This fascinating series of photographic portraits by Paul Close gives a moving insight into the lives of people he met on a motorcycling journey across the Sahara and through West, Central and East Africa.
What is it that drives the more intrepid and adventurous among us to scale the worlds highest and most inhospitable peaks or cross uninhabited deserts alone for months on end? For UK photographer Paul Close, it was the accidental breakage of a simple souvenir that spurred him on to realise an ambition to cross Africa from top to bottom on a motorcycle. It was to be a gruelling expedition that would test the courage and the physical and mental strength of the toughest adventurer.
Paul and his friend Tony Beecher first rode their motorbikes from South Africa to Kenya in the early 90s. Nelson Mandela had been released and many more borders were open to the new South Africa. As a memento to celebrate reaching the Equator, Paul brought home a small carved snakebox an African-style soapstone jack-in-the-box. Slide open the lid of the box and a snake pops out to nip at your finger. Unfortunately his young daughter, entranced by this novelty, broke the box. There was nothing for it but to go back for another one. So, in 2006, with extra inspiration from two sort of famous guys on TV, Paul and Tony returned to complete their African journey. Just over a month out from the UK and three days into Congo, Tony had a catastrophic crash. The long-time riding partners were forced to abandon their second attempt without a snakebox. However, a determined Paul returned to Congo alone at the end of 2008 and completed his trans-African journey, making it to the Equator from the north.
The images in this exhibition were taken on the last two legs of Pauls overland odyssey. He would ask one person each day to sit for him, always using a white sheet to highlight the subject against a background of the colour and character of everyday African life. He would ask each sitter just one question: Is there one thing that could make your life better? This remarkable collection of portraits and Pauls sensitive and deeply personal recounting of the subjects responses is always humbling and often humorous. He is currently working on a book to share his African experiences in greater depth with a wider audience.