PHOTO: From top clockwise: at the carnival in Jacmel in Haiti featuring a group of men smeared in charcoal and cane syrup; Grete in the 'gallery';  getting ready to show at 65 High Street; a black and white image of the father who inspired; woman picking straws from a rice field in Bangladesh for use in a religious ceremony and camel train making its way across the sand dunes at sunrise; and an image taken from a hot air balloon over the Arabian Desert​ © Greta Howard

From Norway to Nailsea and a million miles more

Her photographs are good enough to grace the front cover of the glossy National Geographic magazine but this week they will be on show at 65 High Street Nailsea in a one woman show.

Norwegian born globetrotter Grete Howard who will be 61 this month is staging her first solo photo exhibition open to the public.

Grete who has lived in England since the age of 15 years has travelled more than a million miles taking photographs and had some pretty hairy experiences along the way.

These include drinking silk worm poo tea in Laos, running away from an angry rhino in Kenya, being caught in a violent demonstration in Ecuador and nearly dying on a hazardous boat trip in Nicaragua, oh and not to mention being detained by immigration officials in Miami,

Her first opportunity to satisfy her wanderlust came when she was made redundant from her job as Nailsea branch manager of the Bristol & West Building Society when it closed in 2004.

Grete said: “I spent a year blowing my entire redundancy on travel - Antarctica, Jamaica, brown bear safari in Romania, gorilla tracking in Rwanda, hiking in Suriname and Guyana, camel trekking across the Sahara in Sudan, spending Christmas on a safari in Kenya, chasing history in Libya and tigers in India.”

When her 12 months as a ‘David Attenborough with camera’ adventure ended she went to work with the now-defunct South West Regional Development Agency but took early retirement at 52 to devote more time indulging her passion for travel and photography with husband David.

The couple who have been married for 41 years both worked together at Bristol & West and David, now 65, also took the opportunity to retire early to accompany his wife travelling.

Grete credits her parents Nina and Olav Westgaard for fostering her love of being behind the lens.

Olav came to England for a work assignment with IBM and when Grete met David she never went back to live in Norway.

She said: “I'd met a man and the rest is history as David and I have been married 41 years this year.

“My parents moved back over here again in 1998 to be near me - I'm an only child, and while my mum died in 2010, my dad still lives on his own aged 92 here in Nailsea and is still inventing computer programmes.

“As a teenager I had my own developing and printing outfit in my parents' bathroom.

“My dad gave me a book Around The World With Readers Digest when I was aged 10 and it was my 'bible', feeding my desire to travel.

“It's not just a passion, it's an obsession.

“I don't like the idea of being pigeon-holed into a specific genre of photography, although I am rather partial to taking pictures of wildlife and have just come back from a safari in Tanzania with more than 23,000 photos!

“I love to challenge myself to trying new techniques and stepping outside my comfort zone.”

Locally she has captured shots of the Nailsea International Bike Show, Nailsea Community Christmas Fair and the Olympic torch coming to the town but her dominant theme is travel.

Well-travelled Nailsea resident Grete Howard will be showing photographs from her many exotic trips as well as some more local work, with wildlife and people featuring predominantly. 

Many photographs will be for sale, ranging from greeting cards priced at just £3, to large framed prints.

Portrait sittings can also be arranged.

Come along to support this local artist and maybe pick up a Christmas present. 
The exhibition is open 09.30am-4pm every day from Saturday to Thursday, November 17-22

Grete, who lives in Scotch Horn Way, said: “ I have visited all the countries in Europe except Macedonia, all but one of the ex-USSR states - only Turkmenistan is missing, all seven continents, 140 official countries plus a few that are not recognised as 'proper' countries such as  Antarctica, Palestine, Transdniestr, Hong Kong, Macau, Tahiti, Greenland.

“I went to East Germany when Checkpoint Charlie was still operational, the old USSR back in the 1980s and I have been to a few places that most people haven't even heard about, let alone are able to pinpoint on a map, Comoros, Djibouti and São Tomé spring to mind.

“I am also obsessed with lists, so I have a folder complete with the names of every place I have visited and the year, all 709  hotels I have stayed in, all the animals and birds I have seen and all 691 flights I have taken which add up to 1,094,521 miles, the equivalent to 44 times around the world, with 2,308 hours in the air, travelling through 325 different airports using a variety of aircraft types including helicopters, biplanes, a Zeppelin, seaplane, glider, hot air balloons and even Concorde.”

Grete is on her eight passport and lists some of her favourite places as:

  • India – the variety of scenery and architecture, the diverse culture, and ancient history

  • Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania – the concentration of wildlife

  • Iguazu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina because of spray from the majestic falls and the jungle-like interior with the air full of colourful butterflies

  • Oman – clean, friendly, modern country with stark and austere scenery and fascinating history

She said: “Some of the places I dreamed about from the book my dad gave me, actually made me cry when I visited, including the Inca settlement of Machu Picchu in Peru, Dalai Lama's Potala Palace in Tibet, the ancient mud-brick town of Shibam in Yemen and the Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

“I still have a wish list that gets longer and longer rather than shorter as I discover new places I had not previously realised existed.

“Right near the top at the moment are Okavanga Delta in Botswana; the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and tribal areas of Omo Valley in Ethiopia; Pantanal (the biggest wetlands in the world) and the glaciers of Pategonia in South America; the Golden Temple in Amritsar in India; Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan; and Torajaland in Indonesia.

“I need to live until I am 126 in order to visit even just a fraction of all the places I want to go.”

So rather than be a bank clerk would Grete have liked to have taken up photography as a career?

She shakes her head and says ‘no, not really, I like to have it as a hobby as if I had the pressure of it being a career, I think it would lose its shine’.

On social media Greta and David feature in a series of photos entitled ‘drinking your way around the world’.

Her favourite tipple will always be rum, she says, but ‘I am also rather partial to the Iranian Doogh which is a yogurt drink like the Indian lassi’.

Greta said: “The most disgusting has several contenders: garlic beer in Riga, yak butter tea in Tibet, pine tree mushroom liquor in Korea, and silk worm poo tea in Laos.”

But extensive travel isn’t without its trials and tribulations and Grete lists:

  • Being expatriated after collapsing from heat exhaustion in Sudan;

  • Tearing the ligaments in both knees in Antarctica;

  • Chased by an angry rhino in Kenya - while was on foot, armed only with a camera tripod;

  • Travelling through an area in Yemen known for ambushes on tourist vehicles;

  • Arriving in the middle of a gun fight in Siem Reap in Cambodia;

  • Being herded by riot police through a violent demonstration in Ecuador;

  • A very scary boat trip in a storm in Nicaragua when she thought her final hour had come; and

  • Being detained in the immigration holding centre in Miami because of the 'suspect' stamps in her passport - from countries belonging to the infamous Axis of Evil.

Apart from the Scandinavian languages and English Grete speaks a smattering of German and enough Spanish to order food in a restaurant but can ‘hello’, ‘thank you, ‘goodnight’ and ‘two beers please’ in more than a dozen languages.

Now chairman of Backwell Camera Club in any spare time Grete enjoys cooking, anything art and craft related and writing.

Carol Deacon

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