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.

 

 

New Year in Nouakchott

Version 2
Tasty acacias in sight  © Jarmo Pikkujämsä

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!