NGTI Raw File, National Geographic Traveller India’s monthly series that celebrates travel photography in all its glory, spotlights the craft of photographers, who bring us all those wallpaper-worthy shots. Every month, an accomplished photographer will share a signature photo with us, and give us a rare peek into a special story behind that picture.
In the eight instalment of this series, we feature Emily Garthwaite, an award-winning photojournalist, Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient and Leica Ambassador, whose work hinges on environmental and humanitarian stories.
In Focus: Emily’s projects are rooted in humanity and are an intersection between “displacement and coexistence with the natural world.” The British-born photojournalist has made home of northern Iraq since 2019 and has thus far walked over 1,250 kilometres through the country. The following year, she traversed 200 kilometres across Iran’s Zagros Mountains—which stretch up to 1,600 kilometres in length and surpasses 14,000 feet at points—to document the nomadic customs of the Bakhtiari tribe. “Guardians of the Zagros” series was born as a result of this journey.
Signature Shot: “I had the opportunity to join the Mokhtari family, members of the nomadic Bakhtiari tribe, as they set out on their bi-annual migration, known as Kooch, to fresh pastures,” Emily writes over an email exchange. The seasonal migration stems from thousands of years of tradition, in which the tribesmen undertake an arduous, two-week expedition to pasture their cattle. She found herself in company of parents Hossein and Jahan, three of their nine children as well as some of their cousins and uncles along with six dogs, five horses, 10 donkeys and mules, and hundreds of goats and sheep. Their destination was Khuzestan Province, where the family would reside during the spring season.
“I became incredibly close to Hossein, and he cared for me like a daughter,” Emily justifies her selection of the photograph, which shows Hossein arriving at their high-altitude camp for the night. The two developed a special bond and a deep sense of understanding of one another. She felt understood by him and he beamed with pride when she kept up with his pace. She’d follow in his footsteps, even when he ran down a mountainside, loose rock tumbling either side of him. She knew it was the only way she could earn his respect. “This photograph required immense perseverance to get to the top—after all, he was on horseback and I only had my legs. I never let myself fall behind, which was the greatest challenge of making this work.”
Emily recalls a particular day when she slipped and fell on a rock, bruising a rib. Hossein knew something wasn’t right, and came to find her near a riverbed. “I saw him walking towards me through a forest clearing and he lifted me up with his hands and led me to their camp. It was that day he called me his daughter, and we never looked back.”
Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.