The Art of Giving and Receiving by Hilary Hann

We live in a competitive world, whether or not we choose to compete ourselves.  I’m involved in a lot of competitions in many guises in several very different fields: as a judge; a volunteer; a competitor and as a supporter of my competitive daughter.  Like many others, I find that it can be quite a challenge to balance the competitive urge to win with a more humble approach to excel against your own parameters without having to beat others.

Being thankful for our successes and thanking those who have helped us in many different ways to achieve our goals is just as important as being that person who gives of themselves so that others can achieve theirs.

I like the following quote from Deepak Chopra who talks about the art of giving.

“Every relationship is one of give and take.  Giving engenders receiving and receiving engenders giving.  What goes up must come down; what goes out must come back.  In reality, receiving is the same thing as giving, because giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe.”

As a society we almost demand thanks from our winners and many times these winners are instructed on whom they must thank.  This is so ingrained that I wonder if anyone gives much thought about why they are thanking a particular person or entity.  The genuine feeling behind the thanks is overtaken by duty and necessity and once that happens both the value of the giving and the receiving is diminished.

I wonder why we feel that thanking someone is so difficult.  If it’s a competition sponsor, perhaps the impersonal nature of the gift becomes the wall that separates us from the genuine and most rewarding feeling that comes from the emotion of giving thanks.  For the people who give us reason to be thankful without thought, be they family, colleagues or friends, I wonder how often we actually think about the nature of the gift they’ve given us.  True thanks will come out of our understanding of the value of what has been offered.

Next time you think about having to thank someone, consider the way you offer your thanks and how heartfelt it is.  Perhaps even more importantly, pause and consider if you’ve done or said anything that would give another person reason to thank you.  Not because you wanted thanks or gratitude but because it felt like it was the right thing to do.  I find that it can take practise to give generously of your time, knowledge or goodwill to help others.  Not from a sense of duty because that has its own issues to consider. 

For many years I preferred to go about my business, keeping myself to myself.  It suited me just fine until I noticed how uncomfortable I felt when on the receiving end of gratitude.  Trying to receive thanks felt awkward, as if it wasn’t deserved.  So I set around changing that.  It isn’t about being nicer, necessarily; it’s about giving more thought to what value you can give others, to enhance their lives.  It is all about a generosity of spirit that can make your own life richer and stronger.

As a therapeutic exercise, the rewards are huge.

Try it.

We all have a story to tell … don’t leave it too late to share yours. by Hilary Hann

“Why do you do what you do?” someone asked me the other day.  What do I do, I thought.  It isn’t always clear to me; let alone the why of it.

I ‘do’ wildlife and wild places and I share stories that celebrate nature and how it’s significant to the future of our planet.  I’m passionate about it and it drives my art.  I get excited about introducing people to the wonder of experiencing the wildlife in person.  The look in someone’s eyes when they see their first elephant up close; it fills me with a joy that is hard to explain.

When I’m tired or stressed, the place I go to, to escape for a while is straight to the wide open savannahs of East Africa.  I imagine that I’m sitting under the spreading branches of an acacia in the filtered light that seeps through the sparse leaves.  The warm breeze is soothing; the bird sounds drown out troubled thoughts and the distant movement of animals going about their daily lives is grounding to me.

If your life is as busy and hectic as mine, I can imagine that you have your own special place that you travel to, even if only in your thoughts, that helps you get through the most stressful day. 

When I plan a safari, either for just myself or for guests, I try to factor in suitable down time for contemplating the environment that surrounds us.  It remains one of the best restoratives that I can think of.  Writing a journal on safari is another thing that I enjoy doing.  Some days it seems a bit difficult trying to find the time, but reading through my thoughts and meanderings several years later brings back the experience so strongly, even more than the photos do which is odd, given that I’m a photographer not an author.  The power of words that come from your heart can be so much more significant than the capture of a photograph that may or may not express anything more than a literal time and place.  Perhaps that’s why I try, to the best of my ability, to bring more to my images than just that literal translation.  Using different apertures and shutter speeds to control how the scene is captured along with varying the position of the camera relative to the subject are some of the things that I choose to do to make my photographs say more of what I’m feeling, not just what I’m seeing.  The visual appreciation of what’s in front of you can take time to develop and if you’re on your first and perhaps only safari, it can be very helpful to have help ‘seeing’ each scene in different ways.

Storytelling is important to humans.  It doesn’t have to be only with words, photographs are a powerful story telling medium and putting the two together can tell the strongest, most emotional stories of all.



Never underestimate the value of being carefree by Hilary Hann

Something happened just the other day that really made me think. I was on an assignment on Kangaroo Island at a place called Little Sahara, named because of the lofty sand dunes that grace the property. The dunes are only a very small part of what is a truly magnificent wilderness area that goes down to the rugged coast overlooking the Southern Ocean. I was obviously in working mode, seriously assessing each and every photograph that I shot, concentrating on the job at hand and not ‘in the moment’ at all.

“I’m fighting nature’s idea of suitable light (which to my mind was anything but) excessive wind and sand. My tripod is listing to one side, mocking my efforts to get a straight horizon which at this moment has become a much over rated necessity of landscape photography, I might add. To add insult to injury, I find myself slowly sliding down the dune with one foot until I land face first in the sand.

Breaking through my swear words comes the sounds of joyous male voices coming closer to where I’m struggling to my feet. Before long, eight fit young men run past me, huffing and puffing at the effort of leaping up a sand dune but extravagantly happy nonetheless. Their laughter contagious, I begin to smile. They disappear briefly before I see them clambering to the top of the farthest dune. As they slide down the dune, their voices carry towards me and I can’t help but wonder if I ever sounded so carefree and happy. Memories flood back to a brief time when a younger me held her future in her hands with so many opportunities for a life well lived ahead of her. But those times aren’t accompanied by carefree memories, rather by anxiety and worry. What a waste. Now it’s too late to ever feel that sense of joyous and carefree freedom, emotions that are particularly suitable to the young who stand on the very edge of adulthood and endless responsibility. How I would like to have memories banked of what that would feel like.

