“Off the beaten path” is a phrase we have all heard a lot, but it’s only been over the past few years that I have come to understand what that truly means.
About four years ago I found myself in a village in Eastern Kenya, getting ready to do an interview with a young girl who was less nervous than I was, a camera man asking me about setting up a shot and a crew behind me with a collective “ok now what” look about them – the reality was I had no idea. That was my first trip overseas for work, and the one that would launch my career and set me along my own un-beaten path. I took a chance in travelling to Kenya in the first place, and I feel like I have been taking chances ever since.
Since that day I have been working as an international development photographer, and I’ve travelled so many different kinds of paths. I’ve climbed up steep mountain paths that only exist because the goats have made them. I’ve bounced around in the back of a truck driving down a track made up of boulders bigger than the truck itself. I’ve taken a right turn off a seemingly endless road into the middle of a desert with no visible signs that our destination was up ahead or that there even was a destination…
When it comes to being on assignment and getting a photo that tells that one great story, travelling the beaten path is never an option. And if you had told me five years ago when I spent all my time stuck in an office, longing to get on a plane to anywhere, that I would one day end up spending so much time in the middle of nowhere, I wouldn’t have believed you. I just wouldn’t have been able to comprehend it.
Traveling for work instead of for myself is such a unique experience. Getting invited into people’s homes, sometimes just a stick with some fabric over the top to make a tent, for tea (there’s always tea) and conversation is never something I’ll be able to look at as “just another part of my job”. It’s surreal, it’s a privilege, and its completely extraordinary. It’s not just traveling to a rarely visited destination, it’s traveling to a never visited destination. For every question I have about them and their life, they have about ten for me. Each individual, each location, each village and each country is a standalone experience that I will never forget – and I will always remember it’s because I took a chance on myself all those years ago to say yes, and to leap before I looked.
Off the beaten path for me has meant leaping out of my comfort zone with every demand travelling on assignment has made of me. Learning how to show confidence when it was the last thing I felt, directing a shoot or having a deep and personal conversation with a stranger. Learning to stand up for myself and be tough when things take an unexpected turn and I have to be quick on my feet and have faith in the calls that I make.
The further I travel physically, the more paths I tread that very few people get to walk along, the more I am beating my own untravelled path – not only geographically but with who I truly am and what I’m meant to do in this world. It has taught me how to take calculated leaps and be braver in life, to have faith in myself and that the key to adventure is just giving something a try – saying yes when you’re scared and putting just one foot off that beaten path into the unknown.