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Less Traveled Roads

In Tahiti and Botswana

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Ann Morrison says she always knew that Paul Gauguin was a commanding presence. But she didn’t fully appreciate how over-the-top he was until she reported “Gauguin’s Gambit.” “He was a larger-than-life character, even though physically he was quite short, about 5 feet 3 inches,” says Morrison, a Paris-based freelancer who was executive editor of Fortune, editor-in-chief of Asiaweek and co-editor of Time’s European edition. “He drew attention to himself any way he could think of, dressing bizarrely, acting outrageously, painting unconventionally. Coming to grips with his personality was fascinating.”

Fascinating and disquieting. As she got deeper into her research, Morrison was put off by the artist’s arrogance, egotism and treatment of women—only to be ultimately won over by the power of his art. “The later works are quite remarkable,” she says, “not beautiful in a sensuous way like the early Tahitian paintings or important for moving away from Impressionism as in his Brittany works—but very, very moving. So I came to peace with him, as I think he came to peace with himself by the end.”

Like Gauguin, who gave up his job as a stockbroker to become an artist, Robyn Keene-Young, who was trained as a lawyer, took the less traveled road. She and her architect husband, Adrian Bailey, decided that “those professions didn’t really suit us,” Keene-Young remembers. In 1995, they left their home in Johannesburg and went to live in a tent in the southern Kalahari in South Africa. Bailey pursued photography and Keene-Young “started writing stories about the places we’d been and some of the animals we’d seen. We haven’t really looked back since.”

For this issue Keene-Young and Bailey documented Botswana’s great zebra migration and what wildlife researchers—who once feared that a fence erected to protect cattle would harm the zebra population—have lately learned. But first, Keene-Young had to find the animals. “It was amazing how long [biologist] James Bradley and I went without seeing any,” she recalls. “We just weren’t finding any. Then one day we came over this rise, and there were thousands. It was kind of a cliché: the sun was setting and they were kicking up this pink dust. It was visually just fantastic. You got a sense of how restless they are. They were moving all the time. They were walking while they were grazing. It was really, really special.”

Our 9th annual photo contest kicks off March 1. Go to Smithsonian.com/photocontest for details.

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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