The young men are far distanced now from where I stand, but their infectious laughter has broken through my reverie and I return to my camera and tripod (still listing dangerously) with renewed vigour and surprisingly, new inspiration.”

Thanks to those young men, I walked back from the dunes with some interesting photos that I may not have taken. They made my mood lighter. They made me happy and made me pause for a while to be ‘in the moment’, enjoying the beauty that surrounded me.

Embrace your silly side, laugh whenever you can, wrap your heart around the people and things that make you happy and live well this precious life.

Little Sahara_30I1660.jpg

Migrations of a Different Kind by Hilary Hann

The dust has settled on the annual photographic migration to the Australian Institute of Professional Photography’s Australian Professional Photography Awards and now the herds of professional photographers are heading back to their summer grazing grounds to regroup, celebrate or lick their wounds. 


To see the nervous anticipation on Day 1 as photographers gathered, standing on the precipice above the river that represents the stream of amazing and not quite so amazing prints presented for judging, wondering if they would be the ones to get devoured by the waiting judges or swim through collecting those high scores that we all aspire to, is something to behold.  As a judge and an entrant I felt all the nerves of standing on that precipice along with the anxiety of a judge waiting in the river below, who wants to deliver the best, most honest and fair result for everyone in the categories I was involved in. 


To everyone who took the plunge into the uncomfortable waters, your bravery will be rewarded whether that’s reflected in your scores or just in the knowledge that you’re part of a community that is strong, talented and willing to share their experience for the benefit of others.  Those hard, gut-wrenching places are where growth comes from so enjoy the next year’s creative journey and come back to the APPA river in a year’s time with new offerings for us all to enjoy. 


Moving away from the migration references (must be safari time), I can now reflect on my own submissions and share some of my journey with the creation of each print.  In summary though, my prints scored well for a Silver and three Silver Distinctions which gave me a high enough aggregate to make me a finalist in the Illustrative category for which I am grateful and thankful. 


To all the category winners, Gold awards gatherers, volunteers, judges, panel chairs, sponsors, supporters and especially to those whose expectations weren’t met but who held their heads up proudly … well done and it is all of you who make me proud to be a part of the photography community.

Silent Extinction.jpg

ALICE by Hilary Hann

I don’t really remember how I came to be standing here, surrounded by Chinese tourists confused by the exit procedures for leaving Kenya. Dust eddies through the trucks, buses and 4x4 safari vehicles which are parked in an inventive manner designed to get passengers as close as possible to the immigration building. No yellow exit forms to be seen anywhere so we dutifully fill in the blue entry immigration forms, and I write DEPARTURE in big bold letters over the top, just in case anyone thinks I’m a mythical being who can enter multiple times without ever leaving.

Wandering back to the vehicle, I see the same two women standing next to my passenger door, various beaded bracelets hanging from their hands, a look of hope in their eyes. I’ve exhausted my Swahili in trying to convince them that I don’t want any souvenirs, that I have nothing to trade, no money to spare, no space in my luggage ad infinitum, but still they hold out hope. Thinking that a quick departure is in order, I shrug my shoulders in African acceptance when told of the fact that the bus blocking us in is there for the duration as the driver has given the key to someone for safekeeping and that particular, reliable individual has headed off for a well deserved drink … apparently! 

I’m stuck with the saleswomen.

“Perhaps I would like to trade my earrings for some beautifully beaded Maasai souvenirs?” the younger woman asks. I explain that my mother gave the earrings to me and I could never trade them. Well, that changed everything. If my mother gave them to me, then there was no way they would consider taking them. What was my name? I introduced myself, and the younger woman introduced herself as Alice. The older woman had a name which I can neither pronounce nor remember, she also had very few teeth but a lovely smile. Mama Mzee has 8 children but only one girl for which she is very sad, but she has many grandchildren so is blessed. Alice has two children and thinks Mama Mzee is mad to have so many. Alice asks me why no one buys their goods anymore? I struggle to answer because it is a long time since I bought such souvenirs. She says that she has to pay school fees and support her family, and I say that it is difficult being in business as we have all suffered. Bit rich coming from someone who sits in an expensive 4x4 with a private driver, in a country half way around the world from home, but it is all relative. There was a time when the haranguing of roadside hawkers made me nervous, but now it is an opportunity for simple ‘girl’ chat and learning of new things.

The bus driver’s friend materialises at about the same time as the bus’s occupants escape from the clutches of the immigration officers which surprises no one, and we get ready to leave. I say a cheerful goodbye to my new friends, wishing them better sales (target the Americans, I say in parting, they have lots of money!!) and we drive the few metres across the border into Tanzania.


January 2012, Namanga border post between Kenya and Tanzania

To Walk Alone by Hilary Hann

I wrote this piece about 18 months ago and forgot to post it at the time.  I found it this morning as I pondered what I would write next and decided that it still holds true, perhaps even more so.  The last year has been a long and lonely journey with no happy end, photographically.  Caught up in the dynamics of other people's journeys and successes it was too easy to lose sight of one's own direction.  The writing may be old but the sentiments hold true and perhaps they will help me to get back on track.

…   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …

Perhaps one of the hardest thing I’ve done as a photographer is to realise that where I thought I belonged is no place I want to be.  I can see the shadows of artists long dead move past me, reflecting back onto the living whose line reaches far out to the distance where success and acclaim shine brightly … but there is no shadow accompanying me.  The path I’ve chosen is rocky and unfamiliar, the sun is blanketed by clouds and throws no comforting and familiar shadow.   Truly alone, I searched and researched and clung to the living and the dead, looking for inspiration and guidance but I lingered too long in the shadows.  There is no tight knit community where I belong, no natural seat sitting empty waiting for me amongst friends.  To walk alone is no strange place to be.


