Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

Not Just Another Day at the Beach

by Meredith Mullins on February 13, 2017

An ocean view of the fishing village of M'Bour Senegal, offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream of images. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Life and livelihood from the sea in M’Bour, Senegal
© Meredith Mullins

A Photographer’s Dream: Travel Adventures in Senegal

Travel adventures are triggered in many different ways. Journeys to exotic lands. Serendipitous celebrations. Unexpected challenges. New friendships with strangers. Losing yourself to the rhythms of wherever you are.

Boy and boat in M'Bour offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream with vivid Senegal life. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Falling in step with the local rhythms
© Meredith Mullins

The travel adventures of this story center on a memorable day at a Senegal beach.

It all started with the washing of a horse. And, as I always say, “When you begin your day with a ceremonial horse washing, the promise of greatness is in the air.”

Senegal boys washing a horse, offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream in M'Bour, Senegal. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The washing of the horse: a perfect way to start a day of travel adventures
© Meredith Mullins

An M’Bour Adventure

I was relaxing on a café terrace in M’Bour, looking out toward the edge of the earth and shielding my eyes from the relentless tropical sun, when I spied said horse, knee deep in the Atlantic Ocean.

Like a celebrity equine, he stood proud and poised, with just the right touch of obedience and humility. A team of young Senegalese beach lovers surrounded him and splashed him with sea water. Apparently it was horse washing day.

I waded out and offered my help, with a traveler’s curiosity and a not-so-hidden motive of capturing the jubilant event in photographs.

Four boys washing a horse in M'Bour, Senegal, offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream in images. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Adding the finishing touches to the horse washing process
© Meredith Mullins

A Photography Philosophy Pause

I should pause here to say the Senegalese are a very proud and confident people. They show you exactly who they are—each with a direct and unselfconscious gaze that seems to come from deep within.

Three Senegalese boys (B&W) on the beach in M'Bour, Senegal, offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream in photos. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Showing themselves as they wish to be seen
© Meredith Mullins

They are also quite reticent to be photographed, for a number of very good reasons. They have suffered and have been taken advantage of—in history (slavery) and in contemporary life (tourists who click away with their cameras without respect for privacy or permission and without regard for the human heartbeat inside).

As a photographer of people, I have learned that an enduring and meaningful photograph comes from building a solid relationship with those you are photographing and by conveying a strong sense of place. In Senegal, this connection takes a sincere investment of time.

Meanwhile . . . Back to the Horse

I stayed with the horse washing crowd for a long time, as we played in the water and got to know one another. I learned the intricacies of sea water washing, as we made our horse as white and as bright as possible.

Senegal boy resting in the ocean in M'Bour, offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream in images. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Cooling off in the Atlantic
© Meredith Mullins

The kids became my muses and my friends, as well as an integral part of my photographs. They were simply themselves, and they allowed me to capture that essence.

Small boy on the beach in M'Bour, Senegal, offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream of Senegal portraits. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Meeting the essence of M’Bour on the beach
© Meredith Mullins

A Walk on the Beach

Several of the horse washing team then became my tour guides and accompanied me along the beach to every small community and encampment. I became a focus of attention. Everyone was interested in me . . . just as I was in them.

Crowds gathered. Children came running. Villagers waved in welcome.

And when I treated one village to candy from their shop, suddenly everyone was there. (A huge thank you to my guides for excellent crowd control.)

Villagers in M'Bour, Senegal reach for candy in the local shop. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

A candy frenzy
© Meredith Mullins

As a result of this intense and real connection, I made more memorable photographs in a few hours than I have ever made in any other place.

Boy runs to the ocean in M'Bour, Senegal, offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream of images. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

A run to the sea
© Meredith Mullins

That success was, in part, because of the vivid colors, the symphony of varied faces, and the bustling fishing life and love of the sea. But my “Oh, I see” moment was that it was also, in part, because I was fully present in their life, even for a brief moment in time.

Woman with baby on her back in M'Bour, Senegal, offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream of images. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Welcoming smiles from M’Bour villagers
© Meredith Mullins

They say in photography that if you make one strong photograph during a shooting day, you have been successful. A photographer’s dream.

I made many images that day that I treasure. It was a day rich in sensory experience. But more important than the photos, I still remember feeling a very real part of the Senegal rhythms, as the community of M’Bour washed, swam, fished, played, and turned toward the water for life and livelihood.

These are the kind of travel adventures that stay with you forever.

Three boys on the beach in M'Bour, Senegal (B&W and close up), offering travel adventures and a photographer's dream in images. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

New friends on the M’Bour beach walk
© Meredith Mullins

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