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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last sunday Jacqueline Govaert performed a try out gig in “De Vijfhoek”, a small and low lit bar in my hometown Haarlem. The music was fantastic and moving. Beautiful, small, acoustic songs behind the piano supported by two ladies on backing vocals. Of course I brought the Monochrom again, but this time… it was tough. Most of the small acoustic set took place behind the piano, so Jacqueline was sitting in almost dark. Besides that it was packed, so there was very little space to move.
In the end I got a spot very near the piano, which I needed with only a 35mm on me. Luckily the Monochrom (as all Leica M cameras) is very quiet, so I didn’t disturb the concert. I had to shoot at 6400 ISO and still I had to shoot at 1/15 or 1/30 sec at f2.0. Some shots still came out a bit dark and, as you probably know, if you try to fix something like that in LR you’ll get noise… in some cases quite a lot. But I really liked the shots, so I decided not to try and get rid of the noise but put in extra grain in Silver Effex pro. Luckily it had exactly the right results. Now I had some very atmospheric shots, subsidiary to the beautiful songs of Jacqueline. Hope you’ll like them.
I take photographs to understand. To observe a world that is unknown to me. To look at situations I’ve never been in.
So when I got the opportunity to photograph 5 days out of the life of an activist, I jumped at the occasion. And what an opportunity this was: shadowing the director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, for 5 days in Istanbul, while he was attending the Global Power Shift conference, meeting with journalists and marching through the streets of Istanbul, raising awareness about how the fossil fuel threatens the climate and environment. And all of this, only weeks after the Gezi protests sparked unrest in the entire Turkey.
Greenpeace Turkey’s staff and volunteers were involved in the initial protest against the demolition of Gezi park, one of the only remaining green areas in the vast city of Istanbul. We also joined a protest to commemorate all the people that were killed in Turkey during the past few weeks.
Now, looking back at it, I can honestly say: ”That man is a machine”. And I mean that in the most respectful way I can possibly think of. Imagine a work day that starts early in the morning and doesn’t end until the night comes, seven days a week, for a cause he so strongly believes in. And imagine that there is rarely a glimpse of tiredness to be seen. Every person he meets, every group he addresses, every interview he gives, is with warmth, contact, focus and attention. One late night he started a conference call and was on for several hours, just as I went to my hotel room to sleep. I just couldn’t keep up.
In the quick moments between meetings, he makes calls, deliberates with his colleagues, or listens to spoken Turkish words on his phone so that he will pronounce them the right way when speaking at the rally we were going to.
I’m aware of my special position. Everyone who meets this man, gets a certain amount of time, dedicated specially to them. After that, he’s gone and you have no idea what he is going to do next. This man lives in a constant hyper focus with the ability to convey what his vision of a better world is. I got to see, up close and personal, how this man shifts between tone and the words, often explaining the same issues. To 20 volunteers, the message has to be brought differently than on a live TV program for the Turkish public. But the message is the same: a better world is possible. The intensity is overwhelming each time, and it was empowering to see how one person can inspire so many.
So here I am, in Istanbul. Not to capture the events on Taskim Square, but to shadow the head of Greenpeace, mister Kumi Naidoo. He will be attending the conference of the Global Power Shift.
Still, I’ll meet him tomorrow, so tonight I did go to Taskim square. What else would you do ;-) As I was still carying my luggage, looking for my hotel, I didn’t make a lot of photos on arrival. But I did take a few, because the amount of police there was overwhelming.
Tonight I went back and I took some more. A perfect moment to check out the high ISO settings (2000) on the Monochrom, combined with a 1/30 or less shutter speed and an apperture of f2.0. I have to say… it delivered.
Luckily there wasn’t to much action, otherwise the slow shutter speed would have been a problem. Actually it was quite interesting to see some people demonstrating, police joking around with each other and venders trying to sell their food and balloon swards. Kind of surreal. And so very busy even on a Tuesday night at 23.30 h
Back home for nearly two weeks, it’s time to look back at a wonderful trip. Because I had to return the Monochrom to Transcontinenta BV, who very kindly supported me with the camera for this long experiment, I would like to look back at working with this wonderful camera.
It felt like a crazy decision at first, going to the land of colour with an all black & white camera. And the first month I did have some doubts. I even turned back to the M9 some times. Which I only brought with me as a backup. But during the trip I fell in love with the camera. By now, I actually don’t see a reason not to switch from the M9 to the Monochrom. In these two weeks back home, I think I’ve figured out why this B&W camera got to me. Some of the questions and remarks I had on my blogs and facebookpage, helped me discover this. Thank you for that!
As I told you in an earlier blog, I use my camera to interact with the people I meet or to cope with the situations I’m in. I use a lot of energy connecting with my subjects. I have figured out that the Monochrom helps me to safe more energy. The way it does that, is taking away choices.
When I was shopping in the Netherlands for the first time in 5 months, I suddenly realised that making a choice, does cost me energy. In India, shopping for cornflakes, will give you cornflakes. There’s only one kind. (if they have any at all!) Here in the Netherlands, it takes me 5 minutes to figure out which cornflakes to take and then I have to choose if I want a small package or a large one. Same happens when buying the milk to go along with it. It takes time, and therefor energy to make such decisions.
With photography it’s the same thing. Most “modern” cameras have so many options I don’t know where to start. Specially when the camera is equipped with a 24-70 mm zoom. With the Monochrom and its 35 mm Summicron, there is very little choice. Actually there’s close to none. This camera is as basic as they come. Therefor all my energy can be spend with the subject of my picture.
That said, I did have to become a craftsman before I could use this camera in such way. The technique had to be ingrained in my hands and in my mind. Luckily I had done so in the past two years with the Leica M9. Now I’m shooting the same way as I did when I started photography: Instinctively. The only difference is that now, I know what I’m doing, so I can work with a minimum in choice and a maximum in quality (camera) and knowledge (technique).
The Black & White aspect is another important aspect of why I love this new Leica. In the same blog I referred to before, there’s another reason why I take pictures. I need to observe. I need to step away from the story to actually see the bigger picture. For me personally, colour distracts me from the story. Whenever I see a picture in colour, the first thing I see is colour, vibrance (or lack of) and contrast. When I look at a monochrome picture, the first thing I see is a story. To me there’s only one exception to this and that is when colour or it’s vibrance, ís telling me the actual story.
Of course I could also “sell” the camera with it’s toning, beautiful sharpness, it’s dynamic range etc etc. But every advertorial or advert will tell you this. For me personal this is not that important. A camera is good or it’s not. What’s most important for me, is that it lets me do what I like to do the most: Get to know the world and tell my stories as I see them.
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 (!?).
Steve Huff, one of my favorite photography bloggers has put up my guest blog today!
Most of the time when traveling, I find myself going from city to town and back to a city again. Sometimes I almost forget there’s more than that. When I hired a little motor bike and just cruised out of the town Pushkar, I noticed everything changed. Landscape, there’s no surprise, but also the contact with the people I met along the way.
There was no hassle, asking for money or trying to sell me anything anymore. People were open and friendly, inviting and very photo genetic. I wrote a blog a while ago, about sending a private driver back home and taking the bus between destinations. I’m still very happy i did, but after a day driving around on my little moped, I guess next time I’ll be traveling with a drivers license for a motorbike. That way I can buy myself a cheap motor and travel the country on my own. Bringing only my small Leica kit - same as I have with me now - and some necessities like underware, there will be no trouble with luggage and it will bring me at places I’ll otherwise won’t see.
So, at least I have found my reason to stay traveling and go back to beautiful India again and again! ;-)
If you like to see these pictures and some more in higher resolution, check my Flickr account