Patrick used to be one of the many street children roaming the streets of one of the slums in Kampala. He used to be high on a mixture of glue and kerosine sniffed out of a plastic bottle or from a piece of rags and he would sleep on the street in some corner, trying to hide from the wind. But years later, he got out. An American women walked by, days before she would head back to the US, and she gave him the opportunity to leave the streets and sort out his life.
Now years later I’m meeting Patrick at the old taxi park, one of the slums in central Kampala. He’s there for an outreach, helping 60 to 90 children that live there. All of them high, all of them in torn clothes and all of them with cuts and bruises everywhere. He tries to be here twice a week, giving the children some attention, cook a (small) meal for them and have Andrew, a befriended nurse, take care of the wounds that most of the children have.
As I’m walking around, the area doesn’t feel that safe. I trust that Patrick knows what he’s doing. Some of the kids grab my hand and put it over there shoulder, or they put my hand on their heads. All they seam to want is some love and attention. Though no money is even asked once, I still find my prejudice self clinging on to my bag as if it’s my only possession in the world. Something I feel embarrassed about when I, later that day, return home and discover that some loose change and some paper money that I accidentally left in my pocket, is still there. Sure, I guess that if I would have crossed this part of town on my own, things might have been different. But that’s something I’ll never know and I’m not planning to find out.
Being there, being with these kids, was confronting and heartwarming at the same time. When two kids of only 8 or 9 years old start to fight over a bottle of glue, that is confronting. As is the cuts, wounds and scars that mark their faces and bodies. But seeing them enjoy the little food they get and seeing them being grateful for the medical care they receive is heartwarming. That said, it was hard to walk away after three hours, knowing that these kids are high only because in that way, they don’t feel the cold of the night and the hunger won’t keep them from falling asleep.
You can see all the photos at my Flickr page
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!
So I’m in Kenya now. The crowd funding worked and I have to thank some people for that… First of all Klein Haarlem, a foundation supporting young, creative entrepreneurs, for supporting and pushing me to go on this next journey. But also Aad, Marc, Mark, Ruha, Molly, Guy, Cees, Christine, Dean, Wilco, Remco, Laura, Ewoud, Lorette, Renée and of course my mother.
That being said, lets describe my first day. After a 10 hour flight arriving at 3:45 AM the first day was a day of relaxing and arranging some small stuff. Arranging a local sim card didn’t really work out and the festival we were supposed to visit was cancelled at the last minute. Unfortunately we found out by the time we got to the location.
Also the flat tire that our guide had the day before my arrival was beyond repair. Basically it was a day where everything that could go wrong…. did go wrong. But, for some reason we had fun, the atmosphere was relaxed and we ended up having a wonderful day.
Today was somewhat different. After breakfast, we started with a special visit. Eric Wainaina, one of Kenya’s most famous musicians. We met him at his house and after talking with him he committed to helping Peacetones out with some of the workshops they’re planning in the shantytowns.
In the afternoon we picked up some small video cameras, that were sponsored by a Kenyan security company. Peacetones will donate these to the people joining the musical workshops and tomorrow, Joshua (an American photographer who’s also with us) and I will give a workshop on how to use it. Looking forward to it.
In the afternoon we witnessed a rehearsal of some musicians in Babandogo, one of the shantytowns. During this trip, Transcontinenta was kind enough to provide me a 24 mm Elmar (f3.8), I couldn’t have been more happy that it was in my bag as the room was small end completely filled with people. Even though you’re supposed to use an external viewfinder for this wide angle (which I didn’t bring) it worked like a charm.
After the rehearsal, right during the “golden hour” we walked back through the streets of Babandogo. This is what I love most…. wondering and wandering, talking to the people you meet and taking some great shots.
Being back home, I notice everything changes. I need to find my way again. Where I was holding a camera nearly every day for five months during my trip, now I’m holding one maybe twice a week. For the rest I’m talking to people, figuring out what to do next, meeting people etc etc.
Luckily, there were some people that have been following my journey and they decided they want to make a book out of the India journey. An offer I just couldn’t refuse.
So here I am, sitting in my office, music out loud, trying to reduce the huge selection of photos back to about 150 pictures. It’s hard to kill your darlings and even harder to find a proper balance between close up portraits and street views and everything in between. But it’s also very rewarding and flipping back through all I have shot, I’m traveling again. I see new things, experience new emotions, I can sometimes even smell the atmosphere that was there at the time I took the shot.
Of course I’ll keep you posted on the developments of the book, either here or at my facebook page.
Sometimes, you need to admit you’re in need of desperate help. This is one of those times. When on the road for a long period of time, shooting as many pictures as I have, you can lose track and certainly objectivity of the pictures you have shot. I can make a reasonable estimate on which pictures are good and which are even better, but picking out just one black and white photo out of all the pictures I have taken during my trip, is a task that comes near to the impossible. Still this is what I need to do, so I ask you… Help me.
You can check the pictures at my Flickr page and leave a comment and a description of your favorite here on the blog. Thank you so much!
So Bangkok just didn’t really work for me, even though I wanted it to. It just wasn’t the time. A train ticket to Ayutthaya would help me ease the pain… I thought. Unfortunately in the start, it didn’t. This place is full of old temples and is lovely to ride through on a rented bicycle, but it didn’t really give me the inspiration that I was looking for. At the moment it is about 40 degrees Celsius which keeps most people inside or in the shadows doing nothing.
