Last December when Lee Litumbe decided to take the 20-hour trek to Namibia, the photographer was taking a huge risk. In only 10 days, the founder of Spirited Pursuit, a travel journal and photography website, was determined to shoot everything from the sand dunes and deserts to the salt pans–all on film.
"Namibia wasn't challenging, but it was intimidating to try and capture because it's such a beautiful place and there are so many different landscapes that change, especially if you're going over land or take a helicopter ride," she says. "I shoot with film, so I was nervous because it would be really unfortunate to travel all that way and spend all this money shooting film, and then come back and your images don't quite look the way you hoped. I really took a chance and it paid off."
Not only did the photos turn out beautifully, they were also the gateway that led many viewers to stumble upon her site. Cameroonian by birth, Lee spent her childhood traveling throughout Africa, Europe and the U.S., but didn’t create a platform for this passion until a year and a half ago. While working a day job in finance in Atlanta, Lee launched the travel-focused Spirited Pursuit, a website that she describes as an "environment for other people interested in travel and photography to share their work, almost like a gallery space."
While Lee acts as the face and editor of the site, she also features other writers and photographers who travel with the same ethos as she does, capturing places and speaking to them in ways that are both moving and inspiring.
"People love to know who is behind something, so I do use myself as the face of what I'm doing and as a subject, because [viewers] want to connect with a person," she says. "But my focus is always about the place and the experience, and less about me. I can use myself (in the photos) to demonstrate that if I can do it, you can do it too."
Without any formal photography training, Lee started small with a film camera–which was all she had at the time–setting off on roadtrips around the South to spots like Miami to practice shooting. The fact that she shoots with film is something that sets her apart in the travel photography realm, giving photos a layer of depth you can't capture with a digital camera. "The anticipation when getting film developed feels like Christmas, like opening a present, so for me it's really exciting, but also terrifying because you're putting a lot of faith in yourself and your skills," she says.
As her site and skill set has evolved, she's upped her trips to five or six a year, taking off enough PTO from her day job as possible to capture places that are more off-the-beaten-path and a bit of a mission to reach, which adds to the adventure aspect. Take Namibia, for instance. Lee flew from Atlanta to New York City, then connected on a 16.5-hour flight to Johannesburg before the final two-hour stretch to Windhoek, Namibia's capital.
"I love traveling to destinations that are a little bit less traveled or that people may have a misconception of. I think that a lot of times there are certain destinations that a lot of people go to because they're beautiful, and that's great, but I also think there's something to be said about going to places that may not necessarily always have the best press, and seeing that everything in the media isn't always what it's painted out to be," she says.
When it comes to Lee's craft and site, it’s all about the balance of beautiful photography and honest text, aiming to produce quality and show off a side of travel that's somewhat dreamlike while still attainable, encouraging other people to want to make their way to these destinations themselves.
"I really love to capture the essence of a place, and that could be through the people and landscapes," she says. "I think those are two of the most intriguing things to me; landscapes, because they create space and give you an idea of what places look like, and people because I think the best way to connect with any place you travel to is to get to know the people, the locals there."
With a crush on Africa that never faded, the photographer is already planning trips for 2016 to Morocco, Mozambique and the Seychelles, hoping to transition to a life that's full-time travel so trips aren't as rush and packed. Instead of squeezing an entire destination into just two or three days, she can then spend weeks in one place, taking more time to absorb the culture and allow it to infiltrate her lens.
"It will allow me to travel slower, see more, experience more and capture more, to then be able to document and present it in a way where there's depth," she says.