Neil Shea



For the last six years, photographer Randy Olson and I have been documenting culture, change and conflict in the watershed that connects southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. In the August issue of National Geographic, we’ll publish our latest work, from Lake Turkana. But before that issue arrives in print, we’ve begun a new storytelling experiment on Instagram—pairing Randy’s photos with my short, true stories.

Far as we know, it’s the first collaborative storytelling done using the platform, and we’re hoping to draw attention to the people we met back when we began this project, in 2009. The intent is not to rehash what we’ve already done, or to add more normal journalism to the stacks, already plenty high. With these stories we’re aiming for something else—new work that pulls nearer to the art and poetry that inspire us, while also complementing and pushing documentary form. Please join us on Instagram across three accounts, @natgeo, @randyolson and @neilshea13, as we follow water through the desert.

Writing the Future

January 09, 2014

Some faces you remember, like seasons, for the story they offered. Not always true, not always real, but beyond image or the geometry of attraction our eye moves toward stories, possibilities. We fill in details without thinking.

Wedding Crashers

August 29, 2013

It’s your wedding day. In the village a bull has been slaughtered. Relatives prepare soups and steaks and drinks from the fullness of its body, while beyond the kitchen friends dance and sing for you in a muscular circle, pulling in, pushing out, a sound like breathing. There is a song about the ostrich, another about the leopard. Today is an oasis in the long, hot wash of winter. Today celebration is like water.

Then two white guys show up.

The young men looked at each other for a moment, then back at me, eyes flitting, smiles shy. They were deciding how to avoid my question.

“We don’t talk about that stuff here,” said the larger student, shifting on his feet.

His companion nodded. “Yes, we leave those things.”

[ This story was originally posted on facebook ]

Many of the students here were teenagers during the worst days of the Iraq war, 16 or 17, watching the soldiers chew past in convoys of dust, alien in their black sunglasses and heavy armor. Now they are grown, their English wet with American slang, their memories of war gathered into papers for composition class.

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