How To Put On A Travel Photography Exhibition

travel photography
You got back from an amazing adventure travel vacation a few weeks ago. Your friends and family have heard all your stories and seen all your photos. Now what? Instead of tucking your photos away in an album or hard drive, why not show off your travel photography to a wider audience?

I’ve run two photography exhibitions and been in several more. My first exhibition was on the painted caves of Laas Geel in Somaliland. Right now my wife and I have an exhibition up about Ethiopia. We are by no means experts but we have learned a few things from the experience. The main thing is that putting on a successful photography exhibition isn’t as hard as you might think, although it does take a fair amount of organization. Here are some things to keep in mind.

You don’t need to be a pro
Here’s the secret to getting good photos: take lots of pictures of interesting subjects and some will turn out well. Look through your collection with a critical eye and have someone who hasn’t been to these places look with you. They’ll be looking at the shots with fresh eyes like your audience will. Take your photos at the highest resolution possible, 300dpi minimum, so they will be publication quality. A good photo shop will be able to turn your hi-resolution photos into lovely prints. This won’t cost much and you can get decent frames cheaply too.

Decide on a theme and purpose
It helps to have a coherent theme: wildlife, a certain historic site, etc. We’ve focused on Ethiopia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and children, Ethiopia’s past and future. Our show benefits A Glimmer of Hope, an NGO working on rural education. Having a coherent theme helps people grasp your subject better and a charity benefit tends to attract more attention.

Pick an appropriate venue
Not being superstar photographers, we picked a local bar here in Santander, Spain, that’s a popular hangout for artists, musicians and generally liberal-minded people who would be interested in photography about Africa. Our themes fit in with the general vibe. Bar Rubicón is a Santander institution and word gets around when they host an event. Putting your prize photos up in a bar may not seem very glamorous, but over a month-long exhibition they’ll get seen by lots of people.Think out size and spacing
How many photos do you want to exhibit? What’s the lighting like in your venue? Which are the most visible walls? Think all these things through ahead of time. It helps to bring a print in the size you want to display and take a look at it within the space. In my first exhibition, I made the mistake of printing the photos too small and they looked a bit lonely hanging on a big wall.

Make a snappy poster
I’m lucky that my brother-in-law, Andrès Alonso-Herrero, is an artist. He whipped up this poster in no time. Even if you don’t have access to someone with talent, it’s not too hard to make a poster with Photoshop or PowerPoint that highlights one of your photos and gives all the necessary information.

Send out a press release
Having worked for two small newspapers, I can tell you that editors are starved for interesting local content. The regional paper El Diario Montañés gave us a nice write-up and we made it onto several “What’s On” style websites as well. Be sure to write a clear press release with all the information and attach a couple of high-resolution photos they can publish. Try to write the press release like a newspaper article. Journalists are overworked, underpaid, and many of them are quite lazy. You’ll find that much of their coverage will be simply cut and pasted from your press release. Sad to say, much of the news you read is written this way. If governments and corporations benefit from it, why shouldn’t you?

Tell everyone
Email your friends, hang up posters, do a social media blitz. Get your friends to spread the word too. Don’t be shy; you want people to see your work!

While you have their attention …
You might as well mention any other projects you have going. In the press release I mentioned I had just come out with a novel and that made it into the newspaper coverage.

Host an opening party
On opening night, be there to meet and greet. It helps to have some sort of presentation. Since people will be coming and going it’s best not to have a formal speech at a set time. I’ve found that a slideshow running on a TV hooked to your photo archive works well. It goes on a continuous loop and shows everyone the photos that didn’t make it into the exhibition.
On our opening night, many people gathered around the slideshow and I gave them a running commentary of the places shown in the pictures. It also helps to have some music. There’s no local Ethiopian band that I know of (although there’s a West African band in Santander) so the bartender compensated by putting Ethiopian music on the sound system.

