A pair of 1970's binoculars, an African Airstrip and Charles dickens by river bennett

river bennett ( photography river bennett)

A pair of binoculars, an African airstrip, and Charles Dickens.

Three tokens which, when put together, became part of a masterpiece. It was like three contrasting worlds orbiting and rotating through space and time, yet somehow reaching towards each other with long jelly-arms in the middle.  These were three entirely unique subjects, each with their own unique substance and purpose – and yet I knew there was connection of sorts and I endeavoured to find it.

I had been handed a pair of 1970’s - style binoculars by a dear friend right before I left for African. I was asked to find a place, in a space, and photograph the binoculars, and then bring back the result of my achievements. 

I had spent the first few days of my trip wondering How and Where and with Whom. 

These binoculars moved through the hands of fellows travellers and passed through the gates of Dubai. They made an appearance with a few village children, rested on an old bike, even landed in amongst African trees, but I had yet to find a place where they truly ‘fit’. 

Then, on that last day in Africa, while the sun was setting, they found themselves in the hands of Charles Dickens.

Charles had become my friend. Everyone called him ‘Dickens’ - which of course made me like him all the more. He had been our driver and he had told me a tale of hippos chasing him, and gave me advice on what to do if met with a water buffalo in mating season. 

He had shown me how to play a Ugandan board game, and as I stole the show by winning the game quickly he said with his huge white grin, "But Rrrrrriver (said with a curl and vibrating tongue) I am your coach. I must let you win. But next time I shall play, and play to win!"

The African airstrip where the smaller planes land has also become a safe place for wild animals to sleep at night. In fear of being eaten, the animals congregate at about 6:30pm and huddle together as the sun goes down. 

We had been warned not to go anywhere near the airstrip at night or, frankly, we would be eaten alive. 

It was the last night. The sun was going down. I had officially stopped photographing everything I needed to shoot for the trip, and then that sudden panic hit me: I still wasn't satisfied with my binocular images. I hadn't felt the ‘clunk’ in my gut yet - the clunk that always tells me if I have achieved what I was meant to achieve. 

I considered giving up. 

Then I ran to find Dickens. 

"Dickens! I need you. Can you take me to the airstrip? Can you be in a photo? I have these bino ........... " I said catching my breath. 

"Rrrrrriver it is late. The sun is going down. The wild animals will be there." 

"Dickens, please. . . please! I know, but it's my last night here and I still need to get a photo for my friend and I need you in it. On the airstrip. Holding these." I handed him the binoculars. 

"What are these?" he asked, curiously handling them and turning them side to side and upside down. 

"Binoculars . Ok come on! We gotta go!" 

I yanked him into the golf cart and filled him in of my plans along the way. 

We drove onto the airstrip and planned that if any animal came at us we would make a run for it. 

I said a quick prayer. 

We had only moments left before the light from the sun disappeared. We did a few poses, got a few shots and went to check them out at the bar.

A 1970’s pair of binoculars, an African friend named Charles Dickens and a location on the River Nile that still keeps me feeling wild. 

Three things I learned from this trip: 

1. Don't settle on an average idea. Push. 

I had taken quite a few images over my trip with the binoculars. Some were really great but still didn't feel like THE shot I was after. 

It took until the very last night, as the last bit of sun was finishing my time in Africa. I almost gave up, thinking ‘oh well . . . it wasn't meant to be.’ But something in me was determined to push on, and I would rather push to the end than give up not trying. 

So glad I pushed! 

2. Everything is connected. 

I think when being fully present in life has the ability to connect us with people and places and things. I believe there is purpose for everything and when we search it out we find it. 

My heart had been set on doing a fun shoot with those binoculars. I was present. I was adding up how and where over the course of the trip . . . connecting dots and seeing where they would take me. Little did I know how it would all come together in the end. I believe when we are fully engaged in what surrounds us anything is possible. 

3. Collaborate.

Our work is only as good as the team we work with.

Finding people who inspire us and whose brains travel the same creative line can be empowering.

My friend, who thought long and hard choosing an object to send with me to Africa made the shot unique by his choice.  (I often wonder about the story behind these binoculars - even about the person who created them in the first place.)

Dickens was also another person to collaborate with. His fun personality and African 'smarts' made the whole experience gel.

So I hope everywhere you are and whatever you are creating you take time to be fully present and see where it takes you. Don't settle for an average idea. You are better than that. Remind yourself that everything is connected so find your connection point, and make sure you find great people to collaborate with!