Guillaume Bonn Leads ASW's African Adventure
Written by Kabir Awatramani
Meet Guillaume Bonn, world-renowned photographer and journalist –born in Kenya, and raised across Madagascar, Nairobi, Saigon, Kathmandu, Sana’a, and Lausanne. Today he spends his time jetting between Nairobi, Paris, London, and of course wherever else his camera leads him – be that the conflict in North Uganda (with Christopher Hitchens), Lake Naivasha (with Mark Seal) to investigate the murder of conservationist Joan Root near , or the couture shows of Paris- reporting mainly for The New York Times. You may recognize Bonn’s work from pages of Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, The Guardian magazine, 6 MOIS, The Observer magazine, Granta, Wall Street Journal Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, Monocle, New York Magazine, Conde-Nast Traveler, Departures, The New Yorker among others.
Equally comfortable in the company of a rakish child soldier and Indian Royalty (Bonn was the only photographer admitted within the mote of royal Jodhpuri wedding), Bonn assumes a unique insider perspective on the subjects he approaches. Kenya, the land of his childhood, possesses a special place in his heart, imagination, and art; and he has enthusiastically offered to give us a taste of his fast disappearing world: the Kenyan savannah and Masai Mara.
Your photographs have been published in Vanity Fair, Conde-Nast Traveller, The New York Times, The Observer, The Guardian Magazine, among so many others. When did you first fall in love with the camera?
I FIRST FELL for photography at the age of 15 when my family moved to Kenya, I think it was love at first sight with the new country we moved in that made me pick up a camera.
Your portfolio is extremely diverse – you’ve captured life on the savannah, the Darfur crisis, as well as the runways in Paris and even a royal wedding in Jodhpur. Who or what is your ideal subject?
I think my photography is just an extension of the life I was born into − a mix of constant traveling and living in a new country every other year, discovering new cultures, and making new friends − so to answer your question, it is equally important for me to one day be photographing a Maharadja in India, and then a war in Sudan, or the haute couture shows in Paris. I feel equally at ease in all these different worlds, even though it’s harder to dodge bullets when someone is shooting at you.
You grew up across the world, and now split your time across Nairobi, Paris, and London. Did your migratory childhood influence your oeuvre? Where would you call home? Why?
That’s a tough question to answer for me, as I am in constant search for the next place I will call “home”, at the moment I think home is within myself if that makes sense any sense at all –it is wherever I am.
As far as my work, I think I am finally finding a voice with my photography, it took a long time to accept that I am who I am, and that I can one day, as I said earlier, be photographing a prince and the next a child soldier, who is not very friendly. I used to try separating the work in different categories as if I were many different photographers –a split personality disorder if you like, but I just accept it all now.
In your essay, ‘Agony and Ivory’ you exposed a candid, albeit devastating, portrait of the repercussions of the poaching trade across Africa. What is the state of the African Elephant today? Did your quest to reveal their fate put you in danger?
Yes it can be dangerous. When we were in Central African Republic in the middle of night with people who were drunk and armed, I think my years of experience saved my colleagues and me.
The prospect of the African elephants does not look very good –they are more than ever have become part of the resources that the Chinese want: ivory, petrol, diamonds, and gold. It’s all the same, and it’s going to be hard to change that.
When the article ‘Agony and Ivory’ came out in Vanity Fair’, it really launched a massive worldwide media campaign on the issue, which I proud of being part, but despite everyone now knowing there is a grave problem, our politicians all over the world seem to be unable to stop it, the question is why?
Again in ‘Silent Lives’, and in your Masai Mara exposé in The Guardian, you present the suppressed and disquiet side of life on the continent to the world. Do you find photography to be a powerful platform for critique?
Photography can be a very very powerful way of sending strong and meaningful messages, yes- as long as it’s constructive I think we all have photographers or not a responsibility to do it.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on 2 book projects and one is on the environment with author/writer Jon Lee Anderson from the New Yorker magazine
Off the beaten track, what are your favorite spots in mainland Kenya?
SOME of my favorites spots in Kenya are part of this trip we are putting together. I think living the experience with me, an “old” hand, will make it really special as you will be able to see and experience the landscape in a very different way than just being there on your own.
The best advice you would pass on to an amateur photographer?
Photography for me is a visual language—it’s like writing, it is hard work and not everyone can do it despite how easy it is to photograph these days…you ultimately have to have something to say, and the only way to find out is to keep working, be obsessed with it, and never give up, and then you will find your voice.
To learn more about ASMALLWORLD’s African Adventure and sign-up, please click here.