Posts tagged Leica

St Mary Cemetery

For the past three weeks my house consisted of a small plastic container room behind the safe walls of Bedouine Hotel and Restaurant in Juba South Sudan. The room is not to bad and the bed is actually pretty good. We all share the bathrooms and showers, but it’s certainly doable. And even though breakfast really sucks and internet only works when it wants to, $85 a night is good value in this outrageous expensive city.

Opposite my hotel there is another wall. It’s been there since April, when the mayor or one of the other high civil servants of Juba, decided that the graveyard needed a wall around it. I’m not sure if that is the actual reason and I’ll probably will never know. What I do know is that on that same graveyard there is a refugee camp situated with an estimate of about 800 people living there. The camp used to be next to the Nile, but they were forced to move when developers started to build on the grounds they stayed before. So they moved to the cemetery.

Living between the graves, these people have close to nothing. When I visited yesterday afternoon, the chief asked me to come back the next morning. It wasn’t a good time as everybody was drunk. People wouldn’t accept me taking pictures, and he couldn’t guarantee my safety. While walking out I witnessed some prime example of domestic violence and a couple of (drunk) women showed me their children who had open wounds from burns as the kitchen here consist of open fire. The things I saw in that brief 45 minutes kept me up all night.

As agreed, I showed up this morning once more to sit down with the chief and some elders - men and women- to talk. They told me about moving from the Nile, the building of the wall - shutting them out from the rest of Juba- and them living in mud with no help whatsoever. It’s rainy season now and, as they don’t get any canvas or other utilities to fix the leaks in their “houses” most of them are almost as wet from the inside as they are from the outside. He looked me straight in they eyes when he asked me if I’d been to a community living on a cemetery before. I had to fight my tears and as I’m writing this in the safety of my little dry plastic container I can let them run freely. 

Walking through the camp with the chief, I could see how these people suffer. The surreal pictures of people living between these graves had such an impact on me. All of a sudden the chief walked away from me… I watched where he was going and saw a little girl sitting in behind one of the huts, puking her guts out. He tried to comfort her and help her as much as he could. “Suffering of malaria”, was all he could say before we moved on as if nothing happened. 

The only help they now get is from CCC, a foundation supporting orphans and street children, children that are victims of sexual violence and girls who are at risk of sexual exploitation. This foundation is responsible for sending some of the children in the ST Mary Camp to school and helps some of the families by letting them work in the compound garden. They also give the community some food packages. As the CCC compound and the schools are near the cemetery, the chief told me about his concern of them being moved away again.This would mean they would have to take the kids out of school and losing some valuable possibilities to do a little work. 

Being here made me humble. It made me realise nobody should be living like this. Completely chocked up, I explained him the only thing I personally could do, was to tell their story and show the world how these people live…

Can’t explain…

I’ve been in South Sudan for about two and a half weeks now. By now I can admit that my intentions and expectations to come here might have been set somewhat high. It might be cultural, it might be because I’m a man or it might be because I didn’t find the right contacts… whatever the reason might be, getting the stories of sexual violence in a country at war is something I haven’t managed to do. Let alone that I thought I would find a way to document this particular issue with pictures.

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First of all, taking pictures here - even just in general- is though. People don’t like it, police officers and soldiers prohibit it and walking around with your camera around your shoulder just isn’t a very wise idea. To get into the IDP camps (Internal Displaced People camps), you need permission from high placed civil servants or authority and you’ll only get it by writing down your intentions, sit down and explain who you are and where you’re from and hopefully get a written approval after that. Besides that you’ll need somebody to guide you there when you do get in. This might sound not to bad, but know that appointments are relative and time is something that can be bend. Yesterday I waited for 6,5 hours. Only to find out that three of the four appointments that I had, didn’t show up. Also, offering your services or asking for help at any NGO’s turns out to be difficult as well. They seem to all be to busy with whatever they are doing. So, for now in these two and a half weeks, I’ve visited two IDP camps. Which I did with the help of PAX ( the organisation that has helped me to get here in the first place) and a local foundation called Voice for Change that works together with PAX. And I went out and took a risk by heading for the empty villages I mentioned in my previous blogs.

