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August 23 2014

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It’s a Jungle Out There

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Maiko Kyouka in Kyoto, JapanReaders of Style.com are well acquainted with the name Darrell Hartman. He began covering the New York party scene soon after moving to the city in 2005. Despite the late nights and early mornings—Hartman has never missed a deadline—he’s been reporting about travel for other pubs all along. Earlier this year, with his film-producer brother Oliver, he launched Jungles in Paris, a travel Web site that is a contemporary answer, of sorts, to National Geographic, with top-notch photography, short films, and Hartman’s own thoughtful writing. Tomorrow night, they’re hosting a salon at Hecho en Dumbo on the Lower East Side, where, in addition to tequila, they’ll be serving up a photo and film presentation. Here, Darrell talks about his new project and gives Style.com an exclusive preview of the site’s latest story on Kyoto’s geisha culture.

I love the name Jungles in Paris; where does it come from?
It’s a reference to Henri Rousseau, who was an early-twentieth-century painter in Paris. He was a guy who did these fabulous jungle scenes, and yet he never left France. He was a total outlier that the surrealists later got into because he was such an oddball. We liked the idea of bringing the wide, exotic world to you in a salon-type environment.

And what was the genesis of the site?
My brother, Oliver, has a video production company, and I’ve done travel writing for years. He wanted a platform, something to own, and I did, too. We wanted to create a forum for stories about travel that isn’t too tied to the news cycle, that’s about timeless things, special things that we uncover around the world. Last fall, we decided it was something we wanted to launch and started reaching out to friends of friends—photogs and filmmakers. It was a gradual process, and we launched in May.

What makes a story a Jungles in Paris story?The main thing for us is that it be tied to a place. It comes down to geography in a big way. Also, we’re always looking for something that’s surprising, that’s a discovery. Something that hasn’t generated headlines or appeared in a fashion magazine. Also, it’s told in a way that’s compelling visually. We’re in a time when there’s a lot of video content out there that’s shot on the fly, and we’re going in the opposite direction. We want things to be carefully done, with old-school documentary values. I’m writing all the copy at the moment, and I’m spending more time in the New York Public Library than I have since I moved here in 2005. There’s a meticulous approach to telling these stories.

Maiko Toshisumi, Maiko Toshikana, and Maiko Toshimana in Kyoto, Japan

What can you tell me about the geisha story we’re previewing?
Geishas are an amazing element of Japanese culture that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s an arcane tradition that’s really beautiful and at risk of becoming a tourist cliché. A lot of things we cover are things that you think you know a lot about, that have become sort of cheapened, but, actually, there’s an authentic practice that’s still going on. Geishas are an example of that. We worked with photographer Arif Iqball, who is based in Tokyo, to tell the real story.

How do you see the site evolving?
It’s not just a virtual destination. The Web site, JunglesinParis.com, is just the starting point for something bigger. Live events are a big part of what we want to be, whether it’s salon-type events like the one we’re doing tomorrow, or curations in gallery and culture spaces, or screenings of documentaries that people are making about subjects that are Jungles in Paris-oriented. We want to go beyond the Web environment, because it is a site about the wider world, about connections.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned through all your research, through your travels?
This isn’t something we have done, but I would love to do this: There’s an island in Micronesia where men have their own language for fishing that they only use with one another. That blows my mind—they use this language when they’re doing manly tasks, and they use a different language when they’re talking to women. I’m much more attuned to these kind of stories now. We’re filing them away for when we’ve got the money to send someone to Micronesia, or when we meet a photographer or filmmaker who happens to be going there. It’s made my brain very busy in a fun way.

What are your dream places?
I love mountains, and I’m drawn to austere landscapes. Patagonia has been on my list for a while. I was just talking to friends who’ve been to Sikkim, in India in the Eastern Himalayas—they’re much less trafficked than other parts of the Himalayas. And Japan, especially since we just did this geisha story. I’ve been to New Zealand, Tanzania, and Zambia all in the past six months. The next one is backpacking with some college friends through Glacier National Park. I don’t think there’s a Jungles story in it, but it’ll be a great trip.

Photos: Courtesy of Jungles in Paris

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