The Interview

The Brothers Who Are Redefining Travel

Messrs Darrell and Oliver Hartman are on a quest to chronicle the natural and indigenous world, one simmering volcano at a time

Lion heads, narwhal tusks, taxidermied pigeons – they’re not to everyone’s tastes. But sitting in the oak-panelled trophy room at the fabled Explorers Club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – which is stuffed with these and other exotic objects – Messrs Darrell and Oliver Hartman, the sibling duo behind “slow journalism” travel website Jungles In Paris, seem rather at home.

This is probably because this club, founded in 1905, was set up as a meeting place for people just like them: adventurers who aren’t afraid of a little frostbite or the odd shark attack. Celebrated members – Messrs Teddy Roosevelt, Neil Armstrong, James Cameron and Ms Dian Fossey among them – fill the roll books. As do people such as Mr Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian ethnographer who planned his legendary Kon-Tiki raft expedition of 1947 using an Explorers Club globe that still sits on the ground floor of its townhouse headquarters. Today, the Hartmans are continuing this legacy of exploration via Jungles In Paris’s inspiring online documentary films and photography – as well as their offline screenings and events – finding and telling stories about the multicultured, multicoloured world around us that would otherwise never be told. Such as what happens during Jashn-e taklif, a coming-of-age ceremony celebrated by every girl in Iran when she turns nine. Or how Jamaican equestrian trainer Ms Trina DeLisser has taught her horses to swim in the sea.

“At the Explorers Club, you’ve got people who go into the wilds and the far corners of the earth, but in a lot of cases can come back and give a very polished lecture about it. And their necktie fits. That to me is really admirable,” says Mr Darrell Hartman, 34, a journalist and MR PORTER contributor (read his interview with gastro-pub wizard Mr Phil Winser here). Tall and lean with a calm, scholarly nature, he exudes a gentlemanly balance between the intellectual and the physical. To put it more plainly: though he can quote Renaissance author Mr Baldassare Castiglione, he can also cast a fly rod. Mr Oliver Hartman, two years his brother’s junior, is more utilitarian and practical in outlook. “He’s the science mind of the two of us,” says Mr Darrell Hartman.

It’s the brothers’ differences, as well as their familiarity with one another, that makes Jungles In Paris work. The films and photographs they commission focus on the raw, the undiscovered, the edgy, but they also feel slow, contemplative and considered, whether we’re watching the mating dance of the magnificent riflebird, the remarkable swimming lizards of the Galápagos or ancient oil-wrestling tournaments in Turkey. “There’s a sense of awe and wonder for the natural world embedded in Jungles In Paris,” says Mr Oliver Hartman. “Something patient and immersive.”

The Hartmans grew up “canoeing and camping” in rural Maine. Their father had worked in Chad, travelled through Spain, lived in Paris and came back to teach and fish in the backwoods of New England. Their mother was more grounded: a Maine native, a writer. “I think the roots of the site are in how we were brought up, which was to learn, to be curious about our surroundings, to spend a lot of time outdoors, to ask questions,” says Mr Darrell Hartman. “All that I think comes into Jungles In Paris. But we also had to do our own travels.”

So, after college – Mr Darrell Hartman studied literature and film at Yale and Mr Oliver Hartman psychology and biology at Clark – the brothers set off in different directions to live abroad and explore the world outside of the rugged coastline of Maine. Their experiences were eye-opening, sensory, formative. 

Mr Oliver Hartman taught tennis in Switzerland, worked the morning shift at a hotel in Maui and headed to Nicaragua to learn Spanish and do charity work. Here, he “became friends with construction workers who were helping us with clean water projects. It was the mundane, that was the stuff that became the most impactful.” Mr Darrell Hartman, meanwhile, floated around, working in Greece, going to Romania, to Egypt, to Switzerland, travelling around India alone for three months.

  • Icecapped volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, 2010; its erruption that year closed airspace across much of Europe. Photograph by Lane Coder

Once they both landed, inevitably, in New York, they worked separately for a while. Mr Oliver Hartman, inspired by a chance encounter with a small documentary film crew while in Nicaragua, knew he wanted to explore visual storytelling. He met a producer at a party in New York, and went for it. “I offered to trade a tennis lesson if she would hire me as a production assistant,” he says. From there, more jobs as a PA and coordinator followed, and eventually his own production and film shop, North, which produces and edits commercial films for brands such as Spotify, Nike and Google.

Mr Darrell Hartman, on the other hand, had always wanted to be a writer, inspired since his teenage days by the works he read of those reporting from far-flung shores. “I was into Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Lawrence Durrell, these guys who’d left where they’d come from and spent lots of time, and seen lots of things, abroad.”

