I would like to introduce you to Stella. She lives on remote Vanikoro Island in the Santa Cruz Island group which is part of Temotu Province in the Solomon Islands. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to visit her and her isolated community during my 2019 Secrets of Melanesia expedition. Her village welcomed us with traditional singing and they were eager to share their culture. After their children, their most prized possession was a sailing canoe that they built using traditional techniques and use to navigate between islands. The village children were adorable and loved climbing on it. They were also enthralled with all of us visitors. I am 6 foot tall and must have looked curious to them, especially with all my camera gear dangling around my neck. Stella and her friends enjoyed playing on the sailing canoe and she kept posing for me. This is one of my favorite images from my entire trip, especially with her beautiful eyes staring right into my lens. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting her family and think of them often. I take comfort knowing that their lives have most likely been unchanged since my visit.
During my Secrets of Melanesia voyage with Heritage Expeditions in 2019, I visited a series of incredibly remote islands from the Solomon Islands on down through Vanuatu. Ambrym was the last island that I visited before ending the expedition in Port Vila. It is known as the “black” island due to its twin volcanoes which cover much of the island in volcanic ash as well as being renowned for its mysterious “black magic”. This magic is showcased by the famous Rom Dance which is restricted to only the village men. The masked dance is a ritual that stretches back centuries and recounts the age-old tale of good versus evil. It is also believed to influence harvests and is a privilege to witness. In order to view the performance, all of us had to hike along the shoreline and then up hill to the ceremonial site. Once we arrived and settled down, the village men began their enthralling dance. The ground shook and the sound reverberated off of the trees as the men drummed their feet in unison. I was trying to figure out how to best photograph this mysterious spectacle and decided to use a slow shutter speed to record the motion while zoomed in with my telephoto lens. For a brief moment, rain began to pour down adding another secretive element to my image.
One of my favorite photographers is Art Wolfe. His photography greatly influenced my own style and motivated me to travel the world. I have been fortunate over the past 20 years to be able to photograph remote landscapes and endangered wildlife, but had always desired to expand my work to include exotic people. In 2017, I dabbled at photographing people during my first visit to Vanuatu. This initial foray only fueled my desire to expand my work in this direction. When I travelled to the Solomon Islands to scuba dive in 2019, I also joined Heritage Expeditions’ Secrets of Melanesia expedition. This was my second adventure with Heritage and it was as rewarding as my first trip with them to the Subantarctic. The voyage began in Honiara and ended in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Along the way, we visited incredibly remote islands and were enthusiastically welcomed by the local villagers. The kindness and generosity I experienced was indicative of all the good that can happen when people share their culture with a visitor. This young man on Nendo Island in Santa Cruz Province was dressed in a traditional costume that warriors wear to intimidate strangers. He definitely caught me off guard as we approached his village, but graciously posed for me when I asked if I could take his picture. I look forward to sharing more of my amazing images of the welcoming people that I met during this amazing trip.
I have not photographed a lot of people over the years. It is not that I do not know how, it is just that I have only done it for my family and friends since I focus on landscape and wildlife photography. However, during my recent travels to Vanuatu, I had several opportunities to photograph the beautiful people of Tanna Island. I created this slow shutter image on a day when I was invited to attend a traditional ceremony of three tribes gathering to celebrate their young boys entering manhood. It was a beautiful but hot afternoon filled with singing and dancing. I was honored that I was even allowed to celebrate with them, let alone be able to take photos.