songu daan kooo

OlympusThis is the camera that I work with these days. After having shot one roll of film my impression is that I am going to use it for portrait photography and close ups. I love the feel of this in my hand and everything in it is very much straight forward, which of course suits my character as a photographer. Looks like I will be carrying it with me a lot – a welcomed alternative to using the heavy DSLR. As it happens, for the moment the nearest place in which I may be able to have my films developed is in Mbacké, a two hour’s ride from Saint-Louis.. that means slow projects to say the least. But chances are good that soon there will be a photo lab in Saint-Louis as well, fingers crossed!

Songu daan koo is a project in which I want to focus on expressions of movement. The title comes from a song by the notorious Youssou N’Dour and Akon. I have very fond memories of this particular song and I am guessing that one day, when retired, I’ll be sitting in a rocking chair smoking pipe and as soon as I hear this song I will jump up and do some moves! That is, of course, if I should be lucky enough to rock in a chair in Senegal or anywhere warm under a shady tree rather than in some boring elderly people’s home where they will force us to do water colors every Thursday morning and prohibit smoking altogether. Oh, and come to think of it, how likely is it that elderly people in such institutions get to hear Youssou N’Dour? Or any music? I don’t really know those places… And there are no rocking chairs in Senegal either! Anyway this song reminds me of the gym I used to go to in Guet Ndar on the side of the town where a very dense fishing community lives. We would do fitness exercises in synchronized moves and formations and I was quite impressed how well everybody, men and women, exercised together and everybody, not just the coaches, encouraged each other to stay on the move and keep fit.

There is also one other reason why I’m getting myself accustomed to this camera. I will be using it on our upcoming “Analog Extreme” mobile art residence in February in Mauritania. A full ten days of walking in the vast emptiness, off the radar. The semi-nomadic camel herders will be the likely candidates to end up in my photographs. It’s time to brush up some Hassanya so that I can politely ask them whether a photo would be OK – I can quite conveniently start practicing in the local grocery store Xewel where I am a regular customer. During the trek I just might, in lack of subjects, end up taking photos of our traveling companions instead, which of course would be just as good. So we will be a bunch of artists with very little gadgets to carry with us and we’ll take photos of each other and desert landscapes. I love every part of this!

Let’s admit it, there is a somewhat oxymoron twist when you talk about going analog in a blog as you do need some digital gadgets to even read what I am writing here, but for those like-minded people out there who sometimes feel tired of screens and everything digital and who would like to shift from representation back to direct experience, there is an offline publisher called Analog Sea that prints books. The Analog Sea Review – An Offline Journal (Summer 2018) discusses these matters through interviews and various contributions by artists and I can fully recommend it! In order to receive a copy of their bulletin or ask in which independent bookshops to find their titles you can – naturally – write them a letter.

 

 

Here comes the rain again

This is what it looks like when the heavenly taps open… This year the rainy season has been mild except for this last rain which poured down yesterday during about an our. It took a couple more hours before all this water had disappeared from the streets.

After rain it’s necessary to sweep ponds of water from the rooftop as some parts of the flat roof tilt the wrong way in regard to the evacuation pipes and the water that stagnates there finds its way very fast to even the smallest of cracks and into the building. When it rains heavily, the water starts to flood into the house also from the balconies because it cannot get out fast enough. So you need is rags, and more rags, and never leave the house for too long these days.

 

 

Work in progress

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This is a follow up to my previous post and short update in which I would just like to share with you my thoughts on how much work there can be behind a photograph. These three photos are from my second attempt of creating portraits with a new media. They are looking interestingly “damaged” but that was not intentional and  I am still not entirely happy with the results.

This means that I will have to experiment more and more and run a third and possibly a fourth trial (or even more if that’s what it takes) before I can trust my skills so much that I would get on with new portraits. The slowness of the whole process is not entirely up to my skills, it has also quite a lot to do with the fact that I am short of materials and equipment in Saint-Louis and so improvisation and trial and error takes a massive role in the whole. This of course is part of the fun, and it keeps me busy!

Guet Ndaru Mol

Guet Ndaru Mol is one of my continuous photography projects. Now after summer break I thought I would focus particularly on portraits and make a series that would have a retro feel and reflect the organic nature of the local fishing business. Here’s for starters:

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The local fishing community feels the effects of climate change first hand and many families have already lost their homes to the sea. Their lifestyle is vulnerable and alarmingly threatened because of coastal erosion and rising sea levels. A few years back we hosted  documentary photographer Greta Rhybus at Waaw and she made a fantastic photo series on climate change in Senegal.

In Saint-Louis life really spins around fishing. There are anglers on the edges of the river; men in water up to the waist – or sometimes neck – throwing in their nets both in the river and in the sea; there are small boys in giant wooden fishing boats called pirogue on the shores just waiting to grow and follow in the footsteps of their fathers; there are boat builders, engine repairers, horse carriages, fish dryers, men sleeping on giant mountains of blue nets, waiting for departure or resting after a night out in the sea, net repairers, refrigerators, ice vans, ice factories… and the big fish market where women handle and sell fish and where the other-worldly scenes of busy crowds, melting ice and crazy chaos with some hidden order to it make it one of my favorite spots in the entire town… That other-worldliness is what I am hoping to catch into my portraits.