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During these visits I’ve heard stories about rape, but never directly from the victims. And of course I made photos of women that live in unbearable situations, but I have no idea if they actually were victims of sexual violence. These stories are so sensitive and there is so much shame for the horror these women have been through, the stories are just told as if they were stories they heard or experiences of people they once knew. The personal experiences of which they did tell me, had to do with gender based violence, which also is a huge problem here. Men verbally abusing their wives or hitting them because there isn’t enough food, the kids are crying or because they are just plain drunk when returning to their wives and family.

So just to be clear: The women in these pictures, to my knowledge, have not been victims of rape or sexual violence or indicated such in any way. They did consent in their photo being taken and I did have conversations about gender based violence with some of them. 

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It’s a bizar thing to hear these stories which are most likely only half of the picture and quite likely highly attenuated. At the same time I could feel the pain and suffering of these women, way more than their stories could ever tell me. These women often lost their husbands in war or they are still fighting far away from their family. Some of the men do live in the camp as well, but they are just out all day. These women don’t go to far out of the camp when they search for firewood and they go together with either their kids or their friends to get water. All to create some sort of security, so they won’t be attacked while away from the relative safety that the IDP camps they live in, tries to offer.

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At the same time they help each other when they suffer from flashbacks of their time in the village they fled from. They help gathering the family to create an intervention when one of the men comes home drunk every night. I could still feel some sort of hope, some sort of survival instinct, a deep urge to cope and make the best of it despite their situation. 

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All I can do here is see what is happening. I’ve lost any understanding and I feel very helpless. When coming back to my hotel, it’s unreal to just order some food and a coke. It’s unreal to notice that the TV is on in every hotel or restaurant, showing CNN or any other news broadcaster covering war and terror around the world. It’s almost like they found a way to put their own war, misery and dispair into perspective by looking at a world being on fire. 

I’ve given myself a though if not impossible project, of which I’m not certain I can even come close to explaining what I’ve really seen and felt. All I know is that now I know… not in words, not even in pictures, but definitely by the way just being here made me feel. 

Just to be clear one more time: The women in these pictures, to my knowledge, have not been victims of rape or sexual violence or indicated such in any way. They did consent in their photo being taken and I did have conversations about gender based violence with some of them. 

Moving around…

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As I’m not yet getting the contacts I want/need, to work on the reportage I had planned. I’ve been sitting around a lot the past week. I’ve been in Juba for the past seven days and had numerous meetings and appointments with people that might be able to help me but I haven’t come far just yet. I did learn some new quotes like: “In Africa waiting is an activity” or ” You westerners all have watches, but us… we have the time”. They’re insightful and I learn a lot from them, but nothing has happened just yet. Of course I’ll keep on trying and it taking this long, was something to expect when picking a topic that is as delicate as gender based violence. But today I got tired of staying in the surroundings I’ve stayed in all this time. I needed to get out.

Luckily a friend I met here offered to drive me to the desolate villages on the outskirts of Juba. The ones that are left empty after the fights of December last year, the ones that have been broken down, looted and burned out. 

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Slowly some people are returning though, and a few even never left. It’s kind of eerie to walk around on these grounds and I was glad my companion could speak some arabic so we could have some communication with the few people we met and the soldiers that stopped us along the way.

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It’s strange for me to be this careful when doing my job. Always ask permission, never walk around with the camera out of the bag, basically making sure that you are as inconspicuous as possible. A though job being 1.90 m, full of tattoos and white. As a consequence of this, most pictures I’ve taken up till now are posed or people are very aware I’m there. I didn’t tell them how to sit or stand, but people just tend to pose when you ask them if you can take their photo.

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Also it’s a strange revelation to notice that, up to now, I struggle with the choice of monochrome or color. I’ve always been and still am a huge fan of black & white. But these surroundings, despite the horrific history, just scream to use color. 

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Well, at least I’ve been able to do a little bit of what I came here for. And like I said, I’ll keep on going to try and get the story on sexual violence that I came for. For now, I’ll just settle and take in the stories and surroundings that I encounter.

Just to be clear: The women in these pictures, to my knowledge, have not been victims of gender based violence or indicated such in any way. I haven’t spoke to them about this nor did I ask, as this wasn’t the time nor the place and I didn’t have a proper translator with me.

First days in Juba…

South Sudan is anything but what I expected. Tobe honest, I was expecting a country in conflict and don’t get me wrong, it is! But here in Juba there’s not that much that really reminds you on a daily basis. Sure there’s soldiers on the streets. And yes when arranging my photography permit, which took ages, I was specifically told not to photograph anything military or important for infrastructure (like bridges). But so far that’s about it.

