One day I was on the riverbank behind the Great Mosque. There was a pregnant goat that fell into the water. A friend of mine told me:
“Idrissa, you have to save this goat!”
I undressed and put my clothes on an old boat by the water. When I had taken the goat out of the river I went to get my clothes and I saw something pull my clothes into the river. I wanted to dive to get my clothes back but I hesitated because what I had seen was so strange…
Back home I explained to my mother what had happened. She instantly went to see Marabout Amma Lamine Kebe, asking him for advise. Amma Lamine told my mother that the goat belonged to the river spirit Mame Coumba Bang and because her son had saved the goat the river spirit was now angry with her son. He said: “If your son goes back to take his clothes you will never see him again!”
There is a place in the river called wakhande. In general, a body that ends up in wakhande will never be found.
“Oh wakhande! Tell me when you’re full, we want the bodies of our loved ones back!”
“DEEP” is a series that dives into the waters of the Senegal River and the Atlantic Ocean, off the island of Saint-Louis, called Ndar in Wolof. It’s a selection of underwater portraits, which for many locals have a frightening aspect. Not without reason, since among the fishermen there are frequent drownings due to strong undercurrents, lack of swimming skills and boat accidents. Yet, there are those who are not afraid and who can swim and dive deep. The most notorious of these will even fetch the drowned from the depths of the water. Some of you may have heard of the famous man called Seydou, who throughout his long life would always be called to locate and fetch the body of a person who had drowned in the river.
While for many crossing the river requires a prayer or two, or offerings to the spirits who live in the dark waters, to me the feeling of free diving and being surrounded by water is just thrilling. It’s the soft resistance of water that gives you a very special sense of body and dimensions and a complete “out of this world” feeling that does the trick every time.
With this photography project I have discovered what it’s like to share that feeling, as some of my friends who agreed on being photographed were able to “let go” and just float freely under water until I had made my shots and gave them a sign that we can return on the surface again. These are friends who are good swimmers and would normally work in the summer as life guards on the beach. For example to Babacar, who also teaches swimming to children at the university’s Olympic pool, this type of free diving experience has been a discovery of a new form of meditation. As for me, that is certainly the case too, except that I also need to focus on shooting, holding my hand steady, actually holding my entire body steady and resist to resurfacing – not easy when your lungs are full of air. Next thing on shopping list: a weight belt! Or why not make one myself..
Exhibition “DEEP” in Kristiinankaupunki (Finland) 10.-17.6. 2018. Images printed on canvas, dimensions between 50 x 60 cm and 50 x 100 cm.
As a child I was warned by this terrible creature that lived in the depths of the nearby river. It would snatch children with his long white arm and eat them. In winter, when my uncles took me to skate or sledge ride with our dog on the river, I was secretly terrified to know that we had but some ice and snow between us and this creature. I could almost see it gliding under the ice right below us and follow us and it was just a matter of time when it would find the opportunity to break the ice so that it would clutch me. This creature was called Näkki.
The Senegal river has its own stories, of which I will publish a photography book later in 2018. Being in Saint-Louis means that you are always in contact with both the Senegal river and the Atlantic ocean and with all the buzz related to fishing. The number of different types of fish is dizzying to begin with – and at times it’s also confusing as the names of different types of fish sometimes depend on who’s saying! You have sipakh, diané, coty, talar, thiof… and many others, not to mention hammerhead sharks or cuttlefish and what not. I am fascinated and quickly absorbed by what is happening around me here: the fishermen prepare their pirogues and leave, or return with their catch, they occupy entire streets to fix their nets, walk on the beach and into the rough sea up to their armpits and set their nets, or throw their nets in the river; there are also carpenters making new pirogues or fixing old ones, welders working on motors, horse carts carrying stuff back and forth between Goxum Bacc and Ndar Toute neighborhoods, boat painters, immense areas where fish is being dried, ice factories, freezer vans and trucks of all sizes, and then of course the fish market frenzy, especially upon the return of the boats..
I have now come to a point where it’s time to show some of my work in this series on Guetndarian fishermen and their boats. A fantastic opportunity to do so opens in June in Kristiinankaupunki (Finland) where we will be running a one-month long artists’ residency and several exhibitions by our guest artists. I know that Nappkat is a series that I will keep alive for as long as I stay in Saint-Louis so I will always make more and more photographs on this topic. The vibrancy of it is not letting me go just yet!
One recurrent dream of mine is to find myself deep in the ocean on some sort of a mission, or diving deep into the sea and returning on the surface. While in the depths of the sea I seem to have no need to breathe and being underwater appears a prolonged and pleasant experience. Having been a swimmer all my life, I actually never thought of diving until more recently when I started an underwater photography project. Now I am discovering the whole world of free diving and would like to learn it in practice and develop skills related to this sports. I am not so much interested in going into any record depths or anything like that, rather I would just love to be able to stay under water for a couple of minutes and make the most of that – and take more pictures ! Among some friends that I have photographed I have already witnessed this fantastic transformation from their first being somewhat uncomfortable when under water and then getting used to it and being able to relax.
Water – compared to air – is so “thick” that is is a challenge to get good contrasts when working with cyanotype. While I am still experimenting, I am also hoping to get better paper in the future (I am now using Canson) with more texture and higher densities of blue.
Xóot is a series of underwater portraits printed on fabric that I will exhibit in the Dakar Biennale 2018 OFF in May. I am also printing a larger number of these portraits in cyanotype that I will publish later this year in the form of a a photography book with the same title. This sample portrait “ID goes deep” is murky on purpose as the print is made of a photograph of two layers.
