Enchanted by The Gambia: Michael Lyons Photography

We came across his fantastic photography because he contributes to many Gambian platforms to promote tourism in The Gambia. Michael Lyons is a photographer with passion who travelled to The Gambia with his family as a result of the coincidence and since then fell in love with this place and been coming back regularly. We invited him to share his story with us.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a Studio Photographer from Dereham, which is a small market town in the Heart of Norfolk, approximately 15 miles from Norwich. I’m a married father of three: two sons, Michael Junior, a teacher, and Matty, an HGV driver. Our daughter Georgia has been with us to The Gambia three times. She can be often spotted travelling along the beach in her purple three-wheeled, offroad wheelchair, usually heading towards her favourite lunchtime spot, Poco Loco Beach Bar. My wife, Sarah, travels everywhere with me; she is my best friend and helps me find all the things I lose daily. She also runs her own business and is Georgia’s primary carer. In other words, my ROCK! We also have two grandchildren, Millie and Lottie.

What does photography mean to you?

Firstly, as a full-time photographer, my job means a roof over our heads and food on the table. Also, photography gives me the freedom to spend more time with my family; small things like taking my daughter to and from school nearly every day when she was younger was lovely. 

Travelling to Spain with my whole family to shoot a Pirate Boat’s commercial photographs was a great experience; also, visiting the Gambia with my wife to shoot for a couple of charities have been just a couple of highlights. 

I see photography as not only a way of paying the bills but a way of seeing the world and its many differences. My travel photography is more about the contrast to what I see in my daily life to what others see in theirs.

How long have you been working in the photography field? When did you first realised that you have a talent for photography?

I have been a full-time photographer for over 11 years. I started taking photos in my early 20’s with a Pentax MG film camera. I built a small studio in my garden around 15 years ago and started experimenting with studio photography. As more and more people asked me to photograph their loved ones, I realised there was a potential to turn my hobby into a business. So I started part-time, but in 2010, when I was made redundant and went full time.

Are you specialised in a specific type of photography?

My business offers studio portraits. I mainly photograph families, newborn babies, weddings and pets, also various other paid subjects, including commercial products, school portraits, dance shows, theatre productions, fashion shows, charity balls and school proms.

Your first visit to The Gambia was in 2018. Did you choose The Gambia for travel photography or any other reason? Why The Gambia?

My work means holidays in the summer are difficult to organise due to weddings and other events. We had been holidaying in Egypt for a few years around February/March time; in 2017, my mother-in-law and her partner visited The Gambia. They told us about the fantastic time they had enjoyed, so we decided to join them on their return visit the following year.

Our first visit was meant to be our only trip to The Gambia, so we hired Black & White Safaris to visit lots of tourist locations: Fathala Wildlife Reserve, Serekunda Market, Brikama Wood Carving, Crocodile Pool, School Visit, Sanyang Paradise Beach, Tanji Fishing Village, a Family Compound Visit, Ferry Crossing & the highlight for me was our trip to Janjanbureh (Georgetown), seeing the Hippos, Chimpanzees and Wassu Stones Circles on the route. 

As with all my holidays, I took my camera gear with me and was so pleased I did; I loved every minute of it. I don’t think there was a moment where my camera was more than two feet away from me, and I took the best part of 10,000 photos in the ten days!

You visited The Gambia four times now. What do you enjoy the most in The Gambia as a photographer?

I enjoy many different sides of The Gambia; not being a birdwatcher means I’m not looking for what most photographers visiting The Gambia are looking for; I’ve always been a people watcher, so people are what interest me the most. 

Checking out your photos, it seems you have travelled all around The Gambia. What are your favourite sites in The Gambia?

The Janjanbureh Kankurang Festival is the experience I have loved to photograph the most, so I will have to say Janjanbureh (Georgetown) is my favourite place.

 

Saying that, I also really enjoy the coast. From overlooking a catch being landed at Bakau to sitting outside Solamans having lunch to having an excellent breakfast on Sanyang Paradise Beach the morning after attending the Sunday Night Reggae Beach Party. Paradise Beach is also a great place to see a bit of Gambian Wrestling. I enjoy a good night out on the Senegambia Strip, with all the hustle and bustle that comes with that side of The Gambia, where people-watching is a must.

My many trips over the River Gambia on the Banjul Ferry also for the people watching have been memorable. Our visit to Makasutu was fantastic and a great day out for everyone. I must not forget our time with Margret Meeks at the ever peaceful Helping Lodge in Fass when I photographed their sponsored schools to promote her fantastic charity.

 

So you could say everywhere is my favourite for one reason or another.

You attended the Janjanbureh Festival in 2019 and took many excellent photos. What was unique about it? What was your experience there as a photographer?

After my first visit to the Janjanbureh, I was contacted by a lovely lady named Jane Smith from Just Act Gambia who had spotted my photos on the Gambian Tourism Forum. She put me in touch with Omar Jammeh, one of the organisers of the Festival. As it was my 50th birthday coming up, I offered Omar my services as Sarah and I were already coming to The Gambia to photograph the Helping Charity in Fass. We thought this would be an excellent opportunity for me to photograph something unique. It was just incredible for me to see so many Kankurang and Masquerades in the same place at the same time. Working for Omar and his fantastic team was an honour and something I will never forget. I hope my photographs play a small part in promoting the Festival for years to come. After missing this year’s Festival due to the COVID virus, we are looking forward to getting back there for our third visit to the Festivals 5th year in 2022.

Did you enjoy taking photos of wildlife?

Our first trip to Janjanbureh (Georgetown) was the best for seeing animals in the wild; seeing the Hippos and the chimpanzees on our boat trip was out of this world. So pleased, we got to see them. As a family, we always enjoy a Monkey Park trip; it puts smiles on all our faces.

What inspires you, and what has driven you to promote The Gambia through your unique photography?

I find The Gambia a fantastic place full of inspiring and dedicated people who love their country and work hard to improve the lives of those in their communities. As with the UK charities I work alongside, it’s more to do with the people I cross paths with and their attitude that gives me the drive to work with them on promoting their charity or, in The Gambia’s case, also their area and country.

I have been a member of the fantastic Gambian Tourism Forum since I stumbled across it in early April 2017, long before my first visit to The Gambia. It has been an excellent platform for me and others to promote all parts of The Gambia and has helped me meet and chat with so many brilliant people, including the founder Kieran, a dedicated supporter of The Gambia.

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