Because it’s my first time photographing in a conflict area, I was kind of nervous getting here. First days I waited for the driver of PAX (the organisation that arranged for me to come here) to pick me up from the hotel and bring me to wherever I needed to go. Also because the subject I’m covering is quite though - sexual violence against women and girls - it all just takes time and must be done very carefully. So up till now it has been just talking, attend some meetings and trying to find the right people that can help me move on with the project.

As it is Saturday today, not much is happening. And because of the end of Ramadan, Monday till Wednesday will be a public holiday as well. So today I decided it was time to check out the town on my own. I just don’t want to spend all day in my hotel. Like I said, it wasn’t at all as dangerous as I made it up in my mind. Sure you have to be careful and use your common sense, but where wouldn’t you? 

Apparently, just around the corner of my hotel, there is this little neighbourhood where they have a pool table outside. A great way to make new friends! The first game I lost by miles, but then I figured out how to play a South Sudanese pool table (very small balls and pockets, crooked cues and a table made of sandpaper) and so I actually won the second game and suddenly had myself a new crew of friends. 

Photographically it was interesting to see that the close ups worked perfect in black and white (as I intended). But looking back, I was happy that I shot them with the M to convert them later. Because for me the “group photo” worked so much better in colour. But, I’ll let you decide.

Any way, hopefully tonight I’ll hear a bit more about my project and the possibilities to meet some women in the IDP camp here in Juba. Luckily a lot of the NGOs working in Juba, and I tell you there are many, will still work during the national holiday. So I’ll just enjoy this weekend for what it is and I’m already looking forward to visit some new contacts monday. I’ll close of with a photo I made at the market, just because I thought she was beautiful the way she sat there. And yes… this one also had to be in color!

One more week…

It has been a while… It’s getting harder to write about stuff when, in my own perception, not much is happening…. yet!

At this moment, there are things happening. My trip to South Sudan en Uganda is about to commence, only five more days before take off. It’s unreal how much preparation this trip has asked and still is taking. Because of the conflict situation there, things are different for insurance, there’s a security protocol you have to know, different visa’s to obtain etc etc. I truly believe that this is a lot to take in, because it’s the first time I’m flying into conflict territory. I haven’t felt so excited/anxious going on a photography trip for a long time. 

PAX for peace is the organisation that is helping me out a lot. With preparation, getting there and with having some reliable people over there that I can depend on and that will help me with my project. Besides working on the Serous Request project “sexual violence in conflict area”, I’ll also be doing some work for PAX, documenting some of the work they do over there. 

Yesterday I was at Transcontinenta, getting some extra memory cards and extra batteries and they helped me out with a sweet 24mm Summilux lens to take with me as well for this trip. I hope to put this one in good use. Of course I’ll be mainly working in monochrome again, but I’ll probably will use the M and EVF2 combination a lot. As the 24 mm Summilux has a slightly wider angle than my optical viewfinder can show me, this is probably the best way to have the most control over my framing.

I also had a long talk with Femke and Ilse who just came back from South Susan. Their company is shooting a documentary there and they had some valuable tips and contacts for me. One of the things that surprised me a lot is the fact they explained to me that bringing a small camera, could this time actually be a con instead of a pro. Because of the small camera you’ll have to work harder for them to take you seriously as a journalist. Which is less practical in an area where people want to tell their story so it can get out. ( in any other situation I love the fact that people think I’m just a tourist, it gives me the freedom to walk around and just go for it.) Any way, it’s going to be interesting to see how that works out.

All in all, I’ve prepared as much as I can and I’m ready as I’ll ever be. I am looking forward having a very interesting month with beautiful photos to take and powerful stories to listen to and then tell.

Thanks for sticking around!

Preparing…

At the end of this year, The Red Cross and one of the biggest radio stations in The Netherlands, organise a huge fund raising event called Serious Request. Their goal this year is to raise money for girls and women who were victims of sexual violence in conflict areas.

Last year I got the request of a gallery in Haarlem to exhibit from October till December of this year. Only a week after this news, I heard Serious Request would be hosted in my own town. Of course these to separate events needed to be combined and so I’ll be going on a mission again somewhere next month to make a reportage for the fund raising event. So preparation has started! All photos that will be exhibited in the gallery will be auctioned for Serious Request. 

