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.
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.
Thinking back, this past summer was somewhat surprisingly influenced not only by my working with photography but also with text. You may or may not know that I have a background in literary research, and as it at some point happened, I just felt over saturated with text and needed a break. To make a change, I wanted to go back to experimental photography of my early twenties and work with the visual and sound alone as some sort of a counter balancing act, away from books. Come to think of it, I always preferred to keep text and image fully separated and disliked visual art work that would have text incorporated in it as it felt – and still does – somehow pretentious and almost patronizing. To me a text “glued” on top of an image takes away from the image itself instead of adding to it. Now, after this long shift from text to image, I have rediscovered a good appetite for books and I’m having again fun reading! These days you’ll see me bouncing like a rubber ball between taking and making photos and writing and reading. And I seem to be truly missing encounters with people who read books.
From what I’ve read recently, I’ll just mention a few favorites: I enjoyed every minute of Arundhati Roy’s The Utmost Ministry of Happiness (2017) and her narrative on Hizras and politico-religious clashes in Kashmir, not to mention the vast array of characters in the story and all that craziness of human beings… I devoured this book. It has received very mixed reviews, possibly partly because of the large number of characters so much so that it may become difficult to keep track who is who, especially if you have any longer breaks from reading the story. I don’t mind a large number of characters at all and I suppose in this case when we are talking about India it only makes sense! Other recent well spent moments: Haruki Murakami’s wonderfully melancholic story Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (2013), the Senegalese young writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s third novel De Purs Hommes (2018) that addresses taboos and prejudice very courageously, and Sadie Smith’s fantastic collection of essays in Feel Free (2018), to name but a few. At least one of the essays titled Generation Why, a review on David Fincher’s film The Social Network and published already in 2010, can also be found online on The New York Review of Books.
If I had the means, I would open a library here in Saint-Louis. We already have a small library at Waaw but it’s open only to our artist guests. I just love spaces where people can sit around and dedicate time to read papers, wander between book shelves and take books out almost randomly and flip them and get lost in reading. It’s that old analog world! If there is one thing that I miss in my former home town Turku, it’s the library.
We don’t have a library here in town but it has been a wonderful discovery to see that even on this small island you can actually have books made. Or have those broken books that hang around in the house fixed. Ibrahima, who inherited the bookbinding skills from his father, is now having his sons around to give a helping hand. His atelier is an interesting space with half full ink bottles, printing machine parts, piles of brochures, old prints on the walls.. All those indie publishers out there, this is the place! It’s early days of my one-man indie publishing career but soon, after the last twists of editing and creating language versions, the very first book will be out!
I’ve uploaded a short clip on Daily Motion in which you can see Ibrahima and his colleagues in full action.
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.