Don’t expect to make much money
Unless you’re a pro showing your photos at a major gallery, you’re not going to make much. If you break even you’re doing well. The point of showing off your photos isn’t the cash but the exposure. You’ll meet plenty of cool people and have the satisfaction of knowing your photos are hanging in people’s homes. Being relative newcomers in northern Spain, our opening night made us lots of new, interesting acquaintances. We’ll take any photos left over at the end of the month and give them away as gifts or hang them in our own apartment.

Most important of all … have fun!!!

A Journey To The Hottest Place On Earth: Dallol Ethiopia

No one travels alone to the hottest place on earth. You need, for starters, a driver and a Jeep stocked with water bottles and four days of non-perishable food. And because that Jeep is bound to sink in the fine sand of the desert, you need another Jeep (and another driver) to tug it out. There are no places to lodge or dine in this desert, so you’ll need space for cots, a cook, plus a few armed guards, because the hottest place on earth is also somewhat lawless. And finally, because an entourage of this size costs many thousands of dollars, you’ll need some fellow travelers to split the bill – the sort of people who like to fry themselves on vacation.

My father is the easiest recruit. Dad, who naps best roasting in the afternoon sun, is a lover of extreme heat. He’s also an extreme traveler, drawn to the fringes of places, all the countries where no one honeymoons. Alone, he’s wandered Rwanda, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Sierra Leone. From my father, I’ve inherited both tendencies: I’m known for getting pig-pink sunburns, and also for stalking the edges of maps.

The Danakil desert lies on the fringes of three maps – the maps of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. All three countries claim a sliver of this sweltering, low-lying desert, named the cruelest place on earth by National Geographic. It’s also a tectonic triple juncture – three plates converge here – as well as a major volcanic hub. I don’t have to mention any of this to my father – not the endless salt flats, lakes the color of Listerine, or camels by the thousands. When Dad starts calling this desert “the Frying Pan,” I know he’s in.

On a message board, I find two more people to enlist – a concert pianist and a computer engineer. Both are keen on reaching the Danakil in early December – the mildest time of year in the cruelest place on earth.

%Gallery-156306%We don’t find Omer until the four of us converge in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. He’s leaning against the stone ledge outside our hotel, smoking, when my dad strikes up conversation. This pony-tailed Israeli man, with a dusty backpack and a unicorn tattoo, looks nothing like my grey-blonde, khaki-clad dad. And yet, when they get to talking travel, I feel like I’m watching long-lost brothers reunite. Sumatra, Annapurna, the Andes: the same extreme places have lured both men.

Their travel records are remarkably even (Omer, just like dad, almost drowned white water rafting on the Blue Nile), until Antarctica comes up. My dad only gazed in its direction from the tip of Argentina. Omer, however, touched the South Pole.

There’s a smile on my face when I ask Omer about the Danakil – why doesn’t he come with us? “I hate heat,” Omer shakes his head with conviction. We tease him that my dad will easily even their score by going to the hottest place on earth. Omer looks conflicted. Omer smokes a cigarette. Omer buys a ticket to Mekele at the airport the next morning.

If the Danakil desert is the basement floor of Ethiopia, Mekele is the top rung of the basement stairs. It’s where you pause to gear up – and group up – for this desert voyage. In Mekele, the five of us merge with a carpenter from Dublin, an ironworker from New Jersey and two Israeli girls, fresh out of the army. We fill five jeeps and have nothing in common but a love of travel, and a willingness to sweat for it.

The jeeps plunge down tan mountains for hours, mountains that feel primordial, perhaps because I know Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old hominid, was unearthed near here, perhaps because civilization completely drops off. Every couple miles, we break for a flock of donkeys and camels strapped with thick tablets of salt, and the lone shepherd trailing behind his herd, wearing a Kalashnikov.

