Darrell and Oliver are two Brooklyn-based brothers behind Jungles in Paris. Started in 2013, Jungles in Paris is a unique travel website that features high-quality video and photography accompanied by short narratives from all over the world. The website is chic and minimalist, drawing full attention to the alluring visuals. One features an almost mystical clip of Micronesian jellyfish; another photo essay captures moto-taxi drivers in Yemen. Every piece is an immersive experience unlike any other travel websiteÖ.
Princeton Traveler: How did you come up with the idea of Jungles in Paris?
Darrell: We both have different backgrounds that are really complementary for Jungles. I have been a freelance writer for a while, with a decent amount of travel writing. I came back to travel writing and wanted to be involved in these topics in a slightly different way, because the commercial travel writing world has its limitations and is largely tied to a PR cycle. I was interested in setting up a platform where I could write about topics that were a little deeper and less tied to the commercial world as well as where I could do research and use a scholarly approach.
Oliver: I had been doing commercial film production for the past four years. My passion has always been documentaries and getting across ideas that you study in classes. Through the production experience, I knew you could work with publications like Nat Geo or Vice, but I wanted to explore having our own platform and seeing our own distribution. There is a gap in the market where no one else is telling these short, well-done, edifying stories.
PT: How did you get involved in travel photography and documentaries?
Oliver: I was doing a little bit of travel writing when I was in Central America after college and I ran into this guy in Mexico who was unbelievably fascinating Ė big bushy ponytail and big belly. He had grown up homeless in Mexico and a Vancouver family took him in. Then he went to Switzerland to a culinary institute and became a 5-star pastry chef in Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China. But then he decided to move back to Mexico and he built his own cinderblock house and made pastries out of it. I met him because he was standing across the other side of a puddle and was waving me across and wanted me to walk through the puddle to see how deep it was because he didnít want to himself. I then saw these awesome European pastries and began to talk to him about how he missed home and missed his culture. He came back and lived his simple life. To tell this story best, you really need the visuals to show him, his pastries, and the cadence at which he lives. Itís just one example of where visual storytelling can be super powerful.
Oliver: I also had an encounter with a 2-person documentary film crew that wanted to interview the folks who worked at this education non-profit where I worked. It was pretty cool to see that one or two people could come here and tell an awesome story. Back in the States, I exchanged a tennis lesson for a job with a producer to be a low level assistant on a film crew. From there I taught myself and established a production company that has been in existence for about four years now.
PT: How do you pick certain stories and places to show?
Oliver: It is a simple thing where the story has to be about culture, craft, geography or wildlife. It is has to be geographically specific. Also, the story has to reflect the place to where it was placed, a term we call the ďspirit of placeĒ.
Darrell: Another component is the quality of the imagery. We are a visually led website, so the images must immediately get someoneís attention and tell the story at a high artistic level.
PT: What is the most exotic travel location that you have been to?
Oliver: I went to Ciudad del Este in 2006 -2007 when I was 23. It is a nefarious, tri-border region in Paraguay. It is known for drug and arm smuggling; someone offered me an AK-47 and a Stinger rocket for $15,000 delivered to my apartment. Our guide said that we shouldnít take out our passport, we should just walk these 10 blocks and donít get stopped by the police. There were tons of private security guards in every watch store with a shotgun. It actually just looked like a bustling market town.
Darrell: For me, the most exotic location is a village called Fu. Very impoverished and takes three days of walking into the Himalayas. It feels so incredibly far from everything. The Himalayas are definitely my favorite place in the world, especially in Nepal. I got to do this trek in the valleys that is highly regulated, which means that not a lot of people are going in there. The walk was just to get to the village and it was up at 11,000-12,000 feet with snow-capped mountains. There were tea breaks all the time, and it feels like a real rest.
PT: What is your favorite part about travelling?
Oliver: Thereís this moment when youíre in the right mindset where the differences that you see are very stimulating but again you realize that there is a deeper universality of what youíre seeing. You realize that the expression of community or identity takes many different forms in costume, wardrobe, food and cultural customs, and when you compare that to any other place youíve been it seems so unique and different. At the same time, more broadly itís like- Shit, weíre all the same. Human problems like joys and sadnesses are all the same even though they might manifest themselves differently in different cultures. Again, that level of appreciation isnít always there but a lot of times that does come through. And that is the most deeply rewarding sense.
