The Hartman brothers have an enviable life that’s committed to work that not only inspires you to live better but also gives you a new frame of mind on the surrounding world. We first met them at our Cole Haan Pop-Up Shop last May, where they were one of the first to try our new Made-to-Measure custom shirting service. They collaborate on Jungles in Paris, a multimedia travel blog unlike any you’ve seen before, that showcases their stunning documentary photography, video, and travel writing on places and experiences you undoubtedly never knew about. From covering Grenada’s intense religious ceremony during the Spanish holy week of Semana Santa to ornamental egg painting in Romania, they turn their lenses on international culture that’s truly off the beaten path. We talked to Darrell and Oliver Hartman about their early inspirations and the one trip that changed it all.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
We’re brothers, originally from Maine, now based in New York, and we love to travel. Not just for travel’s sake, but to get into the wilderness, experience different cultures, meet new people, and challenge ourselves. Oliver’s background is in film/video production and I’m (Darrell) a writer.
Tell us a little bit about how Jungles in Paris came to be.
About three years ago we started thinking about launching a website that would be a destination for a different type of travel story. Primarily told in films, but also photography and a strong written component. Oliver had done a lot of commercial work and was looking to explore more interesting subjects, to be honest, and experiment with different modes of visual storytelling. Darrell wanted to write and learn about deeper and more timeless topics–traditional cultures, wildlife, and so on–rather than exclusively doing lifestyle journalism, with its overemphasis on what’s new and trendy.
When did you decide to pursue documentary filmmaking?
Oliver: I was traveling in Mexico seven or eight years ago and met a couple fascinating people–I thought to myself that I wanted to tell their stories, and how more than any other method, film would do it. A couple years later, around 2010, I started learning film and launched my first production company, which is called North of New York.
Darrell: I sort of minored in film in college; it was my favorite subject. For five years or so here in New York, I wrote articles about arthouse and independent film, including documentaries, and really got into issues of film form and aesthetics. But I never learned how to make one. So it’s really cool that with Jungles I’ve been able to get into that side of things. I still don’t shoot, and may never be good with a camera. But producing and having discussions with all these talented filmmakers we work with has been great.
Describe your brand of travel writing – it’s much more thoughtful and experiential. What inspired you to take this approach?
Basically, it was the kind of thing we wanted to see and couldn’t find–anywhere.
What are some of your earliest influences?
Oliver: Tracy Kidder’s biography of the healthcare pioneer Paul Farmer, “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” was really striking to me because I just felt the power of a great story matched with an inspirational subject. A few years ago I saw an Austrian documentary called “Our Daily Bread.” It’s about industrialized food production. What’s so effective about it is the minimalist style. A lot went into making it, of course, but the sense you get is that the director put the camera down and just started rolling, very much the observer.
Darrell: I’ve loved the documentaries of Werner Herzog ever since I saw “Aguirre” in college. So his approach, including the utter independence of it–he follows his own interests, doesn’t let anyone hold him back–has always been in my mind. And of course the books of the great travel writers: Peter Matthiessen is probably my favorite, but also Norman Lewis, Eric Newby, Wilfred Thesiger, Paul Theroux. They are beautiful writers and fearless travelers, and interested in the world beyond themselves, rather than hung up on their own heroics or bouts of indigestion.
Oliver: Canadian Arctic–have been really interested in aboriginal communities up there.
Which trip or specific experience made the most indelible impression on you?
Darrell: If I’m honest, it’s not a Jungles trip. It was three months of backpacking through India after college–in 2004–mostly solo. All the new sights, smells, sounds…it’s an overwhelming place, India, and I visited at a pretty impressionable age. Much of it was spontaneous. Lots of freedom. Something about the fact I was organizing the entire trip myself, not knowing much about anything, makes it more intense in my memory.
Oliver: Tanzania a couple years ago, on a Jungles trip, felt like a real window into something for me. We were in this huge open field of nature, the northern Serengeti. Seeing that, and learning about the dramas and life cycles of the wildlife, helped me realize how small a part of this planet we humans really are–or have been, at least, throughout history. There’s a whole world there outside of us. Unfortunately, that world does seem to be getting smaller.
What are your plans for the future of Jungles in Paris? Do you have any exciting projects in the works?
We’re about to start editing a film about harpoon fishermen in Nova Scotia, which Oliver shot earlier this month when he went to sea with these guys for a week. In general we’re just enjoying making films. We also love doing live events, and are talking with some cool partners about that, like The Asia Society and The Explorers Club.
What is your motto?
Oliver – “What is the consequence of your work?”
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Darrell – Self-possession
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Oliver – Tact