Carly Henderson is a UK professional travel photographer and perpetual nomad clocking up visits to over 30 different countries including places that few westerners have ventured (such as Libya and Senegal). Here Carly talks to us about her travels, adventures and inspirations:
You have been to 32 countries so far, out of all of them what are your top five favourites and why?
I loved Syria because of the incredible buildings and architecture like the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Culturally it’s a very interesting country with ancient streets, intriguing souks (markets) and very good food. It is also cheap, the people are very friendly and contrary to popular belief I never felt unsafe walking around day or night.
Kenya because it has so much energy, colour and amazing wildlife, although the country is also a real eye-opener to poverty.
Jordan because of the magnificent sacred sites – Petra, Mount Nebo and Wadi Rum. Swimming in the Dead Sea lived up to its hype and there are also many other great areas for snorkelling and diving. The food is good and the people are very welcoming.
Turkey mainly for its historic buildings, my personal favourites were the Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Turkey’s coastline and beaches are also vastly underrated. It’s very easy to meet people here and to pass the time either by joining the busy social life in the many bars, clubs and café’s, relaxing on a cushion smoking Shisha/Nargila or by walking in one of the peaceful parks.
Libya was also great because to me it seemed like a perfect mix of the old and modern. It’s another very friendly country and surprisingly people leave you to browse without any hassle. I loved experiencing life in a city where Gaddafi’s face is around every corner but also visiting the Roman remains, the Berber Villages and the sand dunes at sunset where the whole of the Sahara Desert seems to glow.
Could you share your top three travel tips?
- Always carry small change in your pocket so you don’t have to pull out big notes in the street.
- Try to avoid election dates in certain countries. In some countries, these events can be unpredictable so do your research before you go.
- Respect the culture, traditions and dress code of the country you are visiting and you will get respect back.
Which has been the hardest place you have travelled to and why?
Albania was challenging! Apart from the language barrier (hardly anyone speaks English) you also have to contend with the difference in body language. Albanians say ‘no’ by nodding their head and do a kind of wobble from side to side to say ‘yes’ (which is similar to some of the places to visit in India). I also really struggled with the food, there are not many vegetables on offer and mountain partridge wasn’t really doing it for me. Oh and dodging the open man-holes got a bit tricky, especially at night!
Which country was the most inspiring in terms of travel photography?
I would say for me it was Cambodia and Vietnam for the diverse landscape, architecture and the people. I also found these places very special because you still have the opportunity to photograph traditional ways of life, which is quickly disappearing in so many other countries.
Have you ever had any trouble taking photos in a particular country?
In most countries, I didn’t experience any problems as long as I was careful not to photograph government buildings or stick my lens in people’s faces. Although one country I did have problems in was the Casamance region of Senegal. I found it very hard to photograph anything without cautious eyes watching my every move and there was a real feeling of distrust in this area. Anybody who did see me take a photo shot me a look of disapproval and a quick wave of their finger. Casamance was one of the few places I visited that I didn’t feel at all comfortable with a camera.
What advice could you offer people looking to get into travel photography?
Always greet people before just snapping away and it’s even better to greet them in their own language. Don’t be afraid to ask people if it’s okay to photograph them, most people will respond positively, especially children. Sometimes you will be asked for money or cigarettes in exchange for a photograph and this is one of the reasons why you should ask before taking a person’s photo and of course you should also ask out of courtesy.
Make sure you always carry spare batteries and memory/film, it’s a horrible feeling when you have the perfect picture in your mind’s eye and no way of capturing it. My last piece of advice is to always take up offers and opportunities, it’s all great experience and they might even lead you to capturing ‘the moment’ you’ve been hoping for.
Have you been in any very dangerous situations whilst travelling and could they have been avoided?
I’ve been in a fair few hazardous situations but most of the potentially dangerous situations I’ve been in involved badly maintained vehicles or slightly erratic drivers! In Beirut, the minibus we were riding in was making a loud clanking noise as we headed around the cliff-side. After what seemed like ages the driver finally stopped as he realised the wheel was coming off!
Driving in Tripoli in Libya is one experience I don’t want to have again! In the daytime driving is fine but when night falls all you can do is pray you reach your destination in one piece. Inside our car, it was eerily quiet as we weaved in and out of fast-moving vehicles with most of them not having any lights on at all. In Tripoli, there are no properly defined roads or street lights and when we were visiting a lot of men dressed all in black had a habit of running randomly across the highway!
Many people are put off by travelling to the Middle East because of the current situation there, have you ever felt threatened in a country in the Middle East?
Before I went to the Middle East I wouldn’t have believed someone if they told me you will feel very safe and welcomed, but this was exactly my experience. When I travelled there I was overwhelmed by the generosity and the honesty of the people I met in the Middle Eastern countries.
I personally think the media and politicians have exaggerated the belief that the Middle East in a very unsafe place to travel. Of course, there are certain areas you will want to avoid because of political or religious conflicts but the average person in the Middle East is not the fanatic or terrorist you see on TV, far from it. When travelling in the Middle East I personally never felt a target because of where I come from and some of the Middle East countries are my all-time favourite travel destinations.
As a woman traveller I felt very safe but when there you may find you get a few stares but this is because you look different to them and are considered exotic. Generally, you will find most men in the Middle East respectful to you especially if you show respect for yourself and their culture and dress accordingly.
Finally if you could settle anywhere in any country where would it be?
I haven’t found a place yet that I would want to live in full time although I was tempted in Turkey and Jordan, I have very fond memories of my time spent living with a Bedouin family in Jordan where I felt very happy and comfortable. Although I’ve always thought when I’m very, very old (and all travelled out) I would appreciate the quality of life that Canada offers. At the moment I still think the nomadic way of life is the most appealing so I think I’ll just keep exploring and see where life leads me…