In the words of Donagh Long ;


You may not always shine as you go barefoot over stone.  

You might be so long together or you might walk alone.          

And you won’t find that love comes easy but that love is always right.          

So even when the dark clouds gather you will be the light.


Finding the truth in the art no matter outside pressure; to tell the stories which are crying out to be told.  That is the truth and that is the darkness that swirls around in endless circles. Waiting for the light to shine.

To become the Storyteller, that is the challenge and that is the change that has to be made.  There is no other way.


Lost in the Serengeti by Hilary Hann

In 2012 my husband and I spent 7 days in the Southern Serengeti area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area at Alex Walker's Serian Southern Serengeti camp.  Sometimes it's good to look back on adventures past and relive the experience, and to help with that I usually write about the trip both at the time and afterwards when home.  The following is an excerpt from that trip when I decided to head out one afternoon to spend time at the den of a couple of honey badgers that I'd waymarked some days earlier.  During the morning I'd gone walking with a friend of Alex Walker, professional guide, John Moller, to look for trees to photograph.  Baraka was my camp guide and Michael the driver.

Totally distracted by the trees, the pretty stream, the polished boulders and the sheer atmosphere of the place, I totally missed seeing the Forest Spitting Cobra (large) which John, Baraka and Michael saw sunning itself on one of the rocks. Gaily I remarked how sad I was to miss it, whereupon all three set off looking to see if they could find it for me. 

“How kind, but please don’t disturb it on my account” I tried to say convincingly.

Needless to say, it had hidden itself safely out of reach and I didn’t need to prove my courage any longer. 

Looking down the creek in the area of the fly camp

Looking down the creek in the area of the fly camp

We watched a tiny Malachite Kingfisher fishing and then I made my customary way point on my gps before we headed back to camp.

John remarked that it was an excellent idea to have a gps as one day I would need it when my guide became hopelessly lost. We both laughed! I said that it would never happen ........

John retired that afternoon with malaria. My husband had arranged to spend the afternoon taking staff and camp photos. Everyone else was busy, busy, but I had a plan. Oh yes, I was going to stake out a particular honey badger den. It was a couple of days since seeing them, but that didn’t matter because I had my gps co-ords and it wasn’t far away. I could get the photos of the trip, alone with Baraka and Michael and the vastness of the savannah … and 2 feisty honey badgers. Happy as pigs in mud, we waved goodbye after lunch and headed off.

We drove for about an hour, not stopping for anything at all. Each time Michael slowed down as Baraka pointed out some unusual animal or bird, I urged them forward. Time wasn’t on our side and I was focussed, really focussed. We struck out across the Kimuma Plains and then struck out completely. 

“Look at your gps and see if we are close now” Michael suggested.

Ok, I thought. I had absolutely no idea how to work out how to follow my gps to a previously marked waypoint and didn’t want to tell them. Unbelievable. So I fiddled and pressed buttons and swore softly until at last I had a meaningful map on my screen. I had a compass pointing North, I had the waypoint on the map, surely it was just a matter of driving in that direction. So that’s what we did, around and left in an arc and then right in another arc, as I waved my gps about trying to make sense of it all. I can see my gps tracks on Google Earth now, as I’m writing this … and we weren’t within a stone’s throw of the den. It seems funny now, in retrospect, but at the time we were frustrated and distracted and it was all my fault because I hadn’t given any thought to whether I knew how to use the device apart from loading tracks and waypoints onto GE.

In the end, I could feel Michael’s frustration that he couldn’t give me what I wanted. I could sense Baraka’s disappointment that the den couldn’t be found, but it wasn’t their doing so I suggested that we photograph the waves of wildebeest as they headed off into the distance. It was then that we noticed the storm moving in but not enough to cause us much concern at that stage.

The wildebeest streamed past us and it was gloomy as they cantered steadily across the plains. The occasional gazelle looked bewilderingly small under the swelling clouds.

Michael tried to maneuver the Landcruiser in front of the lead group so that I could get the column head on, but it was like trying to extract egg shells from a broken egg, every time we moved closer, they moved further away more quickly. Tails again.

This comedy of errors continued a little longer until we really started to pay attention to the weather which was circling us. You could see the rain clouds heading down in waves, but a long way away and we could see that we had a clear run back to camp which is where we decided we should head. Funny how the honey badger den turned out to be so far from camp. It is no good relying on memory for these matters.

A vertical 5 image pano shot as we left our honey badger den search and started to notice the extent of the storm.  The massif in the distance is the Ngorongoro highlands.

The Land Cruiser increased speed on the relatively smooth ground of the Kimuma Plains as we headed in the general direction of Kakesio. It wasn’t long before the rain started to fall and we were collectively very glad that we had closed the roof some time earlier. In no time at all heavy sheets of water blanketed our view and the earth beneath our tyres started to soften and we began to lose traction. Now I began to understand why Alex’s decision to run lighter vehicles down here made so much sense. In one of the heavy, extended safari vehicles we would have stopped on the edge of the plains and remained there until help arrived. 

At this point I need to remind everyone that there are NO roads out here. We weren’t following a track or road or anything remotely helpful, just relying on Michael’s extensive knowledge of the area which was serving us well.

The sweeping windscreen wipers worked furiously but without much effect. Our head lights struggled to pierce the gloom and we slithered and slid from side to side. Occasionally we would find a rough track from where a safari vehicle had driven earlier (possibly ours), but it soon became impossible to pick out anything outside the vehicle.




