When Steve Mitchell first asked if I would co-host the Greatest Maasai Mara 2020 Awards Ceremony, my immediate, honest (and non-vocalised) response was, “Not a snowball’s chance in hell.” But after the briefest pause, I instead found myself writing back, “Ok. I’m anxious already. But Ok.”
Public speaking, even online and in the safety of the Angama Photographic Studio, is not my cup of tea. And as the weeks quickly dwindled to mere days until the Awards Ceremony, the more certain I became that I should have gone with my initial response. But how do you say no to a chance to celebrate the Mara and the people that have protected it, showcased it, and shared it with the world? You simply cannot.
I’ve had the indescribable pleasure of watching the entries pour in every month – images that are more than just photographs – more like short stories of life in this savannah that I have called home for the greater part of this year. You couldn’t help but smile at Vicki Jauron’s “Just like Dad” as a tiny lion cub sat next to his father, striking a similar pose with a level of cuteness only lion cubs seem to possess. And how could your perspective of baboons not shift to the positive when you saw Yaron Schmidt’s “The Mother” as the female baboon clutched her baby close to shield it from the rain?
Entry after entry delighted, shocked, tickled, or moved us in some way. And for that, every entry was special. The difficult task fell to the judges to select the monthly winners and ultimately the Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year. I can’t imagine the debates that occurred as each selection was made. Even I couldn’t narrow down my choices to less than three favourites - and these changed constantly.
Our first real rehearsal for the Awards Ceremony happened the night before, and it was an epic and unequivocal disaster. I remember looking at my co-hosts Steve and Adam and thinking how composed and knowledgeable they sounded. Meanwhile I had suddenly acquired the voice of a pre-pubescent boy and I could not for the life of me remember to say, “The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year” without fumbling. What had I gotten myself into? And more importantly, how could I get myself out of it?
The next 24 hours were filled with no other thoughts than the upcoming Awards Ceremony. Cue montage of me practicing my lines, typing away intensely on my computer, a pile of discarded script re-writes growing at my feet before finally my ultimate moment of triumph as I stare proudly at the completed script sitting on my desk.
While I’m using film as a reference - you know how in the movies when the pivotal moment for the protagonist comes and they somehow manage to dig deep and overcome their fears? This was nothing like that. My anxiety was palpable and it did not diminish, even when we finally went live.
But as I listened to our conservation partners share details about their work and what competition’s support means to them, I was filled with pride. And as I listened to the finalists tell the stories behind their winning images, I was inspired. Watching Paolo Torchio’s reaction to winning was such a delight and his image “Blessing Rain” was a truly deserving winner.
Yes, there was a whopping US$10,000 dollars and a five-night stay at Angama Mara up for grabs, but it was clear that what makes The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year different from other competitions is the spirit of the initiative.
That spirit is what saw hundreds of images submitted by both professional and amateur photographers using everything from medium format cameras to iPhones. That spirit is what generated thousands of dollars to assist those who help protect the Mara to continue their noble work. That spirit is what draws people to the Maasai Mara all year round. It embodies everything about this beautiful place.
And if dealing with weeks of anxiety means that I get to tap into that spirit again and again, well then, it was all worth it.
Filed under: The Mara