The Danakil, unlike highland Ethiopia, whose ancient churches and popular cuisine are drawing more tourists than ever, still wears a KEEP OUT sign. The heat, of course, is brutal. So, guidebook writers warn, are the Afar tribesmen. Legendary for their ferocity, the Afar no longer castrate outside visitors as they were rumored to in the early 20th century, but the Ethiopian government requires all travelers to hire armed guards. I’ll understand this measure better when news of a massacre in the Danakil makes headline news: five people are killed and four more kidnapped in the Danakil, just one month after we leave. And despite the Ethiopian government’s swift move to send more security forces into the Danakil, the region remains dangerous.

For now, I’m too focused on heat to weigh other dangers. The numbers on our Jeep’s temperature monitor continue to rise, even as the sun goes down. I remind myself, as we dip below sea level, that this is just a warm-up. The real heat won’t strike until we reach the sizzling edge of the frying pan, an uninhabited region, roughly 130 meters (426 feet) below sea level, called Dallol.

Dallol holds the record for average annual temperature: 94 degrees. It’s only advisable to visit Dallol in the early morning, before the sun has reached a critical height. So we camp in the nearby village of Hamed Ela, where camel caravans also spend the night. In the morning, the moon is hanging low on the pinky horizon when our guides get us in motion, into Jeeps, and off towards the Eritrean border.

Sand gives way to salt, and soon we’re in a landscape of white crystals glinting in the fresh morning light. The ground is miraculously flat. Our driver, who has been battling fine sand, cannot resist the urge to gun it. We surge ahead of the other cars in what looks like a Jeep race across some frozen Minnesota lake.

The wintry illusion is broken with a glance at my sweating dad. No one in our Jeep is shivering. I see sunburned calves, emptied water bottles, bites dotting our ankles. The overnight in Hamed Ela gave half of us fleas.

Suddenly, in the pure white expanse, a huge brown mound appears, rising like a cliff from the sea. It’s the only vertical mass in sight, and apparently, our destination. The jeeps brake and park. Nobody tells us this is a collapsed volcano; our guides are coaches in a race against heat, not docents. We’re ordered to find a full liter of bottled water, and to bring it with us up the lumpy brown mountain. Halfway up, I turn around and squint down at the Jeeps, now toy cars, their tire tracks a long S-curve in the vanishing horizon of salt and sand. At the summit, I find my travel mates standing in silent reverie.

Mind you, it takes a lot to hush these guys. Ultra-extreme travelers, they’ve never met people quite like themselves. Our trip feels at times like a Fringe Travel convention, with everyone spouting stories of remote places and “if you go” tips. Already, I’ve learned that the worst predator of the Amazon is the mosquito, that chimpanzees in bad moods will rip your face off, and that the very best way to do Sri Lanka is by elephant.

Dumbstruck now, my comrades crouch down beside pale green toadstools – mineral formations whose glossy tabletops are smooth as marble. It feels oddly like we’ve just walked in on something – a meeting? a moment? Whatever these green outgrowths are, they stop us cold, right at the doorway of Dallol. I see Omer creep ahead, still silent, towards a far more arresting vista.

The hottest place on earth is an assault of color: slime yellow and deep rust, pea green and Barney purple. Some of the formations look like coral reefs, others like egg shells, air-blown from the hot breath of the earth below. It’s a psychedelic plain of sulfur deposits, iron oxide crust, acid lakes, and tiny geysers that gurgle up steaming water. Everyone wanders off alone, crunching over the brittle earth, heads down, heads shaking.

I know the ground is hot – you can even hear the soft throbbing of water boiling underground – and yet I can’t help treating it like ice. A Buffalo native, I grew up skating on rinks and shimmying across slick parking lots. The ground here feels way too familiar to shake the fear that my feet will fall right through. Sure enough, just when I work up the nerve to step with force, the purple ground collapses beneath my foot. The sneaker I pull back out is rimmed in bright yellow goo.