I am using #goesdeep to trace back to all my current and future work with underwater portraits available online.
How many sand dunes can you photograph on a trekking holiday? Walking from Chinguetti to Tergit took us six days and now I have some four hundred photographs to work on – so the answer to my question is: way too many.
Mauritania is big and beautiful and for me being out of radar, without computers and mobile phones, is what I call a holiday. Plenty of fresh air with beautiful night skies illuminated by the Pleiades, Orion and Andromeda, among thousands of other stars. There were also scorpions, camels, and more camels, acacias, and even a few people from day three onward, mostly wrinkled nomadic men on their camels and with charmingly brief toothless smiles directed at us. Or their wives selling dates and necklaces made out of dried camel poop. The scenery kept changing from sand to rocky hills to mountains as we moved on, and this was in direct relation to the increasing number of abrasions on our feet. Our guide E was a football coach who took a special pride in walking very fast especially in deep sand and steep slopes. He did this also partly because we needed to reach our night camp early so that he would be able to cook for us before dark. Truly a man of many talents. As a result to this speed walking I ended up with a surprisingly large number of blurry pictures and a lens cap that would not close as I would have to focus more on seeing my steps and keep balance… but the dinners were always tasty!
There were also a few palmeraies, peaceful lush valleys with thousands of date palms (I must have eaten thousands of dates in a week to keep myself high on sugar like a local) that I eagerly photographed in all possible lightning. These oasis looked fantastic, like mirages from the Orientalist French paintings by Vernet. My plan is to develop these shots with gum oil sometime in the future.
Mauritania is also quite a contrast to my adopted home country Senegal: so much quieter and almost secretive, as things seem to happen behind closed doors and gates and darkened car windows. Not to mention that everybody is wrapped in practical chèches, fighting the ever present dust and sand. A New Year’s Eve in Nouakchott and we were more or less the only walking persons in that part of town. I realize now that when I am away from Saint-Louis, it is the soundscapes produced by humans and animals that I start to miss first. But the desert is a mind expanding experience because of its vastness that literally swallows you. I’ve had similar experiences earlier in Libya in the Akakus region and in Dallol in Ethiopia. That vastness, in a way, puts you in a place in new proportions and you come to realize your true size on this planet – small that is – just like the ocean does, and your dreams turn big and vivid. Not a bad start for this new year, never mind the abrasions!
I’m encountering new hurdles in producing my new cyanotype series and I’m not talking about birds targeting my contact glass, or geckos running over my drying prints. Suddenly I don’t have enough material to work on! So far I have had my negatives printed on transparents in Europe with the first batch for this particular series made last September when I was on a short trip. Now, it appears, the same printing company has let me down at the very last minute. I had sent the files over – it actually took me a day or so to send 25 photographs with these bad connections – and yesterday a friend was going to pick them up just a day before his trip to Senegal and discovered that the war had not been done.
Living in the Sahel region has its benefits: throughout the year you have a lot of sun, which is just great for developing your photos. Then in August & September you may have a couple of days when there is no time to even think about photography because you’re either busy trying to prevent the rain from entering the house, or you are busy trying to remove all that water that has just flooded in. Then in winter months, on and off, you have days like today with so much dust that can barely see the sun. With the help of a strong wind from the east the red dust finds its way in through almost anything; in the case of this house it’s mostly from between the doors and thresholds. Sweeping is an almost laughable exercise, because when you are finished you need to start all over as new dust has just landed when you turned your back. No chance for developing photographs on days like this – or even taking any photos! It’s just better to stay indoors and avoid asthma. I did adventure outdoors today on one occasion though, with high hopes that now that my friend’s luggage will not have my negatives in it, I would be able to get them from a local print shop. As a test, this is what I got:
On a more positive note, this friend who is running the print shop is ready to turn the world over in hope of finding better transparents that would not melt in the process. Despite his admirable energy I may have to adjust my project time wise, which is fine, or I may have to make a quick trip to Dakar and look around for better transparents some time in early 2018. To be continued.. with Happy New year wishes to each and everyone!
I started my cyanotype series a week ago and the results are very promising. I knew that I would enjoy this process, its simplicity and the beauty of the hues of blue, but I didn’t know I would love it so much! I could now spend hours and days just developing more and more photographs!
There are people who think of weekdays as colours. I have always filled much longer, rather undefined, periods with one or a couple of colours in my life and right now it’s blue and purple, very dark purple. I feel that I need those colours, I want to see them around me. So what’s better than developing photos in cyanotype! This falls rather neatly into my preparing of a story book on water and underwater elements.
As for purple, I had a fabric dyed in deep purple by a friend and I hang it up on the wall of my photo studio. I have already used it in a couple of shoots and when not shooting, even staring at it across my desk is very soothing. I read somewhere that it is possible to get shades of purple even in cyanotype, I wonder how. I have not yet figured out all the variables that can affect the result in cyanotype and I have so far developed on paper with one layer of coating only, but in some of my photos there actually are very dark blues getting rather close to purple!
I have a funny feeling that I will be glued to this technique for a long time, perhaps a lifetime! Never mind the small constraints such as birds shitting on my contact glass, or geckos’ poop on my prints when I’ve left them to dry. As it happens, a very big gecko has moved into my dark room and I need some long term solutions if we are to share this space…