In your eyes – Interview with Stuart Hahn – Omo Valley 2020 & 2023
27th April 2023
Tell us a little more about your photography journey. How long have you been taking photos?
First I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment on our 2022 trip to the Omo Valley tribal areas. To answer your specific question, I have always had some interest in photography; however, it was not until around 1998 that I became more seriously interested in his activity. It began when I read about a photo trip to the Southwest in the US. I thought it would be interesting to go to places I had never visited as well as learn more about photography. On the initial trip I was shooting film with manual focus camera. I realized there was a lot to learn. Since then my wife and I have travelled extensively around the world almost always doing photography along the way.
What are you passionate about besides photography? What do you do in your free time?
My main interest outside of photography is gardening. We have a half acre lot so I have room to have a nice garden. I/we also have quite a few mini hobbies that include collecting realist urban landscape paintings, antiques, and, out of necessity, maintaining an older home.
How many years have you been visiting Africa?
Our first trip to Africa was in 2006. Since then we have returned for about 12 trips. Usually I travel with my wife. Other times, such as the Omo Valley trips, I travel alone, usually with a photo group. In 2022 besides the OMO trip I will be returning to Madagascar on a private photo trip.
What draws you to Africa constantly?
The trips I enjoy the most are those that expose me to multiple different photo opportunities during the individual trip. In Africa, on a typical wildlife safari, there is the large variety of animals seen and on trips such as to the OMO and to Namibia there is the opportunity for quite varied experiences. On the Omo trip specifically there are the many different tribes that one can visit and also the opportunity to witness some of their traditional ceremonies.
You are principally a wildlife photographer. What inspired you to visit the Omo Valley to photograph people?
In the beginning, I primarily did landscape photography in the Southwestern US. Sometime later I became interested in bird photography. We have some great well known places in the US for photographing birds such as New Mexico and Florida. When I started out doing bird photography it was a challenge especially with the equipment we had then. It was the days of film, bracketing, and having to know your exposures. There were no LCD checks to make sure your exposure was correct.
What camera gear did you use on your tours?
In the beginning I used Nikon F3s that were manual focus cameras. When I began to do bird photography it coincided with the development of the auto focus bodies. Currently I am using Canon cameras. For the photos taken on the Omo trip I used both a 5D mark III and a 5D mark IV. The lenses used included a 24-105mm and a 100-400mm lens. A 70-200mm 2.8 lens would also be a great lens to take in that we were often shooting in low light situations.
What were your first impressions of the Omo Valley for photography?
It is a great place to learn a type of portrait photography. To see and photograph remote tribal people who are so open to share their world, even briefly, with us. I do not feel the photography is that difficult for anyone except possibly a novice photographer? It would be very difficult to not come away with some really great shots.
What surprised you about your first trip there?
I think it was how well our trip went logistically given the somewhat challenging nature of such a trip.
What were your frustrations on your first trip?
Well on both trips the one in 2020 and 2022 we had 6 days of camping. On the first trip the camping was a little more rustic and it was much better on the 2022 trip. We had a shower on the second trip and the toilet facilities were improved. All in all the camping went very well.
What made you return?
It is quite an adventure which made it a lot of fun besides the fact that the photography was just so good and interesting. Also it was a very well-organized trip as I mentioned above. Finally Inger’s disarming approach and genuine embracement of the people was critical to the success of the trip.
You have been twice to the Omo Valley now with Wild Images. What were your thoughts on your second trip?
It was similar to the first trip in a lot of ways. However, on this particular trip we were very fortunate to be able to witness some very special events that I had not seen on the first trip. One such activity was Donga or stick fighting; another was the opportunity see scarification being done on a young woman by two of her friends. So, it is a good example of the observation that it can be good to return to an interesting place as it will often offer different photo opportunities.
Of all the people you have met on these tours, do you have a favourite group of people that you prefer to photograph?
I do not think of it so much in that way as all the tribes offer different opportunities for good photos. If I had to choose, I would not want to miss the visits with the Suri people since the way the dress up for photographers is so different and colourful. I would add that the Hamer people also are a favourite, again due to their unique manner of dressing and application of coloured clay to their bodies and hair.
Aside from the photography, what other aspects of the tour did you enjoy?
As I mentioned above, the overall experience was a big draw for me. The fact that the group was small, 5 people plus the leader, was also an attraction. We had a good group of fellow photographers with interesting backgrounds. Our leader was fantastic and very skilful in getting us in position for some great photographs.
What have you learned from your tours to the Omo Valley?
Well I learned a little about the lives of the people we visited. I also learned about some of the issues impacting their way of life. And, I always learn something new in photography.
Do you have any advice for photographers visiting the Omo Valley?
My best advice in all sincerity is to go with Wild Images and if possible on a trip led by Inger.
Also be flexible and open to new experiences
Are there any images that are particularly special to you?
When I came back and after some serious editing I had around 130 images that I felt were special. My biggest problem was that when I was asked to pick my favourite 20 images I was unable to get down past 40. I hope that in some way address the question. I think some of my images that are attached to this interview will demonstrate that we had many opportunities for good if not great images.
Would you return to the Omo Valley?
Another interesting question, this asked of someone who has already made two trips. I think the answer has to be yes since it was such a fun trip and the photography was so spectacular. I have also met some great people on these trips.