late afternoon in saint-louis

handmade photography and coffee and anything in between

New Year in Nouakchott

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Tasty acacias in sight

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!


dust and wrinkles

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 the 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!

Blue is the new black

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“Rescue” Cyanotype – 30 x 40 cm

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…

la folie du baron – exhibition


My exhibition of image transfers on wood is ready. I am pleased with the result with all the imperfection that this media brings into your work. Zero photoshopping – I never do it – but instead hours of sweating while scrubbing the paper off the wood. It is this slowness, the surprise element and the lack of control that I so much like about alternative photography; wood as a surface is porous, dusty and scratched, and the vigour of your scrubbing also leaves its own mark on the photo. At times I use just the tip of my finger to gently rub a spot on the image – if you are not patient enough you will scrub the the ink off entirely! And at times you’ve barely started to remove the paper and the image is already full of traces from your scrubbing.

This time of the year may not be the ideal for this kind of media as it’s been more or less 40 degrees for a few weeks now and my studio has no ventilation. But the series is ready and my drops of sweat are happily fixed into the work and I have but a nasty prickly heat to remind me of all the labour.

Next in line: portraits on wood in cyanotype. Looks like I will be scraping, scratching, rubbing and polishing even more!

The exhibition “Quelque chose germe à la Folie du Baron” runs at Hotel La Résidence during 1 to 30 November. It’s a series of photographs that I have taken in the past in some Saint-Louis neighbourhoods and surroundings that I am very familiar with.

under the surface

It is September and a busy time if you want to apply for art funding from particular sources. I have been sitting by my computer a little more than usual and sending in applications for grants – fingers crossed! I have also taken up a couple of new things – September has always been like that, especially so due to the fact that our summer residency ends early September. And what a residency it was this year! For the entire month of August we had a crowd of ten artists in the house creating fantastic things, injecting inspiration all around! I should write an entire entry about that month as this crowd really marked me! Ever since these artists-in-residence left, I have been dwelling in my own artistic endeavours. I did not go to the river and start canoeing around the island (yet) as I first planned, instead I decided to do test how to create photos with anthotype. This method uses the photosensitive materials of plants to produce a photograph. I was hoping to try this with blueberries or lingonberries but even if the timing for that would certainly be ideal, the geographical coordinates are wrong of course. Maybe I should have them brought here deep frozen next time I am in Europe? So, instead of berries I tried to squeeze a maximum of colour out of bissap (hibiscus leaves) and I have now coated a paper twice with this fuchsia juice. The moment of truth is set for tomorrow when I’ll expose a negative on it on the rooftop.

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bubbles in action

I have also started a new underwater photo project and so far had three shooting sessions. It has been interesting to discover the extent to which water transforms people. I mean, when you go under the surface and pose to the camera, you may be a bit frightened first, but after a while when you get more used to not breathing and not filling your lungs with air – that makes it very hard to remain under the surface! – something happens and I can see how the person relaxes and how water suddenly accommodates the person in a fantastic way, like in a womb. When I mentioned this project to a friend, he suggested that the water would be a terribly restrictive element for anyone participating. My experience has always been the opposite. When I dive – without equipment – I feel the vastness of the water and its moves with every pore of my skin, particularly so in the ocean. I have now witnessed that same thing happen to some who posed for me – one of them declared he was a poor swimmer and was not even certain he could remain under water for more than three seconds and in two days he transformed nearly into a human equivalent of an otter!

For quite some time now I have been very attracted to work on projects that have a connection to water, and there is no end in sight. I would like to develop my skills with alternative photography methods and see how my photography on water and anything shot under water transforms with this media. It looks like I will finally have some good chemistry in October to see that transformation in action, cannot wait!

something is hatching in la folie du baron

La Folie du Baron

Something is hatching also in my own art work in Saint-Louis, as I have nearly finished my upcoming exhibition and would like to move on to prepare a new one. Living in Saint-Louis has its benefits, but technically speaking some materials are just too hard to come by and you need to have them brought over from Europe or beyond..

