the next two and a half months. My mother lives there and runs a non-governmental organization, making it a great home base for me.
To get in contact with the Turkanas, one needs a lot of patience. Many of them do not want to be photographed because of the belief that their soul will be taken away by the camera. The others only want to be photographed for money. This part of Kenya is extremely poor. People live from their camels (milk and blood), and from the area’s few wells. As it is a desert, it’s impossible to grow anything.
After talking with several old men, I finally managed to enter a tiny village north of Lodwar where I was allowed to take photographs. It took me four days to get the pictures I wanted. Gradually, people started to accept me into their community. Through a translator we had conversations about the world outside their seven-hut village. The people here are so illiterate that for them, Lodwar, a 30km walk, is the farthest point on earth. They don’t go there unless one of them is almost dying and has to go to a hospital.
Next, I went to Oropoi, the place from which you would fall off if the world were flat. In the middle of this desert place, I met Father Bernard, a priest who has lived there for thirty years. He took us to the Uganda border, and despite a total lack of roads, the father just kept on going in his 30-years old Toyota jeep. It’s hard to believe people can live in a place like this, so desolate, isolated, and dry. By the trip’s end we were in Uganda, but as we hadn’t crossed at an official border, we were there illegally.
We stopped in this hilly part of the country and the father told me to wait. Just wait. What happened next was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. After two or three minutes, people came out of the hills in every direction. There were at least eighty people standing and singing next to our jeep. These people must be among the most isolated on earth. There were men and women among them that had never seen white people. They live only on camel’s milk, blood, and meat.
After resting for awhile in Lodwar, I made daily trips through the desert, finding tribes traveling from oasis to grass lands. I spent several days at Lake Turkana with some fishermen, and then went on to Lokichokio, Lokichar, Kakuma, Elya Spring and other villages that have no name. Making perfect pictures takes a lot of patience in a country like this. And the perfect photography is the art of leaving thing out of your picture.
This trip was one of the best things that I’ve ever done. Before it, I found Dan’s book and was so inspired by his art, photography, choice of subjects, and courage. Hoping to make more of these trips and try to capture more beauty in life, I show my greatest respect to all that make this world a beautiful place.
Alexis Deenen is a 29-year old photographer who lives in The Netherlands. He has traveled to Africa seven times for photography projects and has also worked in Tibet, Pakistan, India Afghanistan, Iran, China, and Nepal. He completed a degree from the Royal Art Academy The Hague and has been a photographer for companies and magazines since 1996. This project has been made possible by The Netherlands Foundation of Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. Deenen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.