I had an extraordinary feeling of exhilaration. We were out in the wild weather, it was amazingly beautiful in a dark and forbidding way and all around me I felt the wilderness as it once was. Uncontrolled, forbidding, dangerous but magnetic in its magnificence. I laughed and laughed with the joy of it all and Baraka turned in amazement. Then he laughed as well, probably with relief as I certainly didn’t look like I was about to have hysterics.

Then reality started to hit as we came across a fast running river where only hours earlier there had been some sort of drivable culvert. And we couldn’t cross to the other side, the other side where the camp was. We had to keep moving, we couldn’t stop because if we did we would sink deep into the black cotton soils. So back and forth we went, looking for some way across the raging water. Eventually, Michael drove back the way we had come for a short distance and we drove across some rougher, stonier ground until we could make our way back towards Kakesio. Then we found a road, but a road which was lit by our headlights and all the ground around it was cloaked in darkness. Michael and Baraka had no way of knowing which road and which direction was towards Kakesio.

“Perhaps you could look at your gps and see whether it can tell us which way to go”, Michael suggested. Had we learned nothing at the honey badger den? This time it was getting a little serious, a little late, a little cold and oh so very dark.

Performing under great pressure I found my Serian camp waypoint (fortunately the Serengeti one, not the old one for the Mara camp which was still on my gps) and I selected the map option and there we were. We must turn left here, I said. That way is Kakesio. But then we saw a small light in the far distance. Baraka and Michael said that it had to be Kakesio as there would be no other camp or settlement here. We turned right and my gps started to spin in anxiety. No, no it said loudly. You are going the wrong way!! It was hard to hear each other over the rain and we could see nothing at all. 

“Michael, Michael”, the radio suddenly blurted out. Camp had been calling us for some time but only now were we able to hear them. 

“Michael, Michael, where are you” 

(buggered if we know, I muttered to myself) but of course Baraka answered in a much more civilised manner but with similar effect.  And of course, we didn't realise that camp couldn't hear us until we heard the radio's plaintive voice ring out again “Michael, Michael”.

Then we stopped, and almost for good as the 4x4 struggled in the mud. Michael asked me again to check the gps (what faith he had) and I again reiterated that we were going in the wrong direction. I showed him the little screen. The light gleaming in the distance had disappeared and I wondered what had made it.

Rocking back and forth Michael managed to extricate us from the sucking mud and we slowly turned around and headed in the opposite direction. Silence descended on us as we desperately hoped that the lights of Kakesio would soon appear. My gps was clutched in my hands and I peered at it hopefully. It was taking us in the right direction and the distance was closing between us and what felt like the civilisation left to us.

Out of the black we saw the beginnings of lights appearing and we all started to smile. Michael’s hands relaxed their grip and the mood lightened. The rangers in Kakesio flagged us down, concerned about a vehicle out in this weather, but when they saw that it was a rather muddy Serian vehicle they grinned and waved us on. All about us in the village, people were trying to keep mud and water out of their houses, but many had time to wave as we passed.

Now we had found the road home, the tension could dissipate, but I found myself unable to let go of my gps which finally had proved itself useful after causing us so much trouble in the beginning.

Bedraggled, damp and dishevelled we finally rolled into camp, many hours late. But we had returned and hadn’t needed to sleep out on the Kimuma Plains.

I wanted to find John and let him know that he had jinxed us with the “you’ll be glad of the gps one day when your guide gets lost” comment of that morning. But he had retired with the fever. 

I wouldn’t have missed that adventure for anything. I may not have found the honey badgers but I learnt how to find my way home with my gps, realising that its value was far more significant than just decorating Google Earth.


This is one extraordinarily wild and isolated wilderness.

Learning from set backs by Hilary Hann

The AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards have been and gone and once again, a whole lot of photographers are wondering why they put themselves through the experience.

Masochistic some may call it and the reasons we do it are varied indeed.  Some may just enjoy the opportunity to party, others are more likely to admit to a desire to stand on a National stage whilst yet another group will acknowledge the need to have a goal and deadline to produce anything at all. 

I think I definitely fit into the later group as each year I look towards the entry deadline to pull together a disparate selection of images and make something award worthy out of them.  Sometimes I feel pulled off track by a myriad of competing projects and then, like this year, I struggle to complete anything at all.

The Australian Institute of Professional Photography grows from strength to strength. It is undoubtedly binding it’s members together in an ever increasing web of professionalism and with its annual Australian Professional Photography Awards the quality of the photography improves every year.  Sometimes one can feel numb just looking at the depth and breadth of ideas and the execution of those ideas.  It can be hard to stay focussed on one’s own path.

For the first time in 4 years I didn’t win a Gold award and I didn’t manage awards with all my entries.  How did it feel?  Surprisingly liberating.  I think the pressure of trying to win at least a Silver with all 4 prints every year was artistically debilitating.  I would have preferred to have won with them all, I’m only human, but I think it will serve me better in the long run to have it this way.

Bring back the passion.

My highest scoring print was one I’ve called Dust Falls.  It scored 87 for a Silver Distinction.  It was also selected for a new venture called the Luminous Collection whereby 15 images were selected from all the entrants (over 2000) to be auctioned over a couple of nights, the proceeds going towards providing student grants to further their photographic education.  That was quite a surprise and I felt very humbled that the selection panel chose one of my images.  It attracted strong bidding and sold for $900, making it the second highest selling print just short of the $1000 for a black and white nude.

This is what I wrote about Dust Falls:

Dust Falls is one of the signature prints intended for my first major solo exhibition, Arrhythmia, which is currently in production.

Every time that I’m privileged to sit and photograph elephants, there is a shame that sits like a heavy shadow over each and every image, that I am a member of a species that is presiding over the dying days of these magnificent, intelligent, sentient creatures.  It hits me like a knife through the heart. 

