David Yarrow, ‘Mankind III’, 2015, Isabella Garrucho Fine Art

Yirol, South Sudan - 2015

Human documentation can have an uncomfortable proximity, simply because we understand more about the subject than we could ever do with animal wildlife. I have long wanted to travel to the cradle of mankind and immerse myself in a daily life that, whilst alien to us, is still human life.

In my view, the rawest place left on earth is South Sudan, which is still recovering from a shocking civil war. The logistics and regulatory red tape involved in travelling 200 miles north of its capital, Juba, on water- ravaged roads to photograph a previously unfilmed Dinka cattle camp, were formidable. Equally, I knew that these hurdles precluded most sane people from entertaining the idea and that I therefore had a chance of capturing something special and fresh.

I had a preconception of the image that I wanted to return home with: something that conveyed the raw enormity of a Dinka cattle camp in an elemental and biblical setting, something timeless and vast. Like a Rembrandt, I wanted people to be able to look at the picture and find new stories each time.

I was, indeed, the first photographer to visit this 5000-strong cattle camp, and I felt a responsibility to get it right. The Dinka were fascinated by my skin and my hair; indeed, many of the children had never seen a white man. They did not care about my cameras: cows are their passion.

I brought pictures of Highland cows from Scotland as well as local cow medicine. I won the crowd, as they were transfixed by the Highland cow images and grateful for the medicine.

On that glorious evening, 28 December 2014, I did a good job and the two days on a shocking road followed by hours of walking in 42-degree heat and then wading through four feet of water known to house the odd Nile crocodile, were worth it. No other film maker has managed to get to this location. After an unnerving, chest-deep re-crossing of the river at dusk, the rest of the long journey home seemed to go quickly. I knew what I had on my memory card and I was elated and excited. I could not wait to show people.

In retrospect, I did one clever thing; I brought a ladder because I wanted to silhouette any key detail against the smoke, which the Dinka create to fend off mosquitos, rather than against the setting sun. The smoke gives a sense of place and an ethereal countenance. Mankind is heavenly on one glance and Dante’s Hell on the other.

It was a long way to take a ladder, perhaps further than anyone has ever taken a ladder in Sudan. The Dinka looked at it as if it were a freak of engineering. What a good decision that ladder turned out to be. I will never reveal this exact destination to anyone: why would I?

Series: Indigenous Communities

About David Yarrow