I am excited to start with hand made photography, such as cyanotype and gum arabic, again and I am about to build a dark room at the Waaw studios. At the same time I have come to realise that certain chemicals and negatives and for example laser prints and the likes are literally unavailable in town – or are they? If I want to make contact prints, then where does the planning of a project begins, once your topic is clear and you have shot those photos? It starts with negatives: is there a place where I can have negatives printed on a transparent, or is there another method I could think of in order to create negatives? The good thing is that Saint-Louis is bursting with interesting topics, and my new series will hopefully prove that even these technical hurdles can be overcome in time! I’m just wondering whether there are still any old school photographers in Senegal that would be interested in meeting up and sharing some tips?

Only a couple of days ago realised that I have a Flickr account that I created eleven years ago and then forgot about it. In the world of digital photography during those eleven years I took hundreds and thousands of photographs during many travels in Africa and the Middle East but I have decided not to keep all of them on Flickr, now that I have resuscitated this account. Rather, I think it is time to create a portfolio of my ongoing and future work and for old times sake upload a small selection of some of my old photographs from places that I am so fond of. Feel free to visit my albums here!

things are moving


Last April during the festival Le Fleuve en Couleur I had an exhibition in which I was looking at the relationship of motion and stillness through photographs and a video installation. I have recently returned to this theme and completed a new series of photographs showing some of the buildings of Saint-Louis in a new light. This material will make a new exhibition I hope!

don’t mess with me


Another metal themed photograph, even though I am more attracted to work with objects that are organic and alive. Somehow this pile of metal structures just had me stop and wonder about the beauty of its layers. I found them at a friend’s workshop around the corner. I suppose by now they have ended up as a fence or a gate somewhere on the island.

wrinkled light

Myllysillan pinta_originaali

I have decided to create a weekly photographic diary and this is my first entry. Since we are in a summer holiday period, I decided to start with one of my favourite photographs from my own very recent holiday. I love to watch moving water and its reflections and how they produce different degrees of shades and light. During my holiday I walked under one of the bridges in downtown Turku and was mesmerised by the moving light I saw on this steel surface. When the sun is reflected from the surface of the river, it creates a double reflection effect on the bottom of this particular bridge. I was surprised to see people pass by unstopped in front of this (or rather: under it) – perhaps they were used to it.

meuh oui !

It’s that time of the year when the town briefly switches off to a quieter mode, although the word “quiet” and Saint-Louis do not mix very well. The soundscape of the town was already altered by the holy month of Ramadan that was filled with beautiful sounds of people gathering together, and the buzz of Guet Ndar Market after sunset, and with even more emotional reciting of the Koran in street corners. All this was of course accompanied by the usual sounds of sheep and a few odd cows passing by.

Hydrobasen lehmät

About a year ago I shot cows on video here in Saint-Louis and I got rather excited about their seemingly uncomplicated group dynamics that I witnessed while doing it. The cows were first a little suspicious of my hanging around, but soon they just went on with their business of eating grass. Now, since I am collecting exhibition material on these beautiful creatures, I regret that I did not chat with the herder more at that time. If I had the chance, I would now ask him what it is that he says to his cows? Or does he talk to them? And if the cows are far away, does he call for them and if yes, how? I have told about my project to some of my friends and they all tell me that yes, the Sereer and the Peules do have their own ways of calling cows, and yet my friends don’t seem to remember more in detail how – they are so urban! – apart from one whose demonstration went like “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki” and “nyi-nyi-nyi, niy-nyi-nyi-nyi””

Once we went to a nearby Fulani village with a film maker friend of mine and we took with us a statue of a two-headed cow, made out of old bicycle parts by Meissa Fall. The idea was to film cows upon their return home. We were warmly welcomed to the village and the elders let us sit down and have tea while we were waiting for the cows. But after a while, the eldest of the village let us understand that we would have to leave. We realised that the two-headed cow upset him too much, so we left and soon found a herd that was passing by on their way home. We put the two-headed cow on their path and set up a nice angle to shoot on video and waited. When the cows were close enough to see their metallic replica, they got jumpy and slightly nervous, only briefly though, and made a detour. The eldest of the village was right to send us away, you would not want this kind of a welcoming committee in your home!

Calf in a village

Apart from this short trip in the bush I have not yet had proper time to go and observe the life of local cows and their herdsmen in more detail, but I will soon be looking for sample sounds that herders make to gather up their cattle. I suppose no cow herder in Saint-Louis is going to read this post, but I would be happy to hear any reaction on this subject from whoever reads this. Have you heard local people call their cows? Or talk to them?