So I decided to do the same. Give in to the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen and lie down with a book in the shade. Second day, just to have a break from lying down, I decided to take a short walk. Not intending to take any pictures or look for any interesting situations. There it was… a huge tent, filled with Thai people, a boxing ring in the middle and banners hanging down, shouting: “Muay Thai Boxing Championship.” There was no hesitation, no doubt, this I needed to see. This needed my Monochrom to get out of the bag and work.
I found out, shooting sports with a rangefinder is hard. I needed to shift my thinking. The movement of the boxers was to quick to keep up manual focus. Luckily I knew I could push the MM to ISO 640 without getting noise or quality loss. This way I could close down my aperture a bit ( to f8.0), to ensure that the movement of the boxers wouldn’t immediately mean my picture would be out of focus. Using the zone focus scale on top of my lens gave me the opportunity to focus on framing and the actual action. More important I could do it without loosing any speed. And that’s what I needed: speed. These athletes were ferocious, quick and all over the place.
I walked up to the ring and maneuvered myself into the corner where one of the boxers would be patched up every break between rounds. I was only send away once, as I nearly sat down on one of the referees lap, but I was virtually hanging inside the ring most of the time. Very necessary because a 35mm Summicron is a great lens, my favorite, but you’ll have to get in close and I didn’t want to crop (to much) afterwards.
Looking back at the results, again I’m so happy with the Leica MM. It again delivered above my expectation. And one thing I’m quite sure of: the pictures are completely different from the ones taken by all the photographers that were there using their highspeed dSLRs with mega zooms and flashes (!?).
Suddenly I realize what a writers block means to a writer or a musician. And I know now, that a photographer can have the same problem. Sure you can take pictures of everything and anything, but that doesn’t mean that it will inspire you, let alone your viewers.
Coming from India to Thailand I didn’t know what hit me. From complete chaos and disorder I stepped into a world of structure, order and tourism. From camels in the streets and young children playing at every corner, I came to a city of young backpackers getting drunk. I just didn’t know what to do. All inspiration was gone in a second.
Of course this is something happening in my head. If you look at it, Bangkok is a great and diverse city offering more than enough opportunity to take good photos. But it just didn’t do it for me. Specially after the huge amount of pictures I had taken in India. I just turned blank.
I found myself sitting at a little cafe, eating some springrolls and wondering what in the world to do next. The more I wanted to make interesting work, the less I knew what to do. The pressure of a blog, a facebookpage and a flickr account didn’t really make me sit back and relax either.
In the end I figured out this is exactly what I need to do… sit back, relax, admit to myself that I don’t know what to shoot at this moment and just except the fact that I don’t know what to do for a while.
The reason why I take photographs is to make more sense of a world I understand less every day. When you are a little human being, a child, I can only assume you understand even less of what all these grown ups are doing. These adults tell you what to do and what not to do. They try to teach you what’s right and wrong and they try to explain to you how the world around you works.
This is what happened to me anyway and still; I don’t understand. The only way to truly understand, in my opinion, is to think for yourself and experience.
This is why the 100 cameras project instantly had my attention. “Children who are stimulated to capture their world in photographs.” They are asked to show the world their point of view. They are challenged to think about their surroundings, their city and their country. By doing this, I think, these kids make a huge leap in their upbringing and their development.
Picture bu Kiden, age 10 from Sudan
Picture by Alexander, age 13 from Cuba
But this is not where the project ends. It then helps them sell their pictures to complete strangers around the world, through the Internet. All the money earned, will be used to provide in the needs of their families, neighborhoods, communities and friends. Therefor giving them a sense of responsibility and trust. So the way I look at it, this project helps children to experience, learn, empower and most of all express themselves. And it uses one of the most beautiful mediums to do it: “Photography.”
Picture by Buba, age 14 from Sudan
Picture by Andrew, age 13 from New York
Picture by Anthony, age 11 from Cuba
For more information about the project, or more important, if you like to sponsor this project or buy one of the children’s pictures, you can visit the site of 100 Cameras here.
Traveling through India for a couple of months, I’ve been roaming the streets, got lost in the slums and had some nice conversations with people I portrayed. Whether it was a big city, a small village or out in the country; there’s one and a half billion people and they all had a little story to tell. Like I said in one of my blogs, this is how I try to understand the world.
To keep challenging myself and to learn even more, I also need to change perspective every now and again. Most of the time this happens unexpectedly. Coming to Khajuraho, that opportunity presented itself quite clearly. The first day I still did what I always do. I walked the little streets, had some fun with the kids that ran around me, when roaming through the outside neighborhoods.
(picture by Maartje Grond)
But Khajuraho is known for its temples. Even though it’s a very small village, it even has an airport to fly in the herds of tourists coming to see the Kama Sutra temples of Khajuraho. So there was no way around it. I had to pay my entrance fee and see what the fuss was all about.
After five minutes I already noticed… this is not what I’m looking for. I can see how impressive the buildings are. I can even be overwhelmed for a minute by the idea that everything is build by man, some 1000 years ago. But this moment of astonishment only takes a very short time. It’s probably why I don’t do architecture photography, or product photography. (Although I like to work for real estate agents… but that’s because I can snoop around in people’s life just for a couple of hours or so.)
My curiosity towards the “typical” groups of tourists on the other hand is something that immediately made me grab my camera. The way these herds of white-socked people, with safari hats and huge amounts of camera gear move, is something that intrigued me right from the start. It may sound like a huge judgment if you read that last sentence, but it’s not! I think it’s great people travel the world to see what other countries and cultures have to offer. And I really couldn’t care less how they do it. It’s just that “their way” of traveling and exploring is completely out of my comprehension as well. Therefor I did what I always do when I don’t understand. I photograph.
To see the complete series, both the streets ánd the temples of Khajuraho, check my Flickr page.