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Chris McLennan

Witch Doctors

and Wigmen

Adventure is common in Chris McLennan's life. In Papua New Guinea he found much more.

Papua New Guinea is home to some of the most primitive cultures in the world where tribal wars are still common and life goes on much as it has for centuries. It's a place where practices like cannibalism are not too distant a memory.

Chris photographed these remote areas and experienced firsthand some of the more primitive aspects of this land that still clings fiercely to its colorful past. With his Pro Trekker 400 AW, he captured dramatic, sometimes eerie, images of local tribes who show no visible influence from modern civilization.

Acclaimed photographer Chris McLennan held a photo contest, offering the winner the opportunity to accompany him on a commercial shoot as his assistant. Talented, up-and-coming photographer Virginia Woolf from New Zealand joined him on an adventure both will remember.

Traveling to Papua New Guinea, the first part of the journey took them to photograph the luxurious, five-star Airways Hotel in Port Moresby. And then the things got really exciting as Chris and Ginnie headed out to photograph some of Papua New Guinea's more primitive aspects.

They headed beyond the frontier and into wild, undeveloped areas, photographing local tribes and experiencing the hospitality of cultures few will ever encounter. Here, they discovered, life is much simpler. There isn't any currency, nor anything to buy. But the tribal cultures are self-sufficient and truly happy fishing, swimming and playing — things most of us work hard all year in order to do for a brief couple of weeks.

From the astonishing mudmen of the Pogla Village and the Wigmen of the Huli tribes in the Tari Highlands to the people of the extremely remote Karawari River area, Chris and Ginny were greeted with kindness — even in areas where tribal wars are still active and cannibalism is a not too distant a memory.

The Huli tribe inhabits one of the least explored places on our planet. Undiscovered species and plant life abound within the vast, dense jungle. The tribe's Medicine Man practices witchcraft meant to make hair grow. An important part of their cultural dress, the men wear intricately woven wigs made from their own hair as well as that of their wives and children. They are also armed with bows and arrows, spears and machetes to protect against the serious and frequent tribal wars, something both Chris and Ginnie, found at times 'quite intimidating'. The villagers, however, were warmly welcoming and the photographs that resulted from the visit are nothing short of amazing.

Two brothers, in particular, seemed to love having their picture taken and were willing to hike with Chris and Ginnie into the jungle and patiently wait for them to set up their equipment. And while the experience might have been a bit disconcerting for the photographers at times, some of the images they got are downright eerie. Looking closely at a dramatic shot of one of the brothers sitting in the jungle and calmly smoking a pipe, Chris saw that the smoke plumes formed shapes resembling a skeleton and a skull.

And then there was the sacred spirit house on the Karawari River they were invited to enter. Traditionally a gathering place restricted to male members of the tribe, both Chris and Ginnie were allowed inside. Dimly lit, it was filled with artifacts and human remains, some as recent as the 1960's — a bit disconcerting to say the least.

An incredible adventure, filled with memories of the innocence and simplicity that personified the cultures they encountered, of sampling piranha (one of the staples in the local diet), and packing their gear into some of the most remote and exotic locations; the images both Chris and Ginnie have shared with us offer a glimpse into the lives of people untouched by the passing of time or advances of modern development.

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Chris' Gear

Chris took our Pro Trekker 400 AW with him on his trek into the wilds of Papua New Guinea.

"I love the layout of this pack, it enables the carrying of lots of gear very comfortably and I can easily have two cameras stored with lenses on as well as a range of other lenses and accessories. It is very well balanced and light considering it's capacity. I love the ability to carry a water bladder and I use the outer sleeve pocket to store a reflector for quick access. This is very handy when photographing people which such dark skin tones."

Chris McLennan


 Chris McLennan - Witch Doctors and Wigmen
 Chris McLennan - Witch Doctors and Wigmen


A talented photographer and generous mentor for enthusiasts and up-and-coming photographers; Chris McLennan was born in Riversdale, Southland and spent much of the first decade and a half of his professional photography career working out of Queenstown, New Zealand. The quality of his imagery and the passion and enthusiasm he has for his work was soon in high demand and Chris - now based out of Auckland - travels the world on commercial assignments for his many international clients spanning the globe. He is a multiple winner in the National Geographic Traveller PDN Great Outdoors Photo Competition (Outdoor activities category winner 2009 & 2010, People's Choice winner 2010 and World Scenic's category Merit winner 2010). As well as numerous other awards including an Honours award in the International Black and White Spider awards, London 2010, and no fewer than five nominations across four categories in the Photography Masters Cup International Colour Awards 2010.

Chris is a Canon EOS Master (one of eight in Australasia) as well as a Lowepro Loweprofessional Photographer, a Lexar Elite Photographer, RadioPopper Team Member, HP Sponsored professional and an ambassador for Elinchrom portable lighting.

These industry commendations come not only as a result of Chris's excellent imagery but also because of his skills and experience as a mentor and role model within the field of photography. He is currently developing future "exclusive" mentoring programs in exotic locations similar to the contest referenced in this article.

With international awards, an international client base and work published internationally and a huge Facebook audience following his work, Chris balances a successful photography career with family life in New Zealand.

Story Links

Chris McLennan:

Airways Hotel:

Trans Niugini Tours:

Virginia Woolf :
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