He found work chasing stories around the globe – Senegal, Nepal, Libya, St Petersburg – for Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, The Financial Times, among others. And when at home in New York, he took a regular gig covering the night-time fashion party beat for style.com so he could write other stories during the day. It was an unexpected turn for a Yale-educated writer from rural Maine.

“My world was free champagne, a lot of beautiful women and a lot of great parties,” says Mr Darrell Hartman. He would have long sit-downs with people such as Mr Karl Lagerfeld and brief encounters with all manner of celebrities, from one-name wonders such as Bono and Valentino to screen goddesses such as Mses Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart. “I've had Adrian Grenier hit on my girlfriend and have discussed opera with Claudia Schiffer,” he says. He was living a certain type of dream that’s about the hidden velvet rope territories of New York. “That world was fun in a way that something is in your twenties.”

But after 10 years working apart, both brothers were feeling a calling to “return to values of how we grew up.” To Mr Darrell Hartman, it seemed clear what to do. “I had a lot of connections in the travel world and Oliver had a lot of connections with film-makers. And we had an impulse towards conservation and cultural preservation.”

It was while hiking Mosquito Mountain in Maine together that the brothers devised the idea for Jungles In Paris. “We like that the name is a bit mysterious,” says Mr Darrell Hartman. “It refers to this idea that there is a big teeming world of inspiring and often unfamiliar things, and we’re here studying and viewing them in a curated context. Those are the Jungles we’re putting in Paris, so to speak.”

The site, which launched in May 2013, is an advertising-free collection of short films and photography that is “embracive of the polychromatic world, a world that is truly full of interesting cultures and different approaches to everything,” says Mr Darrell Hartman. Watching Jungles films is almost a meditative experience. Even the films about people, such as The Last Two, which follows a couple in Spain living out their days in an abandoned village, leave you with a sense of calm.

“It’s a slowing down of the media experience,” says Mr Darrell Hartman, “even though we do it online. It’s putting really talented film-makers into really cool projects and just about observing.”

And they have been doing a fair amount of observing: the last blowpipe maker in Borneo, vodou bathing spots in Haiti, old-school ski resorts in Vermont. They have upcoming shoots planned on the charmingly named “Door To Hell” in Turkmenistan, and the Micronesian island of Sapwuahfik where, according to Mr Oliver Hartman, “the men speak a special pidgin language for specialised practices, such as fishing and boatbuilding.”

Which brings us back to the Explorers Club, where the Hartmans are sharing these films and stories at events and screenings, while soaking up inspiration and knowledge from the wild men and academics they count as fellow members. It’s a new era at the club, more about knowledge and respect for the natural world than bringing back stuffed heads as trophies. 

The way Mr Darrell Hartman sees it, “We are explorers by the modern definition of the term. We want people to slow down and watch a film that’s been made with a lot of heart and effort that involves some deeply authentic person in some corner of the world doing what they do out of the spotlight.” 

Think of it as exploration without exploitation, art instead of artefact, curiosity over conquest. In other words: less guns, more cameras.

The Hartman Brothers’ Top Five Explorers Club Members

  • Mr Roy Chapman Andrews, Mongolia, 1928. Photograph courtesy the AMNH Library, Image #411044

Mr Roy Chapman Andrews
“A pistol-toting palaeontologist who was the indirect inspiration for Indiana Jones. He basically discovered that dinosaurs laid eggs.”

  • Aquanaut Ms Sylvia Earle, US Virgin Islands, July 1970. Photograph Press Association Images

Ms Sylvia Earle
“A pioneering marine biologist and part of the Club’s first wave of female members. On top of all her accomplishments, she’s just a wonderful human being.”

  • American conservationist, photographer and taxidermist Mr Carl Akeley, Ethiopia, August 1896. Photograph by Field Museum Library/Getty Images

Mr Carl Akeley
“A groundbreaking turn-of-the-century taxidermist who later became president of the Club. He was an early primate conservationist and famously killed a leopard (which was, to be fair, stalking him) with his bare hands.”

  • Portrait of Mr Peter Freuchen, c.1935. Photograph Bettmann/ Corbis

Mr Peter Freuchen
“A larger-than-life Danish explorer who lived among the Inuits back when such a thing was considered scandalous. Lost a leg to frostbite, later got into the movies. His memoirs – Arctic Adventure: My Life In The Frozen North – have got to be read to be believed.”

  • Mr Theodore Roosevelt, North Dakota, 1884-85. Photograph Everett Collection/REX Shutterstock

President Theodore Roosevelt
“Sure, he hunted more animals than would be acceptable today, but he was a force of nature, a wilderness lover, and a big reason the US has national parks today.”