The wonder of it all and the all encompassing sorrow that it should have come to this.

One of the great and life affirming experiences left to humans is to absorb nature by osmosis: letting the spirit of wild places filter through into our hearts and minds so that it can excise the troubles and difficulties of a stressed, urban lifestyle. The heartbeat of nature can be felt whenever you are deep within its embrace, far from the distractions of the modern, built environs.  For some people, it is a spiritual experience that they can’t explain with logic or science.  Many indigenous people have lives that are so intertwined with the natural world that they have no concept of the separation of their community from nature that most of the developed world considers normal.

In a very real sense, this image is part of my tribute to a world that is rapidly disappearing and the grief that I feel is as real as anything else that I have experienced.




The other print which achieved a Silver Award is called Living Trophy.

This magnificent pride lion was photographed in Ngorongoro Crater and I specifically chose to present it as if he were a trophy hanging on a wall.  In a small way, I was making a statement about the continuing practise of hunting mature breeding males and how much more beautiful they are as living creatures.  Perhaps one day a photograph will be considered more valuable than a dead, lifeless trophy with glass eyes hanging from a wall.

Whose idea was it anyway? by Hilary Hann

Whose idea was it anyway?  Who was I kidding?  Trying to write a blog each week was always going to be difficult.  For me anyway.

This week has been a slog of mundane tasks needing to be done.  Little irritations getting in the way of inspiration.  Just like the blog that I finished minutes ago and accidently deleted before saving.  Because that’s the way weeks like this go.  Of course, it was so much better than this, full of inspiration and excitement.

The exhibition and the images that constituted it were so clear a couple of weeks ago but now they are fading, as if a misty curtain is falling in front of them, ever thicker as the days go by.  I’ve made plans for the trips I’ll need to take to photograph the elephants in the way that I want and I suppose that’s a relief.  In a way.  There is a part of me that is struggling to see past the normal, run of the mill images that I am terrified of duplicating like I’ve done a thousand times before.  So for the next few weeks, the sole focus will be to strengthen the reasons that I’m doing this.  What story am I trying to tell and what journey do I want to take you, the viewer on.

Elephants, magnificent sentient beasts that are photographed and painted and written about in so many, many ways.  Could one more way be any more meaningful or useful than any others.  Time will tell.

At the end of that process I hope that I can truly hang on to a coherent and meaningful body of work that is supported by more than just jumbled words and thoughts.

Wish me luck!

Forget your perfect offering by Hilary Hann

I was listening to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ from his ‘Live in London’ album and in his introduction he says “We are so privileged to be able to gather in moments like this when so much of the world is plunged in darkness and chaos” and it made me pause to think.  Not so much about the darkness and chaos but more about how fortunate we are to be living now, in these early years of the 21st Century. 


Photographically it could hardly be more exciting.  Whilst some of us may decry the ease and affordability of cameras, it has given others a chance to explore their own artistic side through photography where costs may have made it impossible in years gone by. 


In much the same way I can also see how fortunate we are when I look at the state of the natural world.  Right, I can hear people say, she must be mad.  Not really and although it is true that the wilderness areas are diminishing faster than ever before and animals are disappearing just as quickly, at the same time there are many, many more people who are aware of what we are doing to the planet.  The internet has meant that we can all become pseudo experts on the causes and effects of what is happening and social media has meant that it has become quite difficult not to know about the destruction of the wild and beautiful planet that we live on.  We are sitting on the cusp of great possibility.  There is still time to make significant changes to the way humans use and abuse the resources of Earth and there is still time to save much of the wildlife that still remains.


Sometimes I look at the crowded wildlife parks and reserves in Kenya and despair at the behaviour of my fellow man.  Darkness and chaos seem to be appropriate words to use.  Finding solitude amongst the masses seems to be impossible.  Conversely, these people paying considerably amounts of money to see wildlife in the wild prove that there is value in maintaining wild places and the children they bring with them will be the hope for our future.  Balancing my desire to be alone in the wilderness enjoying nature the way I want to, I can’t deny the necessity that is a certain number of people enjoying those same areas and that their interest and money goes a long way to ensure the future of wildlife.


Wildlife ‘sinks’ within tourist reserves and parks, accessible to rangers only, where animals can retire from the intense gaze of the public is one thing that I find quite appealing.  Encouraging all tour operators to provide their clients with information on the ethics surrounding their behaviour when in these protected areas may just make a few more people think about what they are doing.  Rigorously applying the existing penalties to drivers, their employers and the clients when significant breeches of behaviour are made would be an excellent thing.


In the meantime many of us look longingly towards the past; at a vision of former wildlife glories; of places where we could stand in solitary splendour enjoying vistas of unsullied splendour, not realising that perhaps the remaining wilderness areas are really worth appreciating for what they still offer us, for they may be gone all too soon.


Leaving it to Leonard to say it better than most:


The birds they sang at the break of day

"Start again", I heard them say

Don't dwell on what has passed away

Or what is yet to be


Ah, the wars they will be fought again

The holy dove, she will be caught again

Bought and sold and bought again

The dove is never free


Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in




The worth of blogs by Hilary Hann

It's a question I've asked myself on many occasions.  My occasional blogs are not educational, they aren't supposed to be.  They aren't revolutionary as it isn't my style.  They really are amblings through my thoughts at the time and they are posted so seldomly because one's thoughts really aren't as interesting as we might think at the time.


I'm not sure that I see the worth of my own blog and so this may be the last for a long, long time.  The only reason I'm posting this one is so that I have a reference point some time in the future, when I've clarified to my own satisfaction the real purpose behind my photography, and can come back and read it and say "yes, I've gone where I intended to go" or even more likely "ah, I didn't get it, but where I've gone is where I'm meant to be".