Besides all that I’ve also found a printing company in Haarlem that will support the cause. Printing company Damen will print little packages of 10 postcards that will be sold for €10. All profits of course will go to The Red Cross. I’m also talking to some other people and companies to see if we can come up with more ideas to raise as much money as we can. 

Keep you posted!

This photo was taken by Remco van der Kruis for an interview on a Dutch blog. 

Jennah Bell

This weekend Jennah Bell performed once again at Ajuma beach in Zandvoort. Last year she brought a complete band and I photographed her not only at the beach but in the studio as well. It was a great introduction to a very talented singer and she even used one of the photos on her sound cloud.

This year it was just Jennah with her guitar, wooing us till sunset. Last year I shot everything with the Monochrom, but this time I brought the M240. The atmosphere was great and even though I really love my black & whites, her red dress screamed for some color pictures as well. As the backdrop was nearly monochrome, it worked out really great!

When you buy the Nik software suite, which I did to get my favourite black & white program Silver Efex Pro, you get a bunch of other programs as well. Of course you need to practice ( I certainly do) but as you can see in the picture above, Color Efex Pro works pretty well.

While I was exploring, I also tried Analog Efex Pro as well. It really soots the atmosphere that the beach had at the moment Jennah was performing. The light leaks module enhances the low sun that was coming in. For this shoot I actually like it the most!

With my new EVF2, the electric view finder for the M240, I could take some nice low viewpoints to shoot from. I love this little gadget and it helps me to even shoot more creatively. 

Of course I still used some black & white as well… I couldn’t resist. It’s fun to play around with the Nik suite and search for the effect that come closest to the moments I experienced being there!

In a museum

On my birthday, the 10th of April, they told me that from the 15th of May, my pictures will be on display in a museum. Nine pictures from the series I shot for the Abrazos foundation in Peru, are part of an exhibition in museum Het Dolhuys in my hometown Haarlem. Last week we upgraded the exhibition even more to twelve pictures. The exhibition will be there till early September.

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From the same series another twelve photos are being exhibited in the Dr Leo Kannerhuis. This is a centre for autism in the Netherlands. Also ten pictures will be printed as a set of postcards we can sell. 

As I told you in the first newsletter an other exhibition is planned at the end of the year in “De Gang” gallery, again in Haarlem. This exhibition is tricky as the  photos for this one still have to be made.
The radio event “Serious Request” is organised in Haarlem this year as well, right at the time I will exhibiting my photos. Of course I’m going to combine these to events. 

And then there is the possibility for an exhibition of pictures  Joshua and I made during our time in Kenya. If this will happen, it will happen in San Fransisco. Fingers crossed!

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No Selfies…

Normally I’m not in a picture that often, but because there was a second photographer with me in Nairobi and  the people at PeaceTones also were enthusiastic photographers, I suddenly got very well documented. Here are some nice ones. The first is accompanied by the picture I took ​​myself at the very time Ruha Devanesan, Director of Peace Tones, took a photo of me.
 



 

These two shots were taken by Joshua, the San Francisco photographer that joined us as well. One is made ​​with his Sony RX1 and the other with Instagram on his Iphone.





 

Photo/video workshop

One of the things Joshua and I have done in Nairobi is a video/photo workshop with some of the musicians. Peace Tones received five Flip cameras as a donation from Cisco. The older generation Flipcams work on AA batteries, which is very practical for the areas we’re working in. As the workshop attendees had little to no experience, it was just the basics we could teach them. Of course Flip cameras only do video, but some of their phones also shoot photo and because we only stuck with the basics, we could deal with both video and photo.

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A quick lesson in composition (rule of thirds), tips to keep the camera steady and how to zoom and pan gently. But probably the most important thing we taught them was: how do you deal with the light. So we shot in front of a window, to see how you can deal with back light and silhouette  We shot outside in the shade or in direct sunlight, to see what hard and soft shadows do. We even temporarily created a reflector with our posters to show them how that worked and how to soften the hard shadows that appear in direct sunlight. It’s fun to explain some of the things you’ve been doing on automatic pilot for a while. It actually makes you realise why you do the things in a certain manner or order. 

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It was amazing how eager and inquisitive the musicians were. They recorded everything.  The idea behind teaching these musicians about videography is that, in the future, they will be able to make videos and photos to promote their music. This way they can create a wider fan base and the work of Peace Tones is not only limited to the weeks we were there, but it can continue.

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this photo was taken by Joshua