The woman who rode Australia’s longest trekking route – a photo essay

Sunrise, fetching horses after a couple of days off on a property near Mutchilba, Queensland.



From a young age, Alienor Le Gouvello developed a passion for travelling and adventure. Her previous expeditions include a horseback trek in Mongolia at age 22 and a sidecar motorbike expedition from Siberia to Paris. Le Gouvello, originally from France, was working with an Indigenous community in Docker River near Uluru in the Australian central desert when she first discovered the existence of wild brumbies. In 2015, she embarked on her longest solo journey: 5,330km along the Bicentennial National trail, Australia’s longest trekking route, beginning in Healesville in Victoria and ending in Cooktown, Queensland, with just three wild horses and her dog for company. Since it opened in 1988, only 35 people have completed the trail. Le Gouvello is the second woman to complete the trip and the only person to have the same horses from beginning to end.


I work in remote Aboriginal communities as a social worker with kids so even my work is a bit of an adventure and means living in isolated places

Alienor Le Gouvello on the Bicentennial Trail through the Australian bush.



Le Gouvello’s horses were purchased through the passive trapping program of the Guy Fawkes River Heritage Horse Association. She spent nine months training the three horses she selected – Roxanne, Cooper and River – before the journey began. All the horses arrived in Cooktown healthy and strong and she says they did not sustain any injuries or require rest days.


The first 3,000km my horses were barefoot. Brumbies have amazing feet

A hat, jeans with belt and knife, a pair of plyers, pair of hobbles.



A horse being shod in the middle of the outback.



Alienor Le Gouvello at the beach.



Alienor Le Gouvello lying in her tent with her dog Fox.



The Bicentennial trail follows the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the eastern escarpment. Other than her horses, Le Gouvello’s only other company was her dog, Fox, who joined her for part of the trip, save for when she was taking the trial through national parks or private property. “I hated the times I didn’t have Fox, because as much as I love my horses they don’t fit in my tent. I have had Fox for 12 years and he is my best mate.” Some days, towards the end of the day, Fox’s arthritis would flair up on the last few kilometres and Le Gouvello would carry him over her shoulders.

The morning ritual in the early morning fog on a property on Black mountain road, Queensland.



Silhouette of a windmill in Queensland.




The beauty of some views and landscapes is just the encouragement you need some mornings to remind you the hardship of such an expedition is all worth it

Sunrise hike leaving a property near Mount Molloy, Queensland.



Tough terrain on horse’s feet near Mutchilba, Queensland.



At the beginning of the high Victorian country, the track was tough and very steep and the horses were not interested in going up and down such terrain: “Being green [just broken in] horses, they lacked the work ethic and if it wasn’t for my mare, who had the most amazing stamina, setting the pace I don’t know how we would have gotten through.”

Le Gouvello with Cooper, a five-year-old buckskin.




I had a few meltdowns during the first couple of months wondering how I was going to manage to travel over 5,000 km with two ‘donkeys’. They eventually understood they weren’t getting out of it and we started working as a team

Using pliers to get access to the next part of the trail.



Going through a lot of farmers’ stations, fences were a real challenge. Grids on the properties she was travelling through did not always have a gate next to them. Le Gouvello had to undo fences with a pair of pliers to get through and always put them back up so that the farmers wouldn’t get upset. Another difficult aspect of the trip was food and water. Le Gouvello could not carry water for three horses so she had to find it every day. Some days they had to push on for extra kilometres to find a river or dam to rehydrate.

Mowbray River on the Bump track in Queensland.



One night while Le Gouvello was continuing the nightly tradition of grooming and cuddling Fox after dinner, he began to look concerned and anxious, and when Alienor looked closer she saw a snake between her legs – it was enjoying the warmth of the fire too. Without thinking she grabbed a stick from the fire and threw the snake in.

Cooking dehydrated peas and couscous.



Le Gouvello with fox the dog by a warm campfire.




I don’t like killing things if I don’t have to, but this guy was in our camp

Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and birds were a constant reminder that she was deep in the Australian outback. Other wild brumbies were a sight throughout the national parks but also a real threat to her horses. She spent many nights in parks staying up to look out for them.

Kangaroos looking towards the camera.



Alienor Le Gouvello on her journey along the Bicentennial Trail through the Australian bush.




When times are tough sometimes you meet wonderful people who are willing to give you a hand. I called them trail angels and felt like I had a good star watching over us

Cooper the horse getting close during a break.



Le Gouvello on her journey along the Bicentennial Trail.



Heading towards Mount Molloy, Queensland.



The Australian landscape, Queensland.



Towards the end of her journey, Le Gouvello contracted Ross River fever and also a staph infection. “Doing a trek so demanding physically, being sick really messes you, but I was determined to not abandon the trip. I did two visits to hospital and both times got back on the horse and carried on with excruciating pain and exhaustion.” When she reached Cooktown she was just relieved she had made it and it was over.

Le Gouvello riding Roxanne.




I was grateful to my horses for having been so amazing and carrying me with my sickness and exhaustion of the past few weeks. I was in awe of their achievement

Wonga Beach north of Mossman after 13months on the trail.



Wonga Beach north of Mossman after 13months on the trail.



Sharing a sunset with her dog, fox by the campfire at stannary hills dam, Queensland.