And so I'll leave my blog with this quote from Emmet Gowin

… And, finally, this is what I need to say to you. There are things in your life that only you will see, stories that only you will hear. If you don’t tell them or write them down, if you don’t make the picture, these things will not be seen, these things will not be heard. - Emmet Gowin

Finding Inspiration in the Lost Dimension by Hilary Hann

Telling stories and giving meaning and life to my images are some of things that  remain a prime driving force when I’m creating my art.  Days blend into weeks and the folder fills slowly with images whose title contains the word “rejected” along side the file number.  Ideas that I thought were interesting and creative look boring and two dimensional.   The frustration can reach such a high level that giving up on the idea and changing direction becomes very attractive indeed. 

Fortunately there are a small number of photographers and writers to whom I turn, whose work helps to redirect and refocus me.  One of these is Guy Tal and he never fails to say something that speaks straight to my heart.    One of his recent dissertations entitled “The Problem With Moments”  encouraged me to think about my own feelings when out in the field shooting, and why I find it so therapeutic, even addictive.

“So often I find myself engaged in a composition, thinking and refining and contemplating, when my subject remains static, when nothing other than my thoughts is changing, where Mr. Cartier-Bresson would have died of boredom waiting for a decisive moment; and yet I am so elated and immersed in the experience that no other thought even enters my mind. Worries disappear, discomforts never registers in my conscious mind, and nothing else deserves attention until after the click of the shutter.”  Guy Tal

At this stage of my artistic career, the huge disappointment comes when you have these ‘decisive experiences’ and then struggle to convert them into meaningful art.  Sometimes you can have such belief in a project that you suffer a certain grief when you slowly realise that it will never amount to anything significant and you have to let it go.  When that happens the inclination to walk away and do nothing but eat chocolate is overwhelming and the creative block can go on and on for a long time.  It is the urge to say something meaningful which always pulls me back to try again.

As many of us do, I look at hundreds of photographs each week, in the genres I’m interested in, especially as it is made so easy now with Facebook pages and online sharing sites.  Perhaps I am missing something but very few capture a spirit or meaning in their images and I find that leaves a certain emptiness.  The chase for recognition on social media and the competition for ‘likes’ leaves me cold and I see it only encouraging the sharing of superficial images rather than the thoughtful ones which require some involvement on the behalf of the viewer.  But that is only my view of course and I often find myself engaging in the very same behaviour, to my frustration,

And so I continue with my own self discovery and a burning desire to say more than the obvious with my work.  I’ll continue to attempt to connect my ‘decisive experiences’ with the stories I feel so that I can bring that lost dimension to my images.  I hope I have enough years left to learn my craft well enough!

If indeed the practice of photography fails to elicit such states of flow, it may well be because so many are concerned with decisive moments rather than decisive experiences; with anecdotes rather than stories; with external affirmations rather than inner meditations. .”  Guy Tal


Another postcard from Kenya by Hilary Hann

STILL ON AFRICAN TIME, we head into the Aberdares

The crack of thunder sounds again, silencing the sounds of children walking home from school.  A light drizzle turns into steady rain and slowly rivulets of dirty brown water form on the dusty road. We have our first sighting of a black rhino since leaving Nairobi, but its metallic gleam betrays its factory origins.

Our Nissan Patrol is heavy with supplies including eggs from Mweiga which were added to the supplies purchased in Nakuru. Enough to last our stay? Amos will have to cook in the rain but perhaps there will be some shelter. Fanwel was wise not to come on this road trip.

Drought is once again in the news with relief supply trucks passing us at regular intervals on their way North. One can’t begrudge the country some rain so we move through the Treetops gate with good cheer even if slightly daunted.

We wind down the final rutted track to find the Tusk Bandas sitting in a clearing with beautiful views towards Mt Kenya. It is after 5pm and weary with travel we go in search of the caretaker. The place is empty, locked up and desolate. The equatorial twilight will come and go in a short time. Luckily, we have mobile coverage as long as we stand on one patch of worn down grass.

Phone calls to the safari company’s base, contact with KWS headquarters and still we wait. The bushes are alive with birds and streaks of blue sky appear in the clouds. As the light diminishes further, the noises in the bush become more ominous and we sit perched on benches on the verandah trying to look composed and calm.

We are, after all, on African time.


The single track leading into our self catering bandas.

The single track leading into our self catering bandas.

The Value of Awards by Hilary Hann

Some Random Thoughts on the value of entering the Australian Professional Photographic Awards

Over the years I’ve entered all sorts of awards for many different reasons.  I’ve entered big prestigious awards such as the Natural History BBC Wildlife Photography Awards as well as International Awards like the Loupe Awards, Spider Awards, Masters Cup, Pano Awards, Creative Asia Awards along with a number of lesser awards.  All these listed awards are online digital competitions and the judging is pretty much invisible.  Quite frankly, the value of this is debatable for a few reasons.  You present your image as a digital file so for many of us, that is at an unfinished stage.  A really important process, the printing, as it is the finishing touch of our professionalism and my work in particular, is the poorer for not having that step included.  Feedback is almost non existent, so you receive a score or an award level and that’s the sum of it.  Some of the Australian based awards such as the Loupe, Pano and Creative Asia awards have a larger proportion of Australian judges and although very accomplished the competition policy is to have entrants judged by people from other countries.  So Australian entrants have a much smaller pool of judges looking at their work.

As a benchmark, I find them problematic.  As an opportunity to have awards to use as a marketing tool, or to try and win prizes, they are excellent.