Everywhere we step, things break and splinter. It sounds like a china shop, full of looters. This desert lends travelers so many chances to grasp its remoteness. You feel it in the sudden lime-green oasis of grazing camels, where no one else watches on; you feel it on the rim of the roiling volcano nearby, where nothing holds you back from the luminous caldera; and you feel it here, in this fragile masterpiece of sulfur and salt, where a day’s worth of tour buses would crush nature’s strange design. You start to think: we really shouldn’t be here. This desert wasn’t built to handle a human intrusion, and the human body certainly wasn’t built to handle this desert.

I feel hot, but not to a degree that alarms me. Only when I lift a hand to my chest and feel, beneath the soaked fabric of my t-shirt, collarbones like hot radiator pipes, do I understand what my body’s dealing with. Heat in Dallol doesn’t just beat down from the sun. It hisses up through conical vents, bubbles up in sulfur pools, and radiates from the thin ground with force. I get the feeling that this medley of heat is off the human register – mine at least. I’m not even thirsty. How is that possible? While I wonder, my dad hands me his liter of water and stands there until I finish it. We should go soon.

I see the armed guides – perched on the cliffs above us, their guns set into stark relief against the brightening sky – abandon their posts. The guides are corralling us. Time to go. As we clomp back down the mountain, there’s lots of talk of the moon.

“Patrick!” a guy who’s been to Kabul calls out to a guy who’s been everywhere else. “You don’t have to go to the moon now!”

When I think of the moon, I don’t see trippy colors, or bubbling geysers, or a trail of shattered crystals where past explorers walked. And I’ve never heard that the moon reeks of rotten eggs either. There’s nothing at all lunar about the hottest place on earth. What my travel mates are trying to say is that they’ve never been anywhere like this. For once, no one has comparisons. We’re all, regardless of our travel records, equally awed.

Back in the Jeeps, blazing towards the white horizon, I look down at my sneakers. The fluorescent goo has died and faded into a neutral grime, like that was all just some fever dream up there, a place we made right up.

Six things I’ve learned about travel writing after submitting 1000 posts for Gadling

SOmaliland, Sean McLachlan, travel writing
My blogger dashboard tells me, “you have written 465,451 words in 1,000 posts since you started publishing 1,048 days ago.” Wow! I’ve been working for this wonderful blog for that long? It’s been fun and I’ve learned some important things about travel writing.

The subjects are endless
I got into travel writing years before Gadling hired me, but working for a daily blog made me worried that I wouldn’t have enough material. Boy was I wrong! There’s always a new place to explore or a new exhibition opening or a new archaeological discovery. Instead of having too little to write about I’ve discovered that there’s too much to cover.

For some people, your work is a blank slate
A playwright I know complained to me that, “Some people will use your work as a blank slate on which to project whatever they see in the world.” While the vast majority a Gadling readers understand what they read, there’s a vocal minority who see whatever they want.
A couple of years ago I reported on a smoking ban in Egypt. The comments section erupted with dozens of tirades against the U.S. government restricting our right to smoke. Only a couple commenters acknowledged, “I know this article is about Egypt, but. . .”

It got so bad that one reader exploded:

“THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT EGYPT!!!!!!!! EGYPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NOT THE USA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALL YOU SMOKERS STILL HAVE YOUR RIGHTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SO SHUT UP AND TALK ABOUT EGYPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Nice try, buddy. Nobody listened to you.I also did an article about the Loch Ness Monster going extinct. With tongue firmly in cheek, I wrote, “In the United States, liberals are saying Nessie died of shame from being called a ‘monster’ instead of the more politically correct term ‘evidence-challenged endangered species.’ Conservatives claim Nessie was the first victim of the death panels set up by Obama’s America-hating, terrorist-loving national health care.” Everyone got the joke except for some Obama supporters who piled on me, assuming I was some Bush-era devil. I even got messages in my public email account screaming at me about that one.

