I finished University in the summer of 2011. I handed in my Final Major Project to the course leaders at CCAD, and went strait to the train station. I like to fit as much into life as I possibly can, and that summer was no different!
These were my first moments out of full time education in 17 years, and I used them to hot on a train that was heading to the airport! From here I flew to New York for the first time, after this I had a month to prepare for my first solo exhibition. Keeping my momentum, the day before the opening I packed my two bedroom apartment into storage. And the day after the opening I hit the road for four months, three of which were spent in Mali.
When I returned home a certificate was waiting for me, I'd been awarded a First Class BA with Hons, but I'd sadly missed my graduation!
Right now we're in the middle of a hot summer here in New York, where I now live. Inhaling the smell of melting tarmac, and feeling the sun beat down on me, roasting my skin, never ceases to remind me of those months I spent in Mali six years ago.
Sometimes it's not about the shining lights of the city, or the security guard that chases you. Sometimes it's about an unfamiliar environment, and what fun you can make of it.
After an hour on an incredibly cramped mini-bus, with goats on the roof with our rucksacks, my friend Daniel Charles (who'd quickly become the person I'd go on micro-adventures with), and I found ourselves in a village called Siby, a rural commune in the Cercle of Kati in the Koulikoro Region of southern Mali.
Attempting to buy supplies, we soon found ourselves distracted by the beautiful people and food on the main street that ran through Siby, Dan and I never set off for our desired destination until darkness had fallen.
With the cites lampposts being nothing more than 60W light bulbs on long sticks, navigating along the dirt roads that ran through the streets wasn't always easy. Once out of civilization, we resorted to moonlight, which reflected bright enough to cast shadows. Refusing to use the torches we packed, we slowly meandered through unknown paths that were flanked by plants taller than us, that cast shadows throwing us into stripes of light and dark. We took almost all the little tracks we found, hoping they'd be short cuts, possibly making us run in circles. Eventually, a few hours later, we reached the natural bridge ... and we all know how fond I am of bridges!
Unlike the bridges I usually visit at after dark, this one wasn't man-made, it was a huge naturally formed stone arch. Spanning over a flat stone platform that rose up and out of the surrounding landscape, just being under this bridge gave us the most stunning panoramic views.
Setting up camp under the arch, on a cliff edge high over the rolling African landscape, we slowly drifted off to the distant sound of the traditional Malian music, the melodic drums were beating in the Friday night festivities below us in the village.
Although I did say it's not about the thrill of dodging/being caught by security, even here we were discovered and a bribe was paid to encourage forgiveness for our overnight presence.
Now, even though waking to the view from under the bridge was so spectacular, you didn't expect me to not climb this thing while I was there dod you (see the first image)!?
Having paid our way, we hiked back to Siby. With the full day ahead of us it seemed sensible to hire bikes, and cycle in sub-Sahara Africa ... through the hottest part of the day ... without cover from the sun ... for seven hours solid ... with my pale English skin out ...
Dan cycled well, and did even better at encouraging me to keep on my bike and keep up. Cycling on sand wasn't a strength of mine, and saw me eating sand on more than one occasion. We persevered until we reached the waterfall.
Due to the time of year, it wouldn't be long until the waterfall and pool below dried up, luckily we still had enough depth to swim and dive.
Missing a tent pole, lost somewhere on the journey, we somehow managed to set our tent up on a large square rock surrounded by water. After a camp fire and picnic under the tree canopy, we once again drifted off to sleep on the edge, this time lulled by the gently crashing and splashing waterfall, as well as the occasional noise from animals and birds.
Waking refreshed, the journey back was far quicker. This may also have been due to it being mostly downhill!
It's memories like these that mean the world to me. Exploring, exploiting and enjoying my environment with amazing company!
As i said, while I was in Mali, exploring Siby, I did miss something important to my family and I, my graduation! ...but I knew this was going to happen, so I planned ahead. I had managed to get hold of a gown and hat four months earlier when I set off on my journey. I carried these with me for four months. For a month on the road traveling round Europe, to Mali, then to Siby on the top of a mini-bus with goats keeping them company, all the way to the bridge by moonlight, and right there is where I shot this; my graduation photo, to go on my parents mantle piece once I got home.