Wilfred Thesiger in Africa: A Unique Collection of Essays & Personal Photographs
Along with Sir Wilfred Thesiger's beautiful photographs—most of them previously unpublished—the essays in this volume explore and evaluate his lifetime of African exploration and travel, as well as, for the first time, his photographic practice and its legacy as a museum collection. Wilfred Thesiger was, in the words of David Attenborough, "one of the very few people who in our time could be put on the pedestal of the great explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries." Throughout his life he journeyed through some of the remotest, most dangerous areas of Africa, witnessing and photographing fast-changing cultures to great acclaim. During the 1960s he traveled extensively in East Africa, and from 1978 he spent the greater part of each year living among the pastoral Samburu in Kenya, until retiring to England in 1994. His books, including Arabian Sands and The Marsh Arabs, have been hailed as classics of modern travel writing. Here in this collection, Thesiger is featured in conversation with David Attenborough, while other contributors include Benedict Allen, Jeremy Coote, Elizabeth Edwards, and Schuyler Jones. Published to coincide with the centenary of Wilfred Thesiger's birth in Ethiopia in 1910, this book is a moving celebration of Thesiger's enduring relationship to the continent, and his fascination with its peoples and landscapes.
Province of Wollo. The appointment was meant to last for two years, but after only a year Thesiger decided to resign. Photography helped to distract him from a task that he found frustrating and pointless. Confined to Dessie, and unfamiliar with Wollo, at the mercy of what he perceived as an obstructive administration, Thesiger complained that he had been treated like ‘the consul of a suspect power’ instead of ‘a trusted member’ of Ethiopia’s government.71 As well as photography (which he
Thesiger reprised his boyhood role of gang-leader; yet, as mzee juu,or senior elder, he was also accorded paternal status by the Samburu who attached an enormous importance to the bond between father and son. Many of Thesiger’s closest tribal friendships had involved some degree of obligation or mutual dependence. He had Idris Daud released from prison; rescued Salim bin Kabina and his family from poverty; established Lawi, Laputa and Kibiriti in business, built houses for them, bought cars and
progressively as living conditions become easier’.6 He was talking of qualities such as dignity, fellowship, humour, courage and patience. Perhaps we are all like the Arabs. Chapter 4 Imagined Time: Thesiger, Photography and the Past ELIZABETH EDWARDS Wilfred Thesiger’s photographs in many ways defy the normal categories of analysis. It is paradoxical work. It is travel photography, but it is more than that; it is an ethnographic record, but it is perhaps less than that; it is conceived of as a
(Emberiza striolata striolata).21 As well as skinning and preserving the animals and birds he shot, and interviewing the Afar, Thesiger carried out many other time-consuming and sometimes intricate tasks himself. While the expedition gave no template for the style of his later journeys, he admitted he had felt relieved when David Haig-Thomas–a companion whom Thesiger’s mother had insisted he must take with him–dropped out, because of illness, after a preliminary journey in the Arussi Mountains.
appointments around London as I had the car, Wilfred explaining that he only drove in East Africa where there was plenty of room and miles of roads without another vehicle in sight. When we were together in Oxford we sometimes went to the library at Magdalen College to spend an hour or two examining Lawrence’s original maps from his travels in Arabia. Wilfred was a great admirer of Lawrence, often remarking how much he regretted never having met him. Born in 1888, Lawrence was only twenty-two