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Built to Walk

This assignment ran from Jan 25 to Feb 15, 2016.

Why do we move? Why can’t we sit still? What makes human beings seek out new horizons?

Today, across much of the world, the answers to these questions are often tragic: wars, poverty, climate change and profound social disruptions caused by new technologies have pushed millions of individuals into nomadic lives of extraordinary hardship. Think of the refugee crisis in the Middle East: A staggering 12 million souls have been set adrift there by political upheaval and mass violence. (Syria, of course, being the detonator.) Think of the undocumented migrant workers living in places such as the United States. Or the Chinese who have left the countryside to pour into cities, seeking better lives. The United Nations estimates more than 240 million people now live outside of their places of origin. Today, we truly inhabit an era of human migration unseen since the end of World War II.

That said, not all human migration is either epic in scale or heartbreaking.

People move for many positive reasons, too—and sometimes just a few city blocks away. In thousands of towns and cities, billions of us engage in “micro-migrations” to work and back every day. (Commuting.) We have invented sports in part to tap this innate love of collective movement. (Marathon races.) We perambulate parks. We perform religious pilgrimages. We roam and ramble. That’s because it’s in our DNA: We are an insanely restless species.

For the past three years, John Stanmeyer and I have been working on a project that is focused on human migration, old and new. The project, called the Out of Eden Walk involves walking across the planet for almost a decade in the footsteps of the first human ancestors who trekked out of Africa during the Stone Age and discovered the world. We are documenting this continuous journey across all media.

So this is your assignment: Whether you live in a big city, or small town, in a migrant camp or on a farm, find an original, meaningful, artful way to capture the true essence of human migration or movement—one of the defining qualities of being human.

- Paul Salopek

Curated by:

John Stanmeyer
National Geographic Contributing Photographer

Paul Salopek
Foreign Correspondent and National Geographic Fellow
Assignment Status
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Published Feb 25, 2016.
Thank you for your contributions!

Embracing the True Power of Storytelling

Posted feb 11, 2016

Dear Photographers,

You have been a passionate, deeply engaged group. I thank you for such commitment in your work and vision, embracing the true power of your own storytelling narratives.

As we move into the final week of our assignment “Built to Walk,” I would like to share some exciting news: Paul and I were thrilled that Matt Adams, National Geographic Your Shot editor in the Washington, D.C., office, agreed to expand the image submission quantity from three to four. This offers each of you the opportunity to think and see even deeper, looking further into your archives as well as daily meanderings, expanding the narrative of your story in an even more thought-provoking manner.

With this expansion—and for added inspiration for those just entering the assignment—Paul (who is currently researching for part VI of the Out of Eden Walk project with National Geographic in Kazakhstan) wanted to share the marked improvement of your caption writing in recent weeks, with many of you adding both basic journalistic context and/or lyric twists. I too have noticed your engagement to delve deeper, both visually and in your on-the-streets journalism … the who, what, where, and why. Again, well done by so many of you. Do continue in this important approach of getting to know your subjects intimately, humanizing them and the world around us.

I am also pleased to see many of you taking on serious issues facing us today, bringing into discussions the refugee crisis, gender issues, and cultural identity. Paul wanted to mention how some of you are highlighting gender issues (how female photographers deal with harassment), the value of human intimacy and engagement when documenting the lives of strangers (starting with a question: What's your name?), and your immersion into your own stories. Do share your thoughts.

We are both pleased to see such deep involvement. Several of the Your Shot community have actually gone out and worked the assignment in real time, working on a specific theme in their three and now four images. Well done.

Pail and I would love to hear more from you, whatever questions you may still have in this final week of photographing “Built to Walk.” We are here for you and equally as interested in your projects as you are.

Once again, thank you kindly for all you’re giving to this assignment. Your eyes, heart, and purpose emit from each photograph you are publishing. We’re humbled by your commitment and sincerity in telling the story of our world, starting at the ground beneath your feet.

All our best,

John and Paul

Finding The Narrative

Posted feb 1, 2016

Dear Your Shot Photographers,

Your commitment, passion, and vision on this assignment, “Built to Walk,” is nothing less than beautiful, humbling, and incredibly engaging. Each day, I look through every new submission, appreciating all you are sharing, creating, and expressing. Some of you are truly taking this assignment to heart, looking laterally rather than at the obvious. This is crucial. Images of people walking in many ways is not the narrative—that is the obvious.

