Wilfred Thesiger: The Last of the Great Explorers

3

Wilfred Thesiger was born in 1910 to the British Consul-General in Addis Ababa, Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia). He spent his early years in Addis Ababa. During this time, he developed an interest in photography after he was allowed to play with his father’s roll-film box brownie. It was also in Addis where Thesiger’s curiosity of foreign cultures blossomed. Both of these interests defined his life and by the time of his death in 2003, he was credited for being one of the last great explorers and an important anthropological photographer.

At the age of 20, Thesiger was invited back to Addis Ababa to attend the coronation of Ras Tafari as the Emperor Haile Selassie. On this trip he traveled to the North East of the country to the Danakil Desert on a hunting expedition. The travel bug had bitten, and in 1933, he returned to Abyssinia once again. This time Thesiger was funded by a grant from the Royal Geographic Society to explore the course of the Awash River. At this time, it seems he was still traveling with his father’s box-brownie.

Credits: bsmart

Thesiger’s reputation as a desert-man led him to serve in the Sudan Political Service from 1935. At the outbreak of war in 1939, he was recruited to join the elite Special Air Service, but in 1943, he left to become a military adviser to his friend Haile Selassie. With Thesiger’s military knowledge Haile Selassie was able to reclaim power in Abyssinia – the only African country that had not been colonized – leading to the Rastafari movement growing in the Caribbean.

Thesiger in 1933, Abyssinian Warrior in 1930

However, it was after the war that Thesiger did most of his exploring. He joined the UN and was able to lead two expeditions in 1945 and 1949 crossing the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsular. He swapped his English tweeds for local dress and walked barefoot with camels and Bedu guides as companions. It was on these expeditions that Thesiger took his most important anthropological photos – recording a way of life that would, within years, all but die out.

Thesiger with Haile Selassie

Thesiger upgraded his camera to a Leica II for the Arabian adventures and continued to use Leicas all his life. He shot exclusively using black and white film. While crossing the Empty Quarter, Thesiger carried his camera in a goat skin shoulder bag – he found that his bag gave his camera sufficient protection and used this bag his whole life.

Credits: bsmart

Thesiger continued to travel, spending seven years with the Iraqi Marsh Arabs, once again recording a way of life that was disappearing quickly. He also traveled extensively in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He finally settled in north Kenya, but Parkinson’s disease later in life meant that he had to return to England and he lived his last few years in a nursing home in South-East England. Upon his death, he bestowed his collection of almost 30,000 negatives to the United Kingdom.

Thesiger’s camera

Wilfred Thesiger wrote a number of books about his adventures including his most famous book, Arabian Sands. The BBC have produced a nice presentation of his photography here. The The Pitt Rivers Museum holds his collection of photos.

written by bsmart on 2012-08-27 in #lifestyle #ras-tafariexplorer-wilfred-thesiger-leica-2-ii-arabia-sands-desert-ethiopia-addis-ababa-ras-tafari-haile-selassie

3 Comments

  1. emilios
    emilios ·

    These b&w pictures are absolutely perfect

  2. bsmart
    bsmart ·

    They are great, aren't they.
    He led an amazing life.

  3. spookydirt
    spookydirt ·

    I've got the hardback of 'Among the mountains' and some of the photos are jaw-dropping, they really are.

More Interesting Articles

  • Newcomer of the Week: haydenwilliams

    written by Eunice Abique on 2015-05-24 in #world #lifestyle
    Newcomer of the Week: haydenwilliams

    Originally from USA, biochemistry student Hayden Williams traveled halfway across the world to continue his studies in Hong Kong. Going to the Far East opened an opportunity for him to explore what he truly love the most: photography. His adventures in his current home, no matter how spontaneous, are captured in well-executed double exposure photographs. Meet our newcomer of the week, haydenwilliams.

    2
  • My Grandmother’s Life in Photos: From Canton to Borneo to the Fragrant Harbour

    written by Jill Tan Radovan on 2014-09-19 in #people #lifestyle
    My Grandmother’s Life in Photos: From Canton to Borneo to the Fragrant Harbour

    In this very special feature, Bard Wong of Ubud, Indonesia ,shares the story of his grandmother, who he lovingly calls his "Por Por." To make his tale even more interesting, Brad offers an inside peak into his grandmother's past with spectacular vintage photos taken in Canton and Borneo during the 1940s and 1950s.

    7
  • Petzval History Series: Joseph Petzval's Unconventional Career

    written by pripri2000 on 2015-06-14 in #world #lifestyle
    Petzval History Series: Joseph Petzval's Unconventional Career

    Joseph Petzval was the inventor of the first portrait lens ever created - the Petzval Lens. Consequently, he has gone down in history as one of the central figures of early photography. But his career did not end there. This article explores the later and other work of Joseph Petzval.

  • Shop News

    Try the LomoLAB Development Service!

    Try the LomoLAB Development Service!

    Whatever kind of film development you're after, you'll find it here! Now you can confidently shoot from the hip without having to worry where to develop those film rolls!

