Smiles across the miles: Franci Neely stands — camera at hand — with new friends in Foumban, Cameroon.
Like peanut butter and jelly, traveling and snapping photos will always go together — something Franci Neely lives by. The tireless world traveler has a penchant for capturing each exquisite journey one frame at a time and is on a mission to visit every country in the world by 2025. An avid shutterbug, retired attorney Neely has been to the farthest reaches of the Earth, from Antarctica and Norway to Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East — and everything in between. She says her camera has been the one constant with her every step of the way, and she’s added a mirrorless Nikon to her equipment arsenal.
“I always go with my camera,” Neely says. “I really love photographs.”
Having her camera close has become a tremendous source of comfort for Neely as she snags images of palaces and lush landscapes. On the odd occasion she doesn’t have it with her, she says she saves precious moments on her iPhone with ease.
Neely says honing her skills as a photographer is something she wishes she’d spent more time concentrating on over the years. Still, Neely’s taken an impressive array of images ranging from a penguin frolicking along Antarctica’s frozen terrain, to a tribe of Pygmies in the Central African Republic, to a surprisingly good Turkish truck stop meal. Through a lens, she’s gazed into the eyes of African elephants and captured a curious chimpanzee on a golf course. Saharan sunrises, seaside sunsets, ancient palaces nestled within the walls of lost kingdoms, Neely has documented her inspiring travels with a poetic flow of images she says she enjoys sharing with family and friends. Over the years, Neely has caught tender interludes on camera such as village children gleefully smiling at her and priceless instances in a bustling marketplace.
Franci Neely: A Life in Photos
Just as traveling has been a vital aspect of Neely’s existence, so has preserving those special occurrences. She recently launched her own website, francineelyphotography.com, as a visual tribute and testimony to her many exotic adventures. The website is neatly sprinkled with some of Neely’s most beloved snapshots created in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Saudi Arabia. Neely cites dancing with Bamileke women in the Grassfield kingdoms of Cameroon as one of her most extraordinary travel adventures. “You’ll find rich tribal culture and ceremonies in the Grassland kingdoms of Cameroon,” Neely explains.
Neely will continue to add images to the site as her photography collections flourishes. She recently traveled to Svlbard, Norway, where she assembled portraits of the town’s Constitution Day celebration. When Neely visited the Norwegian archipelago earlier this year, it was the first time the region held these festivities since the COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago. “This day is celebrated by a parade,” Neely says, adding she was charmed by children waving Norwegian flags and trading celebratory sentiments. Neely was also smitten with a pack of local huskies.
Not only has Franci Neely been snapping her own portraits for years, but she’s also an avid collector of photography. The art connoisseur has curated a primarily black-and-white photography collection titled Womankind. According to Neely, the images in the collection were taken by male and female photographers all over the world and each photograph represents some aspect of womankind. She says she’s been putting the collection together for more than two decades and has enjoyed seeing how it’s grown over that time.
“All of these things just started evolving,” Neely marvels.
The art collector recalls looking around one day and smiling at the number of photos she had in her possession. She adds that the whole thing happened organically over time.
Neely says she’s very proud of the collection, which pays tribute to women in all stages of life from youth to middle age and beyond.
She shares that Anne Tucker and Malcolm Daniel from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, played key roles in helping her put together the collection, which has been pledged to the same museum.
“Their keen eyes have been indispensable to me,” Franci Neely adds.
Perfecting the Art of Travel
While many people only fantasize about visiting every country, Franci Neely has turned the average bucket list into a to-do list and she’s been meticulously crossing off each nation as she goes. With just a handful of places left to visit before reaching her ultimate goal, Neely is setting her sights on Africa again. Her top travel tips? She advises a “less is more” approach when it comes to packing and, of course, taking a camera. She also recommends packing plenty of scarves which can double as head coverings — and leaving some room inside luggage to bring home new locally sourced fashion accessories and trinkets.
Neely says she hopes others will pursue more foreign travel plans, especially young people. “Travel’s the best education you can have,” she says. “Learning about the world and about differences, there’s nothing that’s a better education.”
The Houstonian, who has studied French and Italian, also suggests learning another language to better understand other cultures.
So what is it that keeps Franci Neely globe-trotting? The ambitious wanderer says it’s a relentless pursuit of human connection and a genuine love for discovery.
“I love to explore other cultures,” Neely says.
She insists travel is her greatest passion and she recommends everyone exit their comfort zone and add more stamps to their passports than they ever imagined they could.
In addition to visiting local landmarks during her trips, Neely says she makes a point to peruse regional museums. During her time in Cameroon, she recalls a particular fondness for the National Museum of Cameroon, where she observed local artifacts and learned about Cameroonian culture. Neely says her guide, Christinne, made the experience especially memorable as she explained traditional Cameroonian instruments and art.