Look for images along the trail of your journey each day, not at the actual physical pragmatism of walking. Look at how I have been approaching Paul Salopek’s “Out of Eden Walk,” where there is usually no more than one image of Paul walking, and all the rest of the images relate to the connective fiber and essence of the journey we are walking through:

Out of Eden Part I

Out of Eden Part II

Out of Eden Part III

In just these three of the five narrative pieces so far created for the “Out of Eden Walk” assignment (many more to come as Paul and I traverse Central Asia toward North America), the visuals build laterally. The same should be explored for your “Build to Walk” assignment.

One thing I have been meaning to share: Many of you are submitting images from your archive. I encourage getting out and taking a walk into a new environment and telling a new story. In the final two weeks of this incredibly beautiful assignment that the Your Shot team has created for you, do yourself a favor: Go out. Create new images. Learn more about the world around you, in your own backyard, at this very moment in time. Go, get lost while in the process of finding yourself and the narrative of this story.

All my best,

The Ground Beneath Your Feet

Posted jan 25, 2016

We are all storytellers. All around us lurks narratives. They emit from the soil. Through a rock. A landscape. Our neighbors. From within, us. 

Everyone has a story. 

Lasting. Ephemeral. Poignant. Lyrical. Everywhere abounds a message, most often a message that guides, nurtures, expands us as individuals and as a collective humanity. 

As each of us in the National Geographic My Shot community embarks on this astonishing journey through storytelling, I want all of you to let go. Let go of preconceived notions about ourselves, the world around us. Focusing further into what is not directly seen, but is felt. 

Take risks. There are neither boundaries nor limitations neither in art, life nor in hope. The only boundary is that we choose to confine ourselves in.

 Look past the ordinary, embracing the extraordinary. Become lost in the movement of trees. The undulating turns and typography of landscapes. Meander through markets, back alleyways. Feel and entwine within everyone you see, visually sharing the messages and moments that take place, right before each one of us. Follow shadows that express the true outline of ourselves and the physical structures before us. 

Meander in reflection, layered, unfolding before you. Walk up to anyone and everyone you meet. In kindness, ask them if you can take their portrait. Then present them with a question: “Who are you and where are you going?” Faces tell more than the expression of our exterior. Eyes are far more than a portal into the soul. We each express a far deeper meaning and purpose. It is there, expressed, often in silence, yet screaming in beauty and narrative. Over the coming weeks, challenge yourself. I will be here to guide you on this journey. 

A journey that will reflect our individuality and our commonality. The weighted measure of the project my dear friend and National Geographic colleague, Paul Salopek, and I are on — the Out of Eden Walk -- is a journey related to all of us. In the work I do for National Geographic magazine I often travel to what many believe are the ends of the earth. When I get to these alleged ends of the earth, I meet fellow human beings, no different than me, who believe I came from the ends of the earth. At every moment in time, we exist at an end of the earth, yet we are all here, together. Living, dancing, existing, breathing, in the only place we can call home. I thank you for taking the time to embrace this project. A voyage that will bring is to places we never thought imaginable, connecting and intersecting. 

Now go, get lost, while in the process finding yourself, your voice, and the narrative of your journey.

–John Stanmeyer

John Stanmeyer

John Stanmeyer

National Geographic Contributing Photographer
John Stanmeyer is a humanist, photojournalist, Emmy nominated filmmaker and field recordist dedicated to social and political issues that define our times. Over the last decade, John has worked nearly exclusively with National Geographic magazine, producing over 14 stories for the magazine and resulting in 10 covers. Between 1998 and 2008, John was a contract photographer for Time magazine, during which time he photographed hundreds of stories for the magazine including the war in Afghanistan, the fight for independence in East Timor, the fall of Suharto in Indonesia, and other significant world news events. His years with Time resulted in 18 covers of the magazine. In January 2015, Stanmeyer joined National Geographic Creative, bringing his ten years of stories with National Geographic to the Society for representation. Prior to joining National Geographic Creative, in 2001, he cofound with six of the world’s leading photojournalists the VII Photo agency. By 2005 VII was listed in third position in American Photo’s “100 Most Important People in Photography.” He remains a Distinguished Member and Emeritus with his historic archive of war and conflict at VII.

Paul Salopek

Paul Salopek

Foreign Correspondent and National Geographic Fellow
Paul Salopek is s veteran foreign correspondent who has reported on wars in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Latin America, as well as on global topics such as oil production, child marriage, overfishing, and the human genome. His stories and photographs have appeared in National Geographic, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The American Scholar, The Best American Travel Writing and numerous other publications. His reportage has earned many awards including two Pulitzer Prizes and a visiting Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. Since 2013 he has been walking across the world as part of the "Out of Eden Walk," a 9-year storytelling journey that is recreating the first human dispersal out of Africa during the Stone Age.