Darrell: I guess thatís true for me. I love the sense of alertness you get when being in a different place. I think you have to be comfortable as well because if youíre working youíll just be in your own head, which is not productive. But I like the sense of being attuned to all the details that surround you because they feel fresh and different. I also just think trips are always an experiences that stand out and it helps you to measure time. When I look back on what I did in my twenties, the trips I took are kind of benchmarkers; they punctuate your living. If you take trips, they tend to stand out, especially if you take a good trip. It really gets you outside your comfort zone.
PT: Any tips on travel writing and photography? Skills that differ from other styles of writing?
Darrell: My attitude is always to keep yourself out of the story unless it is really justified. Even though we live life through the first person, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is the best way to start a story. There is also great value in being curious and precise about what you are writing about Ė find out exactly what was being sold to you in the market. In the process of learning those things you actually really enrich your experience of the place. Keep it tight! People only have so much time to read your stuff. So finding the right words for things and cutting out what is not necessary makes your writing ďcloser to gold.Ē
Oliver: Bring a tripod! You know itís so subjective, itís such a cop-out. Nowadays it is really easy to get access to film gear. Even easier to get access to information on how to use the gear. Take some time to learn how to use it. Have respect for the craft of filming-- not in an obstructionist way-- there are some conventions that are nice to know (not that you have to follow them). Simply things like learning how to color balance. Little attention to detail will drastically improve your content.
Darrell: Also, a sense of focus is very important in writing and shooting. Itís great that there are fewer barriers to entry to publish these days, but on the other hand this has obscured the lines between the level of professionalism. Just because you have more Twitter followers doesnít mean the standards of quality are better.
PT: What country/region is next on your travel itinerary?
Oliver: Iím going to Hawaii on Tuesday. I lived in Hana in the east coast of Maui, which has the second largest Hawaiian population outside of Kauai. I used to live there and worked at a hotel. My friend still lives up there and sheís dating a guy who is trying to preserve Hawaiian culture. They have a community organization and theyíre educating about sustainable fishing, hunting, and farming and language. Iím going to spend my time there and do some traditional boar hunting and fishing, and one of the two should translate into a good short documentary idea. Traditional boar hunting isnít particularly primitive, but I havenít decided on the angle.
PT: Any awesome college travel experiences of trips in your early 20s?
Darrell: I probably took some of the most interesting trips right after college. We both worked straight after college at a summer camp in Switzerland - which was cool and interesting, not the most exotic but it was a launchpad for travel that we did afterwards. We met a lot of international people that we later crashed with. I had a wild trip in Romania because after college I was teaching English in Athens and the school, in typical Greek fashion, had not gotten me a visa. I had to leave the country every three months and I got a travel stipend to do this. I ended up going to the UK, Egypt, and Romania. Romania was wild, with crazy inflation, so you can eat like a king for $3 or $4. Bucharest is sort of a horrifying city. It was dark and grim. It changed the way I saw travel. The countryside is more picturesque but Transylvania still has this dark fairytale side to it.
PT: Favorite mode of transportation? How do you guys usually get around?
Oliver: With the benefit of distance from the experience, Iíd like to say Central American buses. Iím totally romanticizing the experience, but thereís this sense of reality to it and humanity. Itís how most humans on this planet travel - in packed buses. Thereís something about that that is satisfying and educating to someone who doesnít do it that often. I definitely enjoy that not always in the moment but upon reflection. And river speed boats in Central America.
PT: If you had to remain in the U.S., where would you go for one month?
Oliver: Iíve never done the South. But I would say Alaska or maybe the desert area in Utah or Arizona.
Darrell: I would say San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound area, because Annie Dillard had this amazing book called Holy the Firm that has this beautiful description of the Sound.
~ Interview by Aaron Katz '16 and Rina Azumi '16
To learn more about Darrell and Oliver and their Jungles in Paris blog, check out junglesinparis.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/junglestv. Keep an eye out for them on campus on Friday, October 2nd at 5pm in Frist 302 as a part of the PT Speaker Series!
Photo credits (from top to bottom): Oliver Hartman, Ayla Hibri, Lane Coder, Ayla Hibri, Oliver Hartman
© 2014 Princeton Traveler