My public email address is easy to find if you Google me. I’m always happy to hear from readers. I had an interesting conversation about the Kensington Runestone just last week. The reader disagreed with my debunking it, but he was civil and cited sources. If only all such emails were so polite. I’ve been called a patriarchal Christian, a godless atheist, a fascist, a communist, a stupid American and an America-hating foreigner. Send me a nice email and we’ll chat. If you email saying you want me to be eaten by cannibals then the next time I go to Africa I’ll mock you and block you.

Want to cause controversy? Challenge basic assumptions
Sometimes I like poking the public with a stick by challenging long-cherished beliefs that have never really been thought through. I’m ornery that way and I like watching my editor’s hair turn gray. Saying stuff like “God should be referred to as and ‘it’ and not a ‘he,‘” or “you don’t have to bring your camera when you travel” challenges so-called truths that most people have never questioned. The knee-jerk reactions are predictable and fill up the comments section and my inbox.

I’m doing this less and less, because it has the opposite effect from what I intended. Instead of getting people to question their assumptions, most simply react angrily and strengthen their preconceptions rather than think about them.
I still might do a post on “Top ten reasons not to travel.” :-)

The more obscure the destination, the more they pay attention
When I wrote my series on Ethiopia and Somaliland I received a wonderful surprise — the wave of positive feedback from those countries. I got lots of happy comments and emails from Ethiopians and Somalis, and several local websites and even a Somali newspaper picked up my posts. These two nations unjustly suffer from negative stereotypes and so the locals were glad to see someone writing about all of the good things they had to offer.

An even more amazing response came when I wrote about the Athens War Museum as part of a series of how the Greek tourism industry is dealing with the economic crisis. I mentioned how I was disappointed because I couldn’t buy a copy of “A Concise History of the Balkan Wars 1912-1913” displayed at the counter. They didn’t have enough money to reprint it and so the last few copies were reserved for veterans. Only a few days later I got an email from a major in the Greek army offering me a copy! I have it on my desk now and it’s an excellent read.

Locals are your best coauthors
Before I go somewhere, I usually ask for tips from the Gadling team, other travel writers, and friends. Posting questions at the end of my articles always gets some great feedback from well-traveled Gadling readers. While this is all useful, the best help always comes from the strangers I meet while traveling. This works best when I stay put for a while, like when I lived in Harar, Ethiopia, for two months. Everyone was eager to tell me about their culture and show me the sights. People love it when you write about their hometown! They make my job easy.

Travel writing is important
Despite the many frustrations of travel writing and the (ahem) low pay, I think it’s more important than my history and fiction writing. This is such a divided world, filled with hatred, ignorance and fear. Chipping away at that negativity by showing people all the wonderful things other cultures have to offer is a noble profession, and I’m grateful to Gadling for giving me the chance to do it, and I’m grateful to all of you for the support I’ve received for my last 1,000 posts.

Adventure travel in Somalia?

Adventure travel in Somalia

Will Somalia become the next big adventure travel destination?

Short answer: Not anytime soon.

Long answer: For the first time in two decades, there’s a ray of hope shining across that chaotic land. The Islamist terrorist group Al-Shabab is on the defensive as it gets pummeled by Kenyan, Ethiopian, African Union, and Somali “government” forces. They’ve fled Mogadishu and several other key areas. The battered capital is beginning to enjoy something resembling normal life, as a BBC report shows. They even have traffic police!

Earlier this week, amid much fanfare from the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, a Turkish Airlines flight landed at Mogadishu airport. This was the first flight from a major international carrier to land at the airport in years. On board was Turkey’s deputy prime minister on a goodwill mission. The airline has scheduled twice-weekly flights from Istanbul to Mogadishu via Khartoum. In a statement, it said that it hoped Somalia would soon be “a very normal country.”

A “very normal country,” or even just a “normal country” has a tourism industry. Is this possible in Somalia? Is it even desirable?There’s certainly no shortage of interesting things to do in Somalia. The Somalis have a distinctive culture made up of clans and many are still pastoral nomads wandering the dry scrubland with herds of camels like they did centuries ago. Somali cuisine is a strange mixture of African and Italian, with one of the favorite foods being spaghetti, eaten by hand. There is also the possibility of it having a rich archaeological heritage of painted caves, like the one I visited at Laas Geel in the breakaway northern state of Somaliland. For more contemporary art, check out the funky murals adorning shops and public buildings.

