This is a short series of b&w memories from our last Analogue Extreme programme in early 2019, a desert trek in Mauritania organized for artists and creatives by Waaw Centre for Art and Design. It was a week full of laughter, beautiful scenery between Chinquetti and Tergit, camels, haikus, even a sand storm and some blisters… all in all a magnificent week feeling fully connected to your environment, away from digital life.
To my surprise I realize now that my Olympus OM10 may have had its better days: it apparently leaves scratches on film that you can see in all photos. I may still have to test this and see if it’s really time to find a new solution to shooting film.
“One of the characteristics that I like the most among the Guetndariens is that they are in solidarity with each other. If you have a fight with someone from Guet Ndar, it’s like fighting against the whole village!
During the regatta, fishermen often fight each other by slapping their opponents with oars.But when the regatta is over, they make reconciliation just like nothing happened.The fishermen of Guet Ndar are a great bunch!”*
*Text from Waxande Dex Gi – Stories from the Senegal River, one of my upcoming publications on Saint-Louis and its oral heritage.
This is a series of four short entries in which I talk about my personal relationship, both imagined and concrete, to four African megalopolis: Lagos, Kinshasa, Addis Ababa and Dakar. The first one out: Lagos.
What are your touching grounds to a city? What images circle at the back of your retinas when you hear the word Lagos? To me, it’s all very vague and my mind wanders immediately to just about anything I happen know about Nigeria that is based on a real experience. Such things include the music of Fela Kuti, and a fairly recent and somewhat surprising visit of a group of Nigerian musicians playing Yoruba music in Saint-Louis. Or the British candid camera and street comedy by Three Non-Blondes. When I was still running a popular café in Brussels, I would create play lists with Fela’s groovy music and when played, both workers and customers would almost subconsciously start to make dance moves in between lattes! Even today, if you play Upside Down, you won’t see me sitting around for too long!
And more: Nigerian writers of course. The most obvious classics aside, Ben Okri and his famous spirit child Azaro are the dearest, with the ever re-occurring pepper soup playing an important role in Azaro’s adventures in this and the other world. And a little more recent reference: Noo Saro Wiwa’s fantastic travel book Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria.* She is the daughter of the murdered activist Ken Saro Wiwa, and was brought up in the UK and at some point in her adult life she decided to get a grasp of Nigeria and rediscover what it really is all about in all its controversies.
I also have a fond memory of one Lagosian artist friend who traveled overland all the way from Lagos to Saint-Louis on a trail of ceebu jën, the national dish of Senegal. It has its varied Nigerian interpretations expressed in jollof rice and my friend would turn that into succulent artistic experimentation and memorable rooftop dinners.
Thinking about all this, it appears that the most powerful export from a country is its art and artists. I’m often wondering how that is taken into account in the decision making in whichever city we talk about. As far as Lagos is concerned, and judged by one book that I read recently, art really does matter in the minds of the policy makers. Hopefully this is true and not just beautiful words in a book! While I was browsing my library shelves, a book popped into my hand, it was the exhibition catalogue Dey Your Lane – Lagos Variations.** Exhibition catalogues are a wonderful invention, and this particular catalogue is a treat. So was the exhibition, with 24 photographers telling each their own stories of Lagos. The opening words to the publication, addressed by the governor of Lagos State Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, make room for optimism in regard to my question. He stresses the fact that it is important to nurture homegrown talent and believe in the arts, and he talks about how artistic innovation and creativity are the ways to address important global issues. Mayors and governors the world over, listen to this man!
A couple of mentions from the book:
Logo Oluwamuyiwa Adeyemi: Monochrome Lagos (2013-ongoing) is my favorite series in this exhibition. He documents “the theatrical arrangement of almost everything in this great human carnival” and creates an amazing archival reference to Lagos. Have a look at his Homepage: and a blog entry where he asks: “If I stripped Lagos of the colour, what would I find?”
Samuel James’s series Lagos underground (2010) has also very powerful images on the ‘Area Boys’. The photographer talks about Lagos where “people flow like water” and continues: “Such is Lagos, with its twenty million converging souls, meeting, parting, flowing into and away from each other and back again. Such are these tales of passage into the Lagos dark waters – guided by its keepers, the ‘Area Boys'”
Bas Losekoot started to explore the role of the individual in some of the world’s most crowded cities and his subjects in Familiar Strangers (2016) are people in transit in Lagos. He talks about while commuting to the city, we wear masks of self protection in order to “detach from space and reality.” It’s about “being alone together and granting each other a certain space and freedom.” When I think of my own experience of Dakar, I could add that it seems to have an amazing base of “human interface” that provides a fast lane to engage with other city dwellers. Some might call this even frustratingly fast! It becomes ever more crucial to recognize to what degree you actually do need to wear a mask of self protection, it’s an ongoing game of private and public and how you share your time between the two.
Ever heard of rugball, the game that the Lagosians play on the beach? Adolphus Opara’s Rugball (2006-2009) documents this popular activity as a means to find a sense of belonging and keeping out of trouble, and how this game “comes with neither the cliché-ridden rules of football nor the unruly and confusing conventions of rugby.”
I am thankful to all these 24 photographers and many other artists, who by documenting Lagos bring this megalopolis a little closer in all its human richness and flux. At the very end of this catalogue there is also an interesting timeline about certain milestones in the history of the city, ending in predictions that Lagos, which by the independence in 1960 had about half a million inhabitants, will have grown to 36 million souls by year 2050. In case you’re wondering what dey your lane means: it’s yet another survival strategy in a city as big as Lagos: stay on your own lane, i.e. mind your own business! That in mind, I have put Lagos on my list of travel destinations, and that list is very short.
* Noo Saro-Wiwa: Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, Granta Books, 2012.
** Dey Your Lane – Lagos Variations, BOZAR BOOKS and Snoeck Publishers, Ghent, 2016.
I live in such a colorful environment that for some time now I’ve been wanting to add some black & white in my life just for the sake of contrast. I’ve noticed that seeing b&w photographs in exhibitions, in the midst of this continuous stream of colorful images, is very soothing.
I am also a big fan of music videos that present a story, like a short film. As far as music videos are concerned, I have two favorite categories: firstly videos in which a person – most often the singer – simply looks straight into the camera and sings. No fuss, no synchronized dancing in groups. Secondly, I love to see stories that have been filmed in black & white and with more or less non-linear and improvised narrative, such as Spoek Mathambo – The Mountain ft. Pegasus Warning, Dj Spoko & Dj Mujava. Take any screenshot moment in this fabulous clip and it will turn out interesting. That’s something to work for! Another good example of somewhat rare and cinematographic music video in b&w is Michael Kiwanuka’s song Black Man in A White World. It falls in the category of “What did I just see?” And there are others…
I have always been fascinated by the human body and how a person expresses him/herself through movement, and sometimes also with the lack of it through a momentary pause or “pose”. When I think of movement in a photograph I am not so much talking about the actual blur that the movement may create at the time of shooting the photo but rather about the idea inside the frame of “what comes next” or “how we got here”. So in a way a photo can talk loudly about what is not in the photo at that particular time. I am hoping to catch that kind of movement both in underwater photography and in shooting b&w film. It’s too early to say where all this will take me and that’s the fun in the whole thing! My plan is to buy a film scanner some time soon and and start working on prints on interesting papers. I have already experimented with handmade Japanese paper with interesting results. A new year is about to begin, and so is a new direction in my art practice.
This 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.