Admirable Photo-tour Experience of Nomadic Life by French Photographer Stéphane de Rouville

After viewing French photographer Stéphane de Rouville's touchable series Ga Bra, Into the Heart of Tradition I & II, someone may have curiosity about his picture-related experience. Fortunately, Stéphane has truly shared his story involving in his passion and experience on photography, and, his favorite subject and destination, impressive trip related nomadic life.


Since more than 15 years now, Stéphane was trying to follow, each time he can travel for a long period of time, the “last caravans all over the world”. It could be nomadic caravans (or semi-nomadic), or commercial ones.

His first experience was in 2002, in Bolivia, when he walked nearly one month with a llama herder and his 29 lamas carrying salt blocks. They started from Uyuni salt lake region (a desolated high altitude area, 3600 meters above sea level) where the crops are rare, going down to the lower valleys where he could exchange the salt against potatoes and corn, the food for one year for him and his family.

It was a fascinating and incredible experience. Every five minutes he could discover something new, how to find water even if there is no water, how to survive in the high cold (no tent, we had to care the animals at night), etc.…When he asked this guy:“what do you know about the world story?” (Cause he noticed he didn’t hear about the 11 September twin towers attack, or didn’t know the name of my country.) He answered photographer directly:“I know two things: first one is Christopher Columbus venue in Latin America in 1492, I learned it during my only year at school when I was seven years old." (Let’s say that is logical.) “And the second one is Malvina war between Argentina and a country called England”. Stéphane was really surprised, so, he asked him how did he hear about Malvina war. Then, he told photographer that, every year, he goes alone with ten llamas loaded with wool, at the Argentine border, where there is a wool festival, in order to sell his wool (llama wool). But, one year, he could sell only 20% of his wool. He was very upset cause this money is mostly the only one he gets during the year (sometimes he sells a llama in case of emergency, like medicines or else). So, he asked other people there why he can’t sell my wool, and why there are no buyers. The people explained him that there has been a war between Argentina and England, and that, as England was the main buyer for Argentine wool, they decided to put the embargo on this wool, due to the war!

At this moment, Stéphane realised that, decisions taken in luxurious offices in London, mostly could have kill a poor Bolivian llama herder and his family, living so far away from the international politic matters and that had never asked anything to anybody. Photographer then took conscious that what he was experiencing was really fragile, and that it was a privilege and a great chance, to observe and live it, probably one of the last ones. He was seeing another world, a world that existed for centuries and that is disappearing very fast in this more and more modernised and globalised world.

Therefore, Stéphane decided, at this moment, to dedicate his photo work to those “last” caravans and nomadic way of life, and more generally to the endangered cultures. It’s part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and he thinks that it is a “must to do” thing in order not to forget where humans come from, and in order to give a testimony of the cultural richness and diversity of our world… Could this make think different some people, could this make dream others, could this make take conscious that our world is full of incredible cultural richness but also very fragile and that we have to preserve and protect it, could this bring a piece of peace…? This would make Stéphane happy !


Stéphane's photography experience:

Since recent years (nearly four years ago), Stéphane was using a still camera (Nikon FM3). For him, it is a very good school for learning photography. It obliges people to “think” the photo, to take their time. No need to take thousands of pics, hopping that one or two will be ok. We have to build the frame, take care about all the components (light, speed, etc.…), and the story we want to tell. Now, using a digital camera, Stéphane tries to keep the same spirit (he always shoot in manual mode, and try not to take too much pictures). Besides, Stéphane didn’t attend any photography school, and instead, he learned on the ground.

Stéphane's trips related to nomadic life are, after Bolivia:

Indian Himalaya, (2003/2004). Stéphane spent few weeks with the Kharnak people, a small semi-nomadic tribe (only 150 people) that lives in the high altitude plateaus with their 700 yaks and 16 000 goats, moving place every two months.

Sudan, (2005/2006). Stéphane accompanied caravaneers (from Kawahla tribe) who were convoying hundreds of camels from centre Sudan (the Southern part of actual Sudan) till Egypt. It took them 28 days to reach Egypt (where the camels were sold), driving the camels 10 to 15 hours a day.

Yakutia (Far-East Siberia), 2007. He spent one month, during winter, with Even nomadic people, that were traveling on a frozen river to reach their main camps.

Nigeria, (2007/2008). Stéphane followed Fulani nomadic herders that were migrating with their cows, down South, in order to find grass and water for their animals.

Peru, (2012). He accompanied two llama herders that were transporting salt in order to exchange it with food (same principle as my first trip in Bolivia).

Madagascar, (2015). Stéphane followed zebu conveyors, but had to stop his trip because of injuries. Not completed then, but he will come back.

Ghana ,(2016/2017). He followed cow herders (also Fulani tribe as in Nigeria) that were coming from Burkina Faso, trying to find good grass for their cows in Ghana during the dry season.

Kenya (2018). The actual story that Stéphane present to us. (Click here to check.)


Stéphane's states:

"In all those trips, there are some steps you need to pass before being accepted in those (often remote) communities. The first one is to be able to communicate with them. As they don't speak English, you have to learn (before traveling of course) the basics of the main language of the country they live in. That opens you a lot of doors. Then, you have to prove that you are able to live with them (sleeping outside in tuff conditions, eating their basic food, drinking very few water, be able to ride or direct their animals, and follow them, sometimes on very long distances). They test you, see how you react. Once they think you won't be a load for them, you become part of them. It also means you have to help them during your stay with them. All this has an impact on your way of photographing, in the sense that you don’t have so many time for taking your pictures. If you witness an incredible scene, but didn't have time to shoot it, it's too late. I am not going to ask them to "play the scene again", and, anyway, they wouldn't accept and wouldn't understand…So, you have to be quite accurate and alert all the time…"

(All photos coopyrighted Stéphane de Rouville)

>> Photographer: Stéphane de Rouville

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