Posts tagged documentary

Exhibit preparations…

It took some time to come home again. And, although I’m physically here, I don’t know if I’ve arrived completely yet. Sure I’ve already done some nice gigs, completely different from what I’ve done in Africa. I’ve done a benefit festival, a concert of Jacqueline Govaert in Paradiso and a "living room festival" of comedians and musicians in one of the greatest neighbourhoods in town. But my trip is constantly there. The stories I’ve heard, the things I’ve seen are present every day.

One of the reasons for that is that I have to turn nearly six weeks of experiences, stories and photos into an exhibition of about 10 to 15 pictures. Creating an exhibition is a serious job. I already figured this out when I prepared an exhibition early this year in a museum. In what order do you exhibit your work? How do you make sure the flow is right, so people will stroll through your pictures without any hiccups? What size do you print your pictures? Do you print them on paper and frame them, or do you use panels? Besides these though questions, the most difficult thing is killing your darlings. There’s always less space then you actually need for the amount of pictures you picked out. And apparently there’s even more decisions to be made….

During my trip I’ve already mentioned my constant battle between black and white photography and colour. At a certain moment I made a clear choice. And, when I look at my pictures individually, there’s a lot of them that I love to see in colour. The vivid greens of the bush, the eye catching colours of the African dresses. Some pictures even don’t really work in monochrome. One of these is the picture that we are already using as the press picture for the exhibition. 

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But a lot of the pictures have the same colour spectrum. Lots of greens and lots of brown (from the sand and dirt). It works great for each photo individually.

Gay in Uganda

In the past week I’ve spend some moments with Clare, a gay activist in Uganda. She invited me to her good-bye party, as she’s moving because of safety reasons. Her compound, even though protected by a high wall with barbwire on top and a steel gate, was broken into several times. “It’s only a matter of time before they break through the bars in front of the windows and enter the house”, she said,”I’ll just have to move.” 

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The morning before I met Clare for the second time, I was watching "the Butler", a movie about the racial history of America. After seeing it, I realised humanity is a very stubborn student. Basically what happened in the United States in the 20th century isn’t that much different than what is happening right now here in Uganda. Only here it’s the gay community that is being suppressed. Februari this year the president even signed into law the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act. Luckily the law, criminalising being gay, was ruled invalid by the constitutional court only three weeks ago.

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Still, the Ugandan gay community is far from being free and many gays and lesbians therefor don’t come out but instead hide their sexuality. Something I understand very well after reading some of the hate mails and fb messages Clare receives. Being out in a country like Uganda, means that you try to avoid public places and when you do go there, you ware a hat, shades and you try to keep a low profile. It means you’re constantly at risk of being bullied or even being targeted with violence. Clare and I visited the church that she used to go to. We couldn’t go in as they told her she wasn’t welcome anymore. I was even forced by police to delete some of the pictures I took at the entrance.

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I guess Uganda, and many countries in the world, have a long way to go when it comes down to accepting people for who they are. Whether it’s a colour issue, a gender issue or a matter of sexual preference, the world seems to be far from acceptance. Meeting Clare and seeing how she fights for her rights and the rights of gay and lesbian people in Uganda, was very inspirational.

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High…

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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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

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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.

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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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

Contests…

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.

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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! 

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

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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. 

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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. 

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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.