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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
Upon request I’m writing a short sequel on my previous post. This time with some of the photos in black and white. It’s strange to see what it does. For me both are nice pictures, I’d like to think both are beautiful, but both bring up a complete different story. Which to me is quite logical as I had two different feelings struggling there when I walked around. On the one hand the eerie feeling of the short history that burdens this place… Black & White enhances this, the drama, the emptiness… On the other hand the resilience of the people that return to their houses and, even with the little means they have, try to continue their previous live or start a new one. Because of this feeling of duality, I have to admit it’s hard for me to choose whether to go for color or black and white. I guess it depends on which story you want to tell. Fortunately in this case I don’t really want to tell a story except for how this morning and afternoon made me feel. I guess I’ve done just that by not writing one, but two blogs on the same pictures.
You can see my final choice on my flickr page!
Just to be clear one more time: 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.
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!
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!
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!
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
As you all probably know by now, I love my black & white. The Monochrom gives me huge satisfaction every time. Tones are amazing, sharpness is unreal and it delivers the dramatic effect I love. It’s perfect for telling the story with no distractions of color what so ever. For example this short story on one of the people that auditioned this weekend in Kibera, one of the slums the projects of PeaceTones are held. His fluorescent pink shirt would have been a huge distraction. (in my opinion)
But I also brought the M240. First of all, I really wanted to bring two cameras. What would I be doing in Nairobi if I had only one and for some reason it would break down? But it’s nice to be able to shoot some video too. Check my next newsletter for that. Also, sometimes there is a situation where color becomes (part of) the story. For quite some time I’ve been avoiding those moments, or maybe I just didn’t see them. By using Instagram quite often this past week, I have rediscovered color again and I’m loving it. Don’t get me wrong, black & white still has my preference, but at least I’m allowing color in again. These few photo’s were taken in Babandogo, a different slum where we also organised some of the auditions. As I still like to do some postproduction, I’ve also been introduced to “Color effex pro” which works really nice once you’ve got it down. It’s in the same software package as “Silver effex pro” made by Nik software.
So it’s been five days already. Shooting here is quite hard I found out. During the day, light outside is very hard and bright, but shadows are nearly black. I find myself shooting at 1/4000 of a second and still having to stop down to f5.6 or even f8. A lot of the project on the other hand; meetings, rehearsals and video shooting, happens indoors. Then all of a sudden everything is dark. With only one light or a tiny window lighting the place, I find myself shooting at 1/30 or even 1/15 of a second with full opened lens and ISO sometimes up to 2000 or 2500.
The hardest part is when you’re shooting from the outside in or the inside out. The difference is huge and I have to pull all strings to manage and have detail in both. Still the Monochrom is doing an amazing job. Looking at my histogram, I try to shoot with the emphasis on the right side (opposed to what I was used to with my dSLR). As I can get some details back in the dark areas, but if some area is burned out, it’ll stay white and detail is completely lost.
Because of those bizar differences between light and dark, postproduction takes a bit more as wel. Some photo’s I had to shoot with certain settings so I wouldn’t have burned out areas, while the actual subject would then appear to be completely black (for example inside the house). In lightroom I would have to boost the black parts, sometimes with even 2 stops, to get the result I wanted. Sometimes that would meen using noise reduction, but to my surprise the Monochrom did deliver every time!
It’s also good to be here with Joshua, a photographer from San Francisco, who is a huge inspiration. Watching him work and studying his work, made me look at things with a different eye again. Daring to go for unusual angles and with a different perspective, I feel that I again can take things to a next level.
But of course there are also the shots you just want to take because they are there… When you have two Kenyan bands together in this old deserted building, you just have to make a group shot… This is where the 24mm Elmar again proved itself very useful!
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.