The AIPP Awards are quite different and although not perfect, provide a wonderful way to assess your work.  Now with Livestreaming across many of the State based awards, and for the National Awards, you can watch a variety of judges, categories and images and listen to a wide range of opinions and suggestions.  What could be more valuable for increasing the quality of your own work than having so many experienced professionals commenting on such a large number of photographs.  Every comment made about someone else’s work can be directed right back at your own work.  Presentation is also important so the final step of print preparation is also considered.  If you want to sell fine art images, choosing suitable paper and ensuring print quality is the best it can be is critical.

I use the State and National Awards to see if my work has the ‘wow’ factor.  If the judges sit up in the chairs and take notice; if they score them highly; if they talk about how they feel when they critique them … then the print has moved closer to being prepared for sale.  Often a critique will point out flaws which I didn’t notice and I am grateful for all the suggestions which help me to improve my work.

What happens when an image doesn’t make the mark I’ve set? 

Sometimes we have to realise that the work we’ve sweated over just isn’t that interesting.  No matter what the emotional investment you’ve made in an image, it just doesn’t always make the grade.

At the recent South Australian Professional Photographic Awards I was very fortunate that my prints were well received.  I was award a total of 4 GOLDS, 2 SILVER DISTINCTIONS and 4 SILVERS with 1 print missing out on a silver by 1 point.  Of the 6 prints entered into the Contemporary Photographic Artist portfolio, only 2 were eligible for individual judging.  Different rules apply for this category than is normally seen at APPA judging.

So out of 11 judging efforts my work received 10 awards so I was ecstatic about that.  It ended up resulting in my winning the Illustrative Category, Landscape Category, Contemporary Photographic Artist and the Professional Photographer of the Year.

More importantly, is means that I have some new work all ready to add to the gallery for sale over the next few weeks, and that has to be a good thing.


One of the lower awarded images managing a Silver Award.  Some of the others are still to be judged at National level and won't be posted until after this time. 

One of the lower awarded images managing a Silver Award.  Some of the others are still to be judged at National level and won't be posted until after this time. 

Postcards from Kenya by Hilary Hann

Walk gently through my dreams, lest my expectations make you fearful.

And if thoughts of golden dawns and ancient lands make you tremble, leave me to my dreams.

But if you hear the distant drums pounding in your heart, walk beside me in joyful anticipation.

Africa means so many things to so many different people that it becomes hard to define the why and where and how of our travel. Whilst there are the pretentious amongst us who like to prove their worth by expounding the altruistic and philanthropic way their contributions to their African country of choice enhance both their own lives and those of the people they help, there are many others who feel that it is enough to know that their holiday money is spent to give themselves pleasure. Where do I sit, I wonder? It is a conundrum that I feel unable to answer and each time I visit Kenya it becomes less clear why I find it such a necessary part of my life.

So necessary, in fact, that I have worked harder on my photographic skills than I ever have before, to ensure that I have a business model that will succeed and that forever more I will feel entitled to return again and again.

This completely self indulgent blog (and many future ones) contains little observations I’ve made during my many hours waiting.  On a dusty road; in a bustling village; under a spreading acacia tree waiting for some wildlife action; in the pouring rain waiting for the clouds to clear; waiting for Fanwel who never came.


They sit on their old postcard stands, the wheel squeaks from disuse and the cards are the same ones I saw 6 years ago. Dust gathers on their dog eared corners.

In the streets of Nakuru the street sellers carry their postcards in hope of a sale. Haven't they heard …


The morning sun burns through the glass windows as we sit patiently outside Tuskys Supermarket on Kenyatta Avenue, Nakuru.

Patience is the key as we wait for our chef Fanwel to purchase some grocery items for our journey to our self catering bandas in The Aberdares and Meru. A steady hum of conversation surrounds us as the busy inhabitants of Nakuru jostle and bustle about their business. We are intrigued by the elaborate hairstyles of the women and fascinated by a pair of shiny red shoes which wander past. A car siren sounds but no one rushes to attend. Young girls in their school uniforms wander past and one young man crosses the road dressed in school blazer, jumper and crisply ironed grey pants. We wonder how he manages in the heat as the sun rises further.

A man walks past with a large panel of fibre board balanced on his head, another juggles many coloured buckets whilst a young woman walks using rubber thongs on her hands as her legs appear unusable.

The open door to the supermarket lockers carries on a brisker trade than the boy selling maps. The map he tries to sell us today is the same one he tried to sell my sister two days ago. In contrast, many lockers are filled with small bags of shopping and shoppers come and go keeping the attendant busy.

The yellow jackets of the parking attendants are all around but their users seem unable to cope with the traffic and wayward parking habits of the busy locals.

Occasionally, we battle with a man wearing eleven hats, carrying armloads of ties who tries to persuade us that we need yet another souvenir.

A young girl leans against a doorway, her braided hair frames a happy face and we smile gently at each other.

A doorman in a smart red hat and jacket sits by the doors of the Avenue Suites and Hotel but no one comes or goes.

A surly young man with no hope in his eyes yells at us “NO PICTURES, NO TAKE MY PICTURE” and I wonder what it would take to turn around lives like that.

Yes, Nakuru is a busy town but we are ready to move on, but African time means African patience and I slowly let the sounds, smells and sights of this thriving place consume me.

We wait for Fanwel until a man appears at our door carrying groceries. Now we know why Fanwel’s taking so long, Fanwel isn’t coming.




A sad and lonely lion photographed in Lake Nakuru National Park a few days earlier

A sad and lonely lion photographed in Lake Nakuru National Park a few days earlier

Reflections from safari by Hilary Hann

By now it should be very obvious that my fine art photographs are all taken in East Africa and over the years I have collected many reminiscences from the various journeys.  I thought it would be fun to share a few here.  This first one comes from early last year when my husband and I spent 7 nights at Alex Walker's Serian camp in the Southern Serengeti.  Situated near the edge of the escarpment which overlooks Lake Eyasi, it is a particularly wild and isolated place with no mass tourism, in fact our camp was the only one for miles and miles.


