Confessions of an expedition photographer

24th November 2017

My favourite question whilst being on Raleigh: What would you normally be doing right now if you were at home? At 11.52am on a Sunday, sitting having brunch? Reading the paper and catching up on social media?

This Sunday I’m sat writing this on my basha in a small clearing I currently share with 18 other people. I’m in the middle of an area of the jungle called a Coupe where we are determining its conservation value and natural diversity; a surreal experience that means you need to stop for a moment and take it all in before you’re onto the next task and the moment has passed you by.

As the expedition photographer I am lucky enough to have already visited all the Alpha groups and project sites, before the halfway mark in Phase 2.

Community Resilience – Alpha 2 (beginning of phase 1)

Larysa at the worksite in A2
Larysa at the worksite in A2

This was my first deployment of the first phase. It was an exciting and new experience with a team of venturers who were all in the first stages of getting to know one another and what life on Raleigh is like. It was great to see how the team developed even in the one week I was there and I enjoyed my time as a Volunteer Manager (VM). Although I hadn’t come here for PPV (pre-project visit), it was great to see how the VM’s had built relationships with the community, and just that initial touch point makes such a difference.

Adventure Leadership Trek  – Alpha 4 (Phase 1)

Sunrise on trek
Sunrise on trek

As the first photographer to be deployed on trek, I felt pretty apprehensive about what I was letting myself in for, especially as the group had had torrential downpours the previous week. How hard can it be to trek with an SLR? I had been promised epic views, and Borneo did not disappoint. On our way from camp to camp, we’d get the odd glimpse of landscape through the dense jungle. On the second to last day, we had our first clear sunrise of the trek. The whole group gathered around a gap in the trees to a view of Mount Kinabalu, and the clouds sitting in between the hills and valleys of the jungle in front of me. We all sat in silence just appreciating our surroundings in silence and making the most of our time in this beautiful country.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – Alpha 1 (Phase 2)

The community at the dam site
The community at the dam site

I was keen to visit the site again after coming for PPV. The second phase work was progressing at a rapid pace and I was excited to see the difference from when we had first visited before the venturers had arrived. Arriving on a Saturday meant that the whole village had turned out to work at the dam site. I felt very special with my greeting and the children couldn’t wait to play with my camera. It’s clear to see just from the amount of people and the involvement (from cementing the dam to cooking the lunch), that the project means so much to the village. The venturers are committed to completing as much as possible as we come to the end of phase to make sure the village can access clean water and have more knowledge of basic hygiene practices.

Natural Resource Management – Alpha 3 (Phase 2)

Capturing all types of wildlife

Environment. A completely different vibe to community, but still makes a huge impact. Living static in the jungle is something I had never done before but I was so excited at the prospect of being surrounded by wildlife – more wildlife than we probably realised was there.  This was my dream. Seeing the wildlife – especially seeing and handling the birds so close up – and being able to document was really exciting. Although I am documenting the progress of everyone through my photos, here it is key as it is showing biodiversity in that Coupe and provides data for AFCS to keep Coupe 8 as a conservation area. It is also important for us to learn about the importance of protecting something as important as the Bornean Jungle.

As I head into Phase 3, I am looking forward to revisiting many of the projects, going to opening ceremonies and putting together my photos for all the venturers to see how much they’ve accomplished. My time with Raleigh has truly been a life-changing experience particularly because of the amazing things I’ve been able to capture.

Words and photos by Larysa


Youth In Civil Society Malaysian Borneo