The car’s the scar: photographs of US veterans’ interior lives

“When I was growing up in south-west Virginia, it was ingrained in me to thank a veteran if I met one,” says Matthew Casteel, a 37-year-old photographer who works under the name ML Casteel. “That was the norm back then, the understanding that they had made a huge sacrifice for the country. Somewhere along the way, that has changed. Their plight has gotten lost in the bureaucracy of government.”

Casteel’s new book, American Interiors, is a compelling indictment of the way in which US war veterans, the wounded and the war-weary, are often treated on their return to the homeland that demanded that sacrifice of them. What is audacious about Casteel’s approach is that there are no portraits of veterans in the book. Instead, while working as a valet parker at a veteran’s hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where he now lives, he began surreptitiously shooting the interiors of their cars. The result is a grimly powerful, extended metaphor for the neglect and decay that makes their daily lives at home a dogged extension of their lives at war.

Cigarette butts in a dog food can in one car interior.



Cigarette butts in a dog food can in one car interior. Photograph: ML Casteel

“Many of the pictures, with their impersonal and scrutineering eye, have the look of crime-scene photography,” writes Kenneth MacLeish, author of Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community, in his illuminating afterword, and one immediately notes the recurring tropes among the messy interiors: guns, knives, syringes, porn mags, crushed beer cans and overflowing ashtrays. The detritus of survival, of lives altered immeasurably by combat in faraway places.

Many of the interiors are untidy and cluttered, several are encrusted with dirt and piled high with debris. They are decorated with photos of loved ones, lucky charms, holy pictures, flags and littered with discarded children’s toys, walking sticks, medicine bottles, airbrushes, toothbrushes, socks and lottery tickets. In one photo, a baseball cap bears the words “Life Is Crap”. In another, someone has written “Better days!!” on a tiny US flag.

“I parked hundreds of cars a week and most were in some state of neglect and disrepair,” says Casteel, who honed the project during his time as a postgraduate student on the renowned MFA photography course at Hartford, Connecticut. “The symbolism of neglect was pervasive in the cars, but also in the folks that were driving them. I met several guys who actually lived in their cars.”

One driver leaves out his Bible and a hunting knife.



One driver leaves out his Bible and a hunting knife. Photograph: ML Casteel

The statistics speak for themselves: one in seven homeless adults in America is a military veteran; one in five veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has post-traumatic stress disorder; every day, 22 veterans take their own lives, averaging one suicide every 65 minutes.

Casteel worked as a valet parker at the hospital for seven years, during which time he took thousands of photographs of the car interiors using a small camera, working fast so as not to be detected by his fellow workers. The project took on an almost obsessive dimension for him: “At times it did feel like I was shooting the same interior of the same car,” he says.

I first came across Casteel and his work five years ago while working with Hartford students on an intensive weekend of seminars and workshops in Berlin, organised by his mentor, Jörg Colberg, who also edits the influential Conscientious Photography website. It was easily the strongest series I saw, but the early dummy of the book he showed me contained more than 150 images. The finished work comprises 55. “I was maybe a bit lost in it back then,” says Casteel, laughing. “But I knew it had a formal consistency because I was creating the view of the interior from the driver’s seat over and over. It was what the vets’ saw when they looked around them.”

Details of images from American Interiors



Details of images from American Interiors. Photograph: ML Casteel

The car is an enduring symbol of America and American photography, synonymous with mobility, freedom and independence, but here that symbolism is upended. “That dream of freedom that the car symbolises doesn’t always translate into real freedom,” says Casteel.

Surprisingly, many of the vehicles shown in the book belong to veterans of much earlier US wars: Vietnam, Korea, and even a few from the second world war. Of the 21 million military veterans in America, 3 million served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Unless they were seriously injured, the vets from more recent conflicts in the Gulf and Afghanistan would park their own cars,” says Casteel. “This was an ageing population. They were, to a man, tough. They were hanging in there and the veterans’ hospital was a place where they could go and be with their own people, be with guys who understood what they had been through and what they were going through.”

An image from American Interiors by M L Casteel.



Photograph: ML Casteel

Casteel befriended several veterans, even visiting their homes to take formal portraits, but he says “it always came down to the cars”. He has shown the resulting images to several of the vets he befriended – the usual reaction is “my car doesn’t look like that”. He plans to make a special edition of the book with proceeds going to a veterans’ charity.

“I heard so many stories and saw so many guys struggling with addiction or health problems relating to what they had been through that it kind of humbled me,” he says. “I grew up as a rebellious teenager who played in punk rock bands and was involved in anti-war activism. Back then it was just ‘fuck war!’, but I never really considered the human plight of individual veterans. The ones I met were struggling, but they were also cool guys and I was always struck by their generosity. They were inspiring to be around, for sure. They changed my way of thinking.”

American Interiors by ML Casteel is published by Dewi Lewis (£28)

Celebrating contemporary Indian photography – in pictures

India is the theme of the Fotofest 2018 Biennial in Houston, Texas. Exhibitions across the city showcase the work of 47 photographers and artists, and address issues ranging from race and racism, gender, education and the environment to caste and class, within India and the global Indian diaspora. They run until 22 April, and there is also an accompanying book, INDIA/Contemporary Photographic and New Media Art

Giant tulips and polo players on elephants: Thursday’s best photos

Volunteers collecting plastic on a beach on the island. Scientists collected a total of 49 samples from waters around the islands, which were then analysed at Greenpeace’s laboratory in the University of Exeter, where it was found that 31 samples contained microplastics

Surf’s up in south-east India: an Instagram journey to Mahabalipuram

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The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.

The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.