In this blog entry I am presenting the work-in-progress of one of my photography series. It’s a collection of photographs from the fishermen’s neighborhood in Guet Ndar in Saint-Louis of Senegal. There will be some updates to this post with more information about the project and links to further reading in the coming weeks so please do come back again!
Guet Ndaru Mool is primarily a visual essay with portraits that I have produced on fish skin. They represent a community of fishermen who, as a result of climate change, coastal erosion and rising sea levels, are losing their homes and jobs in a world in which the entire traditional and small-scale fishing and fish processing are at stake. These portraits are accompanied by witnessing voices by the persons involved, telling that all this is happening now. Some of these voices can also be heard in a short video that I have shot in Guet Ndar.
I have no words for the alarming info graphics on the rising sea temperatures in this part of the world! Some Western countries and the Chinese – and who not – are snatching the sardines from the plates of the local population by building lucrative fishmeal factories on the shores of Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia. West Africa’s sardinella are joining a worldwide diaspora of sea creatures fleeing as waters warm. The sheer scale of this mass migration dwarfs anything taking place on land: Fish are moving 10 times farther on average than terrestrial animals affected by rising temperatures. More on this can be found in this eye-opening report called Plundering Africa by Reuters.
Pohjois-Senegalin Saint-Louis’n saarella huijaripapit, aaveet, siirtomaaherrat ja ruumiita joesta sukeltava Seydou tutustuttavat lukijansa kaupungin värikkääseen arkeen ja valaisevat tarinoillaan millaista on asua Senegal-joen varrella ja välillä joen uumenissakin. Kalastajistaan ja siirtomaa-ajan historiastaan tunnetun saaren suulliseen perinteeseen nojaavat tarinat päätyvät harvoin kirjoihin ja kansiin, puhumattakaan että niitä voisi lukea suomeksi. Nyt se on mahdollista!
Saaren eteläisissä kortteleissa Ameth Fall-koulun vieressä asui nainen nimeltä Djemb Samb. Kerran, kun hän oli vielä pieni tyttö, hänen äitinsä lähetti hänet heittämään roskia jokeen. Kun Djemb Samb saapui joen rantaan, hän näki siellä vanhan rouvan istumassa penkillä. Kun tyttö lähestyi vanhaa rouvaa, joen henki Mame Coumba Bang tiesi tytön läsnäolon vaikka katsoi ihan muualle. Hän käänsi katseensa Djemb Sambin suuntaan ja päästi suupielestään ciipatuu-maiskahduksen tyttöä kohti. Kohta tämän jälkeen joen henki sukelsi penkkeineen jokeen ja katosi veden syvyyksiin. Tästä päivästä alkaen Djemb Sambin suu vääntyi vinoon asentoon, eikä hän koskaan onnistunut saamaan lapsia.
Kun joen henki teki Djemb Sambille ciipatuun, tytön olisi pitänyt päästää ciipatuu suustaan saman tien takaisin joen hengen suuntaan. Jos hän olisi tehnyt niin, hänelle ei olisi käynyt kuinkaan.
Nasille ei käynyt näin köpelösti. Siihen aikaan, kun joen vesi oli makeaa, Nasi pesi pyykkiä joen rannassa vanhan höyrynosturin vieressä. Pyykätessä hän huomasi joen hengen Mame Coumba Bangin tulevan häntä kohti ja tuijottavan häntä tiukasti. Kun Mame Coumba Bang oli tullut Nasin luokse, hän teki Nasille ciipatuun, ja Nasi vastasi takaisin päästämällä suupielestään mehevän ja vielä äänekkäämmän ciipatuun joen hengelle Mame Coumba Bangille sillä seurauksella, että tämä kääntyi kannoillaan ja katosi jokeen.
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Eräänä iltana nuori mies oli joen rannassa höyrynosturin takana. Hän oli siellä tarpeillaan ja oli asettunut kyykkyyn niin, että takapuoli osoitti joelle päin. Kun hän oli hoitanut asiansa ja oli pesemässä takamustaan, hän tunsi kuinka joesta ilmestyi käsi, joka auttoi häntä kyseisessä toimenpiteessä.
Nuorimies oli seota siihen paikkaan!
Tästä päivästä lähtien aina kun mies muisteli tapahtunutta, hän sai hulluuskohtauksen.
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Teos (114 s.) sisältää noin 50 valokuvaa Saint-Louis’n kaupunkimiljööstä ja tarinoissa esiintyvistä yksityiskohdista.
Tarinat: Idrissa Diallo.
Suomennos, ulkoasu ja valokuvat: Jarmo Pikkujämsä.
Ilmestymisajankohta: maaliskuu 2019.
Jälleenmyyntihinta: € 20,00
Late Afternoon Publishing kustantaa valokuvakuvateoksia, graafisia novelleja ja fiktiota Afrikasta ja Afrikan diasporasta. Senegal-sarjan seuraava osa on tämän teoksen wolofinkielinen versio Ci Biir Dexu Senegal.
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.
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.
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 Mool 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:
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.