A Photo Book Created by Biking Across Africa - OZY | A Modern Media Company

A Photo Book Created by Biking Across Africa

By Carl Pettit


Because what if you want to bike across Africa too?

Sergio de Arrola, a Spanish artist and photographer, really likes to ride his bike. And when he heads out for a pedal, he tends to cross continents, favoring stark settings and some of the world’s most unforgiving landscapes, where he can zero in on the richness of the human experience.

In 2015, a few years after riding across the United States — and documenting those adventures in a book — de Arrola decided to tackle the continent of Africa, for another intense journey. His Dosnoventa Cyclocross cut through nine countries and covered roughly 10,000 kilometers of road in about four months. This new anthology, Rolling Habits: Africa, differs from his American photographic essays in the number and variety of countries visited. It also marks an evolution in his photography, de Arrola says, encompassing a new panoramic format, richer compositional framing and deeper storytelling skills.

 A stunning snapshot, framed by an austere backdrop bright with sun, sand-colored desert scrub and low-lying hills.

The trip wasn’t easy. For one thing, de Arrola didn’t have a suspension fork on his bike. Big oversight, particularly when cycling through deserts. After a substantial rainfall, the bumps and holes in the road left de Arrola’s hands bleeding from the vibrating grips. He had planned on 7,500 miles, but a bout of pneumonia hit him hard in Sudan. “I stayed in a nasty motel room thinking I had malaria,” he says. Although the trip was cut short, it still provided de Arrola with a whirlwind of pictorial opportunities, brought to life with old-school range finders, like his durable German Hasselblad Xpan and Leica M6.

The photographs of places as diverse as Egypt, Namibia, Sudan and Zambia encompass the joyful, the tragic and the ironic. One photo featured in the book, as well as in a photo exhibition in Madrid, is of a wall in Zambia with the simple phrase “Only God kno-ws” scrawled across it. “He [the graffiti artist] was clearly out of space, so he used two lines instead of one. He’s the real artist of the piece,” de Arrola says.

In Namibia, when de Arrola ran out of water and had a flat tire, he came across “a real oasis” in the desert: the remote farmhouse of a woman named Pauline. He took Pauline’s portrait — a stunning snapshot, framed by an austere backdrop bright with sun, sand-colored desert scrub and low-lying hills. “I like to be with my camera in many situations in my life,” he says. “You only capture what you’re interested in … so it’s like writing a story. You just show what you want.”

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