  • A Conversation with the CEO of Ondu Pinhole Cameras, Elvis Halilović

    written by jacobs on 2015-01-19 in #lifestyle
    A Conversation with the CEO of Ondu Pinhole Cameras, Elvis Halilović

    It was our great pleasure to chat with the CEO of Ondu Pinhole Cameras, Elvis Halilović, about his interest in pinhole photography as well as the formation of his company that produces handcrafted pinhole cameras. We found his answers fascinating and we think you will too. Thanks Elvis for being so generous in sharing your story and cameras with us!

    4
  • Camera Collections: chrisg35mm and his Admirable Analog Arsenal

    written by Eunice Abique on 2015-08-01 in #gear #lifestyle
    Camera Collections: chrisg35mm and his Admirable Analog Arsenal

    Chris Goodacre has been shooting on film since the late 1970s. At the same time, he also took interest in building an artillery of analog weapons. In this interview, he shares an extensive list of his collection and the fantastic story that come with each of his cameras.

    1
  • Camo Takes The Petzval Art Lens To Shoot His Very Personal Series

    written by antoniocastello on 2015-04-06 in #people #lomoamigos
    Camo Takes The Petzval Art Lens To Shoot His Very Personal Series

    Camo is one of the most popular fashion photographers from Colombia. His works have been published in many fashion magazines around the country, and last year he was in charge of shooting Colombia Moda, one of the biggest annual fashion shows in Latin America. But Camo has a very personal series of photos that were shot at his home in Bogotá.

  • Shop News

    Fisheye One Pearl Blue

    Fisheye One Pearl Blue

    Snap dazzling 35mm fisheye shots at the push of a button with this shimmery blue lightweight beauty.

  • A Chat with the Founder of STENOFLEX, Eric Marais

    written by jacobs on 2015-03-04 in #people #lifestyle
    A Chat with the Founder of STENOFLEX, Eric Marais

    Eric Marais is the founder of the portable dark-room experience, STENOFLEX. We recently had the chance to ask him some questions and he was kind enough to answer us! Read on to find out more about his company, his interest in photography and what's next for STENOFLEX!

    1
  • The Bokeh Effect and James Petrozzello

    written by givesmehell on 2015-05-18 in #people #lomoamigos
    The Bokeh Effect and James Petrozzello

    James Petrozzello is a New York based photographer currently residing in Brooklyn. He is a full time photographer and has shot portraits of Mick Jagger, Bill Clinton, Wane Gretzky, and Shaquille O’Neal, among others. He took a different approach to shooting with the Petzval Lens and tells us of his unique but interesting series of photographs in this interview.

  • A Salute to the Masters: Hands (A Tribute to David Goldblatt)

    written by sirio174 on 2014-11-08 in #lifestyle
    A Salute to the Masters: Hands (A Tribute to David Goldblatt)

    South African photographer David Goldblatt is famous for his reportage during the apartheid. In 1975 he started an original series depicting detailed photographs of body parts which were published in the book, "Particulars." As a tribute to this great artist, I'll show you a series of close-up photographs of hands. Stay tuned!

  • Shop News

    The Lomography Experimental Lens Kit opens up a new, creative photographic domain!

    The Lomography Experimental Lens Kit opens up a new, creative photographic domain!

    Satisfy your hunger for creative snap-shooting with this lens package made especially for Micro 4/3 digital cameras! Don't miss the 20% discount!

  • Shooting the Petzval Lens with Ian Taylor

    written by givesmehell on 2015-04-29 in #people #lomoamigos
    Shooting the Petzval Lens with Ian Taylor

    Canadian-born Ian Taylor is a full-time photographer specializing in kids and development work. It all started when his five siblings started having children at the same time he was into photography. This passion then spiraled into something amazing, and now Ian works primarily with kids, shooting them when they are in their purest form. Based in Asia, Ian has agreed to share this amazing series of photos he shot with his Petzval Art Lens in Cambodia and Thailand. He also shared with us some of his insights and views on photography.

  • James Wright's So It Goes x Sri Lanka Photo Diary (Part II)

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-04-07 in #world #locations
    James Wright's So It Goes x Sri Lanka Photo Diary (Part II)

    In December last year James Wright, editor and creative director of So It Goes Magazine, went on a two-week trip to Sri Lanka, "a place so long on our bucket list, but up until then, as yet unvisited," he writes on the first of his three-part photo diary. Herein is the second part of his series that chronicles his adventures, highlighted by a selection of breathtaking images of the Sri Lankan countryside and the locals, among many other images, captured with his trusty photographic companions: the Leica MP, Lomo LC-A+, and an assortment of films including the LomoChrome Purple.

    1
  • 'Aniki-Bòbò': A Tribute to Manoel De Oliveira

    written by sirio174 on 2015-04-08 in #world #lifestyle
    'Aniki-Bòbò': A Tribute to Manoel De Oliveira

    This article is a tribute to the great Portuguese film director Manoel de Oliveira, who died last April 2. With an old Praktica loaded with a roll of black and white film, I captured so enthusiastically his city Oporto (Porto) with its famous Ribeira district, the most characteristic of the Lusitanian town. It was here that more than 70 years ago, Manoel De Oliveira created a timeless masterpiece: "Aniki-Bòbò"!

    1