Posts tagged documentary

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.


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.


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. 


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.


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. 


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…


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.

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.


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!


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.



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. 



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.


this photo was taken by Joshua


Entering your photos in a contest; it’s supposed to be a smart move, but I really don’t like it. Of course I understand it’s a good way to reflect on your work, sharpen your selecting skills and it’s a great way to get some free publicity or great prices IF you win.


Would this photo, taken during my stay in Peru, have a chance of winning? I haven’t submitted it yet to any competition.

But that’s the whole problem; I hate selecting my own work… It’s not that I can’t see one photo is photographically better than te other, but the “feel” of a photo is also important. If not more important. This is where it gets tricky, as a lot of photos have more feel to me personally than to most viewers… I was there, I know the story! 


This shot taken in Mumbai actually got a “mark of excellence” in the I-shot -it competition.


This shot makes my heart beat faster, was used by Transcontinenta as a cover for a special edition yearbook, but hasn’t won anything in a competition…. yet.

When selecting just one photo it’s still relatively easy… you just pick one that makes your heart jump or that others like and repost a billion times on social media. You can still talk about taste and preference, but that’s just what it is.

It’s the series which give me the hard time. Most of the time they give you a restriction of X photos. And for some reason I always end up with X plus some, to tell the whole story. I guess this also is just a matter of perseverance and practice… so I’ve started to enter some of my work. 




These are shots taken during a project with autistic children in Peru. I didn’t select these three for entering this serie in a contest. To see all the photos check here and decide which seven pictures you would send in…

I’m mainly entering competitions where there are actual jurors and no “social voting system”. On the one hand because this gets me actual feedback on what I’m doing and on the other hand so I don’t have to spam my entire network. Also I’m entering some competitions that actually cost money… I look at this as “learning tuition” that I’ve never spend on an actual course, school or training. 


This picture I’ve never entered in a competition… still it got me some amazing publicity…

As for the publicity side of things; It’s always good to have people notice you and even blog about you… as you can check here, you might end up in one of those “best of the year” lists that come out by the end of the year. Thanks a lot for checking out my blog this year, have a great new years eve and hopefully see you all next year!

Parents association

Yesterday we had a gathering of families with an autistic child. They came together to get to know each other, talk, drink hot chocolate milk and have their kids play together, including the non autistic brothers and sisters. The idea behind it was to form a parenting association (I have no idea if that is te proper English term for it.)

It was a great afternoon and besides documenting the event, I was asked to make some family portraits in the tradition of Peru… very posed. It’s not what I normally do, but I loved the challenge. Especially as some of the autistic kids didn’t want to stand still or stand there with their parents. Therefor sometimes I had to improvise, but it all worked out.

In the mean time some of the kids decorated the place, making beautiful chalk drawings on the floor. Others played a game on the phone, or just sat in silence in a corner.

Happy Holidays

It might be a bit to early… but at least I won’t forget… also I can take this opportunity to thank all of you people checking out my blog, today number 600 hit the follow button. Thanks, without you guys it would be a lot less fun to write down my adventures.


New project coming.

December 1st I will travel to Peru to make a reportage on autistic children in Cuzco. The Dutch foundation Abrazos (sorry the website is in Dutch or Spanish) has asked me to make a reportage on their work and the families that benefit by their help. Their goal is to raise awareness and provide knowledge about autism in Peru. By now they help over 170 different families in Cuzco.

For this project I’m not to worried about my photography skills. But I have no experience what so ever with autism. I have no idea what to expect and I don’t know how these children will react on a stranger being near… specially a stranger holding a camera.

Most of the time I play things by ear, not preparing anything. This helps me to approach my subject without any prejudice. Whether you read a book, watch a documentary or listen to a story, you will always be looking or listening to/at somebody else’s vision. I prefer to experience things first hand. That’s why I love to travel and why I love my job as a photographer; I get to see, feel and form my own vision of whatever I’m documenting… (Of course I do check if I need some safety precautions where ever I go.)

This morning though, I had the chance to prepare a little bit for my trip to Peru. A friend of the foundation lives here in the Netherlands with his autistic son, who was born in Peru. So today I have spend two hours with Patrick and his son Gijs. Observing Gijs and talking to his father, I do have a little bit of an idea of what lies ahead. (although Patrick also pointed out that autism comes in many ways and forms.) These are some photos I took this morning.

One thing is for sure, it’s going to be an intense and very interesting month. Of course I’ll keep you posted here and on my Facebook page. 

Finally, it’s there. It took some time, my patience was tested to it’s very limits, but now it’s finally there: The Leica M240.

I had tried it about a month ago, courtesy of Transcontinenta - the importer of Leica in the Netherlands- during the world justice forum in The Hague. A perfect place to test it, because the new M is already the standard in American court due to its silent shutter release. 

It was a great opportunity to test it, as many of the conference halls were quite dark to work in. So cranking it up to 1600 ISO was a necessity in many accessions. And it worked, it worked very well. I loved the colours coming straight from the camera and the resolution is amazing.

I really had to get used to the new buttons on the back though. Half of the time I wanted to have a quick playback, I immediately ended up in live view mode. And the fact that the info button is now on the other side took some getting used to as well. 

Still I’m very happy. For one, I can actually see what I’m doing now. As the LCD is finally giving some proper image and some higher resolution feedback on what I’m doing.

So the actual transition has happened. All my Nikon gear is for sell (most of it already sold even) and from now on I will be using either this beautiful monster or its sibling the Monochrom. Having “only” a Summicron 35mm and a Summicron 50mm and these two babies in my bag makes me the happiest person alive.