Marcus Westberg

Tierra ambassador, award winning photographer and storyteller

By Alexandra Kalling

Tell us a little about yourself

I always find this a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Where to start? I’m a photographer, storyteller and guide, primarily in Africa but also in Europe and Asia. We moved abroad when I was ten years old, and that had quite an impact on me. I’ll soon be 36, am happily (and newly) married and live in a cottage in the forest just outside Åkersberga, north of Stockholm. I love to travel, but I am equally comfortable at home. I find quality of life incredibly important – not just thinking about the future, but really making the most of the present, too – so I spend a lot of time doing things that make me feel good: physical health, meditation, time in nature, cooking good food, reading interesting books and spending quality time with my wife, family and friends.

How and when did you start with photography?

By chance, really. I had studied environmental science in Tasmania for three years and photographed a bit while hiking on the weekends. When it was time for me to do my thesis research I organized to do so in Kenya. I lived in the Masai Mara for the better part of a year – but first I made a large investment in camera equipment. The more time I spent photographing, the more hooked I became. After a year in Kenya and a 10-month road trip around eastern and southern Africa I was starting to become a pretty good photographer and had written my first feature article for Vagabond (Sweden’s biggest travel magazine). I had also been blogging regularly for both National and Africa Geographic during the trip, as well as worked with a number of non-profits – a good start. It took time to build on that, of course, but it’s certainly been a worthwhile journey.

Tell us about one of your most memorable trips?

There’s quite a lot to choose from. As a destination, Svalbard is hard to beat – polar bears, walruses and amazing landscapes. But the single most incredible experience I’ve had is probably a couple of overnight trips to Nyiragongo, eastern DRC’s hikeable, active volcano with its mesmerizing lake of lava. On the other hand, it tends to be when something goes wrong that a trip becomes particularly memorable. In Kenya a few years back one of the wheels literally fell off my car in the middle of a very big, very deserted national park, and in Namibia my clutch stopped working 300km from the nearest settlement. Last time I was in DRC I ended up in a minor warzone – and I had both malaria and parasites at the time. In southern Ethiopia we had to negotiate our passage with a group of warriors from the Hamar tribe armed with AK-47s, and on that same DRC trip two juvenile gorillas tried to get into my camera bag. And at the end of 2018, in Uganda, I injured my foot quite badly while hiking among nomads in the far northeast of the country. I had to walk 70km with that foot – wearing sandals – and every evening my ankle was the size of a tennis ball. That’s something I’m unlikely to forget anytime soon.

What do you always bring with you when you travel?

Quite a lot, really. I usually travel with 3-4 cameras and 6-8 lenses, although most of that goes in my hand luggage. Tripod, flash and filters depending on the type of job I’m doing. I have a small but powerful flashlight I use both for night photography and to avoid bumping into wildlife if I end up sleeping in the bush. I’m very particular about both dietary supplements and personal care products, so I bring enough of both regardless of how long the trip is. Protein powder and bars, a yoga mat, noise-cancelling headphones and a travel pillow. My laptop and external hard drives, of course. For some jobs I bring a Polaroid camera – it’s nice to be able to give away photos as gifts. A few years ago I would have brought several books on a trip, but these days it’s enough with an iPhone and a Kindle. On the other hand, that means needing to bring a couple of power banks instead.

You spend a lot of time working in environments affected by climate change, and with endangered animals. How has this affected you?

It’s made it much more real, that’s for sure. There’s a big difference between reading about something and seeing the impacts in real life, regardless of whether it’s the remnants of ancient forests, a dead rhinoceros or a graveyard for murdered rangers. I’m not sure if it’s made me more or less hopeful, to be honest. On the one hand, it’s incredibly frustrating when politicians and other influential individuals put their own interests ahead of our common future. On the other hand, I’ve met a great number of very inspiring people who fight ceaselessly for our planet, and I never cease to be amazed by human ingenuity. I think there’s an important balance between these two – not to let yourself become depressed by all the bad news, yet not become complacent, convinced that someone else will take care of everything for us. We all have to take responsibility.

What do you do to "do your part"?

I try to live as sustainably as I can when I’m at home: I eat 95% plant-based, keep food waste to a minimum, recycle, and so on. But I also do a lot of pro bono work for organisations unable to pay for my services – African Parks, Gorilla Doctors, Zambia Carnivore Programme, Feed the Children and Force For Good Foundation, among others. I also try to focus my work on important environmental, development and conservation questions in my articles. One of my most recent pieces was about the incredibly tough lives of park rangers in DRC. I also donate a lot of photos for charity events, books, etc. But there’s a lot more that can be done, no doubt about it. I do fly a lot, of course, but on the other hand I’m convinced that the work I do is important.

If you do have to travel, do you have any recommendations on how to travel as sustainable as possible?

Some things are hard to get away from – it’s a bit difficult to travel to Botswana by train if you only have ten days holiday. But of course it’s possible to limit how much we fly, and instead travel by more environmentally friendly means. There are also many hotels and tour companies making very real efforts to be environmentally sustainable, and the same goes for e.g. clothing brands. And it’s often possible to find good projects to support. There’s a lot you can do without making much effort. But another important aspect is to learn to appreciate the incredible natural beauty and biodiversity we have all around us and explore that. Scandinavia really is fantastic.

What do you do in your free time?

I settle very quickly once I get home, so it’s only a matter of minutes before I’m back into my routines and habits after a trip. We live in the forest, so depending on the season I head out to look for flowers, berries or mushrooms – or just on long walks. A lot of gym and yoga, too. I like fixing things around the house – I’m currently dehydrating a lot of food for trips. But when you work with something you love there isn’t necessarily a clear line between work and time off. On the one hand I am the one who decides when I should work – on the other hand I often spend my “free time” writing, organizing or editing images.

How did you first get in contact with Tierra?

I was looking for clothes ahead of a trip to Zambia. I find it surprisingly difficult to find light, durable clothes suitable for hot places – but which still look good. I tried 5-6 different brands before coming across Tierra’s Correspondent collection. I struck right away and haven’t regretted my decision for a second.

Do you have a favorite piece of clothing?

Too many! The entire Correspondent collection, from the soft cap, which fits in my pocket, to the various trousers and shirts. I’ve become a big fan of the ¾ pants – great for many of my Africa trips. And I love the Lite Track Convertible Pants when I need something a bit more robust. I also don’t think one should underestimate the simple: a really nice merino t-shirt is invaluable when it’s difficult to wash clothes during a trip.

Tell us about your upcoming plans for this year!

Earlier this year I spent six weeks in Ethiopia and Djibouti on an assignment for New York Times, in Benin on behalf of African Parks and in Rwanda, where I mainly photographed gorillas, chimpanzees and other wildlife in the country’s three national parks. I’m guiding three trips to Malawi this year, and my wife and I will spend two weeks in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Before that, I’ll be on assignment in both Kenya and western Mongolia. After Botswana I head to Etosha in Namibia as an artist-in-residence – primarily wildlife photography – followed by a few awards ceremonies in London and a month in India. And I’m just about to launch an online photography course together with Vagabond.

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