You could even see a “technical” like that shown in this Wikimedia Commons image. Technicals are a favorite weapon of African states and militia. They’re basically vehicles with a machine gun or recoilless rifle mounted on top. I’ve come across these several times in the Horn of Africa. Trust me, when you see one at a roadblock, you stop. And no, I don’t have any pictures. There’s a difference between an adventure traveler and an idiot.

Which brings me to my point. Yes, with enough determination and bribery you could probably take a tour of Somalia. You’ll need to get in good with one of the clans and get some bodyguards, of course. A few people have done this. To say that it is dangerous is an understatement, but that’s neither here nor there. Every individual’s life is their own and if they want to risk it seeing a bombed-out country that’s their business. The problem comes when you look at the ramifications of such an action.

While making yourself a target for kidnappers and suicide bombers will give you some cool stories when, and if, you get back home to your friends, it’s good to remember that the people you pass in the street are home. Walking in Mogadishu puts everyone at risk. There’s enough trouble in Somali without adding a photo-snapping Westerner into the mix.

Luckily, if you want to explore Somali culture, you can still do so without risking getting shot in Mogadishu or kidnapped by pirates in Puntland. Two years ago, I spent an enjoyable ten days traveling in Somaliland without experiencing any threats, although it was a tough trip on many other levels. You can also visit Ethiopia’s Somali region. If you’re serious, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with my contacts.

Somali culture is relatively untouched by outside influences. This makes it very appealing to the adventure traveler. Hopefully, some day soon, Al-Shabab will be defeated, peace will come to Somalia, and visitors will be able to come in. This montage of Wikimedia Commons images shows what Mogadishu used to look like. Sadly, the city doesn’t look so good these days. Here’s hoping it will improve. For now, though, those Turkish Airlines flights will mostly be carrying Somalis coming on business or visiting loved ones.

Adventure travel in Somalia

Tourists killed in Afar Region, Ethiopia

tourists killed, AfarFive tourists have been shot dead in Ethiopia’s northern Afar region, the BBC reports.

Ethiopian State TV announced that the tourists were killed late on Monday by gunmen who had crossed over the border from Eritrea. It said they were part of an Afar rebel group trained by Eritrea.

The names and nationalities of the tourists were not released. Two other tourists were injured and are now in hospital. Another tourist escaped unharmed. The attack occurred near the active volcano Erta Ale, shown below in a photo courtesy Jean Filippo.

Details of the incident are still unclear. Al-Jazeera reports the attack happened at 5am Tuesday and that in addition to those killed, four people, including two tourists, were taken captive. Eritrea rejects the claim that they sponsored the gunmen.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a war from 1998 to 2000 and have never formally declared peace. Ethiopia says Eritrea backs numerous Ethiopian rebel groups in an attempt to destabilize Ethiopia. In 2009, the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea for supporting Islamist rebels in Somalia and Ethiopia’s Somali region. Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea is heavily guarded, as I myself saw when I was there. The border region is also home to numerous large camps filled with Eritrean refugees fleeing what they say is an oppressive regime back home.

The Afar region attracts a steady stream of adventure travelers because of its rugged landscape and the reputation of being one of the hottest places on the planet. It has always been considered a lawless region and some Ethiopian tour operators I know refuse to go there.

This sad incident may have an adverse effect on Ethiopia’s growing tourist industry. This industry is bringing much-needed hard currency and foreign investment into the country and employs an increasing number of people. I have spent four months in the country, doing a road trip through northern Ethiopia and living in Harar, and never experienced any problems. Adventure travelers need to remember, however, that the level of safety in some nations varies widely depending on the region.

Map courtesy Dr. Blofeld.

tourists killed, Afar