What one thing could make your life better? That's the question Paul Close put to people he met on his trans-African road trip. Simple, unpretentious and great. See more of his work, The Snakebox Odyssey, here. What followed was 16 years of riding, over three stages and countless photos later. Paul took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his amazing journey and project.
"I've been a photographer since 1981 and came to the UK from Johannesburg 10 years ago. I was born in Zambia in the early 1960s and whenever we went on holiday we got in our car and drove for days - to get to the beach in Mozambique or go on safari in Kenya. Because of that I've always been inspired to do a full trans-African journey. This wasn't possible in apartheid-era South Africa; the borders were closed to South Africans, but when Nelson Mandela was freed the borders opened and I did a motorcycle trip up to Kenya. On the trip I bought a small snakebox, a kind of African jack-in-the-box where a snake jumps out when you slide the lid off. My daughter played and played with this thing, but then she broke it. When that happened, it gave me a rationale to finish my African trip. The question was what could I do photographically. I was going to be riding with a friend but we had no support team, hardly any space on our bikes and I wanted to do more than just take snapshots along the way. I came up with the idea of using an old spinnaker sailcloth as a backdrop to isolate the person, but I would also photograph them against their surroundings. When I saw someone on the road we would stop and I would take a photograph. I photographed at least one person a day. People were lovely about it because everybody I asked said yes, nobody asked for money. When I asked them, they would just think I was going to take a snapshot, but when I got the sailcloth out, they would suddenly become more formal and they would pose. I took one picture like this, look at the histogram and quickly shoot off 3 more pictures - sometimes the people would be smiling, sometimes just staring at the camera, sometimes looking into space. I'd ask 'What one thing would make your life better?' then we'd chat. Normally we'd stay for about an hour and chat, mainly because most people going overland don't stop. It was a nice thing to do."