More Migration Madness …

It really becomes the most difficult dilemma when staying at a true bush tented camp  with tent numbers in single digits. There may be Maasai askaris patrolling at night, but there isn’t a great crowd of tourists to give the illusion of civilisation. Then it really sinks in how isolated you really are when the night slowly crowds in on your tent and the soft glow of the hurricane lamp outside can no longer keep the dark at bay. So do you give in to your own sense of insecurity and close the canvas flaps, or do you embrace the wildness in your soul and let the fly mesh become the barrier between your fears and the excitement of pretending to live dangerously.

I stood inside the tent and looked out, so quiet and peaceful, and decided that I should embrace the wilderness, heavens knows, the mad rush of a so called civilised world was waiting for me in 7 days. The canvas flaps will stay open.

I have to say one thing, Alex knows how to supply his guests with comfortable beds. Both this camp and the one in the Mara had the best, most luxuriously wonderful mattresses I have ever experienced on safari. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a pretty important consideration at the end of a long day in a safari vehicle, and even after a 30 metre or 30 minute walk (a story for another day).

So I tossed and turned in my comfortable bed. The ‘almost’ full moon streamed in through the open canvas flaps of the windows. The wildebeest in this arm of the migration swept closer and closer to the tent and I watched the dark shadows move across the front of the open tent. Then they moved back, coming ever closer until they dominated the tent’s front rectangle of mesh and all the time making the incessant ‘muh’, ‘muh’. Migration immersion for sure, but not conducive to sleep. Over the top of the constant munch, muh and muffled hoofbeats another sound slowly rose to dominate every other sound. The magnificent roar of a lion starting from a low rumble and ending in a crescendo of sound. And again and again as it slowly came closer and closer.

The recipe was now; lions roaring and getting closer; moonlight to see prey; lots of prey around my tent; canvas flaps open but fly mesh safely zipped up and 1 human snoring (not me) so that aforementioned lions would know that there was a tasty morsel inside. At least one of us slept.

As I appeared the next morning in a groggy state of having embraced the ‘wildness’ in my soul, I didn’t have the courage to let anyone know how uncertain and apprehensive I had been. Asking in a light and carefree manner whether the flaps should be up or down in this part of the Serengeti, I was told by Baraka that the lions down here were very difficult and not at all like the friendly Masai Mara lions and that I should always put the main canvas flap down. Fantastic. John said not to be ridiculous and it was perfectly safe, enjoy being out in the wilderness. I mean, the fly campers sleep under fly sheets!

I’m no coward, for the next 6 nights I undid the main canvas flaps so they would hang half way down, amazingly I slept deeply from that point on. 


The view from our tent, Serian South Serengeti

The view from our tent, Serian South Serengeti

A Sense of Place by Hilary Hann

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the concept of belonging; in a physical, social and spiritual sense.  When I was a child I knew my place and where I belonged and it had nothing to do with where I found myself as an adult.  Not belonging is a painful way to live; it tears at the fabric of the life you build, it effects your relationships and it undermines your self confidence.

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Death on the Plains by Hilary Hann

In 2010 I spent a week in the Mara with a guide and driver, photographing to my time schedule and interests and not having to concern myself with anyone else’s.  Everyone should try it, cathartic.  During that short week, I took the photos which ended up winning me my first South Australian Landscape Photographer of the Year, with three of the images comprising trees. 

When I returned in 2011 I reunited with my same guide and driver from the previous year and showed them the photos which had done so well for me.  From that moment on, Daniel went to great pains to find interesting trees for my collection.  Some were trees which were a little out of the way, certainly most were ones we wouldn’t have normally noticed if they weren’t perched above some predatory action.

We did particularly well out of that year’s trees.

One in particular became a favourite of mine and it won a Gold at the State awards and a Silver Distinction at the Australian Professional Photographic Awards.

Two Trees

Two Trees

Two years after first photographing the tree I returned earlier this year and we were reunited.  It was early morning and we had left camp to make a fairly long drive to a particular area we wanted to explore.  As we rounded a corner I looked at a large fig tree which had just a hint of morning colour behind it.  It looked vaguely familiar and my son, who was with me but who had been in the Mara for the previous five weeks and had recognized it earlier, said “Mum, that’s your tree!”.  At first I wasn’t sure, something was different and then I realised what it was.  The Euphorbia which sat in the background in my photo giving depth and dimension had gone, just a few stray branches sticking up into the air in a sad, desolate manner.  I felt unaccountably emotional, it was after all, just another tree but it was part of my landscape which had served me well and now that landscape had changed forever.  I wonder why we sometimes feel that landscapes are static.

Two years later

Two years later

I took another photo of the scene and although I didn’t line up the same angle or point of view, the dead tree is clearly visible.  As we sat there, I was told about some action which involved the tree only a few months previously.  Some visitors were self driving and saw a pride of lions sitting in the branches of the tree. (Why couldn’t they have been there for me, that surely would have sent the print Gold at APPAs!!)  Deciding to investigate further and instead of parking a short distance away and watching from there, they drove right under the spreading branches of the tree so they could get the closest possible view, thereby breaking one of the golden rules of not invading the wildlife’s space.  A short time later they went to start the vehicle and continue their explorations only to find that the engine was dead.  What to do?  Radioing back to camp they explained their sorry plight, unable to get out of the vehicle to look under the bonnet … unable to get out of the vehicle for any reason for that matter.  The camp manager was understandably unsympathetic.  These were not novice tourists with a guide but locals who should have known better so he didn’t hurry to their rescue, letting them sit there a while learning their lesson. 

I bet there would be many, many tales of adventure and excitement that the magnificent fig tree could tell if only we could understand its soughing branches and whispering leaves.