Rooster Brennan has a passion for authentic travel experiences and photography. Whilst exploring the world he documents each chapter of this lifelong adventure under the alias lovedeathtravel. Although he initially set out shooting with a Polaroid SX-70, in more recent times the Instant Lab Universal has become his tool of choice. On returning home Rooster revisits his digital images and creates analog impressions to bring the memories back to life.
“What comes to mind when you hear the word Safari? If you’re anything like me, there’s a wide-open savannah, a huge orange sun sitting low on the distant horizon, and the long distinctive outline of a giraffe perfectly silhouetted in the center. Maybe you visualized something else entirely – the great wildebeest migration across the Serengeti or the ‘Big Five’ roaming the bush. No matter what kind of scene you envisaged, the chances are a photograph influenced it, and it’s always fascinated me how a single image can inspire travel. You might not know a thing about that place or anyone who lives there, but you make up your mind right away – “Someday, I’m going there.”
There’s definitely a magical quality to instant film
The other interesting thing is the image you had saved in your head is never the same after you experience the journey for yourself. Those personal experiences replace the snaps from glossy magazines, Instagram feeds and slideshows that shaped your initial perspective of a place. Now, when I think of the word Safari, I pull a random card from my stacked deck: wintertime in South Africa and late in the afternoon, but still warm enough for tans and t-shirts. The first bright stars are already starting to pierce the blue sky even though the setting sun is still casting a glow on the dry brush. I raise my camera to my eye just as a baby elephant comes stomping through the frame, a tangly tree creating the perfect backdrop. As vivid as the real experience in my mind, I believe the photograph I have of that moment has helped it to remain that way. Who knows if my memory of that little elephant would have faded otherwise.
When I look at the photograph back at home, it feels like an old friend retelling the story to me. That stock photograph of the giraffe is no longer a silhouette in a travel brochure, but 7, 8, 9 giraffes, even more! So many that you can’t fit them in a single frame. It’s still late afternoon but now, and the light is casting shadows of their long necks as they stride into the setting sun. Further in the distance, an older giraffe is teaching younger pupils how to fight, wildly swinging their necks at each other – it even seems as though they’re dancing.
That typical shot of a proud leopard sitting high up in a tree, snarling back at me with the dead impala slung over a branch? That has been replaced by a lazy leopard, trying to enjoy a nap until the nighttime hunt begins. Once we creep closer, he sits up, spies a hyena circling through the bush. Like most of us who have just woken up, he’s too content to worry about it, and continues to snooze.
What about that image I remember seeing where the angry rhino charged a safari vehicle? Gone. In its place – a gentle giant, without a care in the world, slowly stumbling along the dirt road that’s been carved out of the bush. He doesn’t move with force but takes the path of least resistance – he follows the sun. When his poor vision suddenly registers something moving nearby, he becomes startled and runs away into the bush. It’s a lion. The King. So stoic and commanding in his presence, standing tall for all to see.
I really thought of all the animals, the lions would make themselves known sooner, but that’s the beauty of safari – nothing is guaranteed, no 2 drives are the same. Up until that moment I had no personal experience to replace the roaring, proud lion in my mind’s eye, but on the way to stop for sundowners we spotted them, and they were..sleeping. Lying low and completely at ease with us as we inch closer and check the last of our ‘Big Five’ sightings off the list. We sit there awhile, sun setting, nowhere else to be, and just hang. The King slowly sits up and stares at me, yawns, then looks towards the rest of the pride, as we quietly watch the sun go down together.”
My time in South Africa and Mozambique left such a lasting impression on me. One day I was hiking a mountain in the middle of Cape Town, with the city lights and Atlantic Ocean shimmering below. Next, I was enjoying a sunset with a lion big enough to swallow me whole. At night, I stared up at the Milky Way under the absolute clearest sky you can imagine. Then I found myself jumping over the crest of giant dunes rising out of the Indian Ocean. I thanked the local children on the island for the impromptu game of hide and seek. I watched the tide slowly recede as the dhows sunk into the sand. I won a staring contest with a curious zebra. I hunted alongside a leopard. I had to yell at a buffalo to move out of my doorway. I had to yell at the monkeys for chewing up my book. I had to laugh at it all.