 

Back to Blue

Some giant geckos still consider my darkroom their territory and every time I enter the room they first look at me for a few seconds as if I were an alien from another planet, then they run in all directions to hide and while at it they make that funny noise with they bodies. Thanks to these guys the room needs a regular cleaning and yesterday while sorting out the mess I made a discovery of some unused cyan coated sheets of paper. When the opportunity arises, never miss your chance to test out coated paper, no matter how old or damaged it may first look!

The horizontal image is from one of my series of underwater portraits from last year, and the two vertical ones are from a street performance created by an artist friend El Hadj Keita together with Pap Bouba & The Family. Keita is a man of many talents and makes amazing sculptures and in this particular situation they had made a street performance called “Breaking the Chains” for the Dak’Art Biennale and I took some photos of the performers.

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Overexposed edges and all sort of other imperfections are not such a bad thing. They are the thing.

 

Why is that piano on a desert island?

Kstad_island
© Martina Kändler

During the month of June four artists Hattori Eiko, Louisa Gifford, Martina Kändler and Chris Sperandio spent their time in the AiR program discovering the white nights of the  summer in Kristinestad on the West coast of Finland. Kristinestad is a charming small town with colorful and old wooden housing and narrow streets. It has a maritime past and is a member of the Città Slow network and as such makes a fantastic setting for artists to dwell in and to dwell on.

This summer Finland has had a record dry and hot weather and we were lucky to start early in June before the heat wave attacked this corner of Europe. We were all rather busy either in town or out in the woods most of the month. On top of that on the menu there were exhibitions, the annual Open Gates and Gardens event that attracts thousands of people from the region, workshops for natural dyes or how to make comics,  encounters with people curious about art, amazing collaborations with local cultural actors and associations.. you name it!

Kstad artists
In the press. Eiko, Martina, Chris and Louisa.

Martina kept herself busy also during nights as her project had a focus on the color of the sky. What better way to study the white nights! Her other project took her to visit numerous summer houses and their interiors and this project might bring her back to Kristinestad again in 2019. Fingers crossed! To an average Finn a summer house is something rather ordinary that has a lot of rituals to go by – everyone has memories of summer houses and it was usually a sign of growing up when all of a sudden you no longer wanted to spend your summer in the bush with your parents, no matter how picturesque the place! Louisa spent a lot of her time in the print workshop. Eiko, who works with fibers and geometrical shapes and patterns, experimented with natural dyes from nettles, flowers, bark, lichen and what not. My ambitious plan was to experiment with her on local plants for anthotype photography but circumstances were a little against me and I have to postpone these experiments until later. I even had spotted some delicious poppies in one garden.. next year then!

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Eiko Hattori

What’s the story with the piano? If you ever wondered how to get your head around the narrative when creating graphic novels, Chris had some very interesting tools to help you with. He taught a two-day workshop for anyone interested in how to make comics – according to him anybody can do it and he should know as his experience in teaching comics extends to decades. So, why is that piano on a desert island? Start your story with such an image and work your way backwards to the every beginning – it makes sense!

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Late evening sun in the Kristinestad artists’ residency

Looking back at Kristinestad I am just impressed by the welcoming attitude of the locals and how they helped each and every artist in their projects… to the point where we all were at times so busy that one month was barely enough to finish what we started. We also owe a very humble thank you to the local cultural secretary for making our program so easy to run, together with the local artists association Spectra. Based on such a positive experience we may want to run a new programme on both ends of the short Finnish summer in 2019 in June and in August.

At the time of writing this my batteries are again charged to the full and I am back in hot and humid Saint-Louis. It is now time to roll up my sleeves and get busy with some of my own projects before hosting new artists. On top of my photography and writing projects I will try to be a real blogger for once in the coming two or three months and come back with more frequent updates – no promises but I’ll do my best!

 

 

Eiko & Reiko roast

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Reiko roasts and Eiko assists

Barbecue is here! It is that time of the year when everybody cooks their meals in a grill, whether in a garden, on a summer house terrace or even balconies in the city. We used to build grills out of old bricks and used charcoal but it appears that these giant gas grills have become immensely popular in Finland too, they really take the kitchen outdoors. Thank you Master Chefs.

Reiko had brought a small bag of Kenyan coffee beans from Japan and she roasted them on her last morning before her return back home. This was slow coffee in Città Slow! I remember having read a book about old trade beads that traveled back and fort between Africa and Europe (it’s fascinating!) and thought that now it’s coffee beans that have taken the place of trade beads in the modern world!

As it happens, my bags are packed for return to Senegal (yes, holidays do come to an end) and my luggage contains green beans from Ethiopia that I bought while I was in Brussels. Now I take them to Senegal and roast them and they will end up on a shelf where an odd tourist from say Canada will buy a bag and take back home as a souvenir. There are no borders for coffee!