late afternoon in saint-louis

handmade photography and coffee and anything in between

Waxande

One day I was on the riverbank behind the Great Mosque. There was a pregnant goat that fell into the water. A friend of mine told me:

“Idrissa, you have to save this goat!”

I undressed and put my clothes on an old boat by the water. When I had taken the goat out of the river I went to get my clothes and I saw something pull my clothes into the river. I wanted to dive to get my clothes back but I hesitated because what I had seen was so strange…

Back home I explained to my mother what had happened. She instantly went to see Marabout Amma Lamine Kebe, asking him for advise. Amma Lamine told my mother that the goat belonged to the river spirit Mame Coumba Bang and because her son had saved the goat the river spirit was now angry with her son. He said: “If your son goes back to take his clothes you will never see him again!”

There is a place in the river called wakhande. In general, a body that ends up in wakhande will never be found.

“Oh wakhande! Tell me when you’re full, we want the bodies of our loved ones back!”

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Waxande – Stories From The Senegal River by Idrissa Diop (texts) and Jarmo Pikkujämsä (photographs & translations). The Wolof & English edition will be published during the 2nd half of 2018. © LATE AFTERNOON PUBLISHING

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Nappkat

As a child I was warned by this terrible creature that lived in the depths of the nearby river. It would snatch children with his long white arm and eat them. In winter, when my uncles took me to skate or sledge ride with our dog on the river, I was secretly terrified to know that we had but some ice and snow between us and this creature. I could almost see it gliding under the ice right below us and follow us and it was just a matter of time when it would find the opportunity to break the ice so that it would clutch me. This creature was called Näkki.

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Young skippers. Transfer on wood, mixed media, 21 x 21 cm.

The Senegal river has its own stories, of which I will publish a photography book later in 2018. Being in Saint-Louis means that you are always in contact with both the Senegal river and the Atlantic ocean and with all the buzz related to fishing. The number of different types of fish is dizzying to begin with – and at times it’s also confusing as the names of different types of fish sometimes depend on who’s saying! You have sipakh, diané, coty, talar, thiof… and many others, not to mention hammerhead sharks or cuttlefish and what not. I am fascinated and quickly absorbed by what is happening around me here: the fishermen prepare their pirogues and leave, or return with their catch, they occupy entire streets to fix their nets, walk on the beach and into the rough sea up to their armpits and set their nets, or throw their nets in the river; there are also carpenters making new pirogues or fixing old ones, welders working on motors, horse carts carrying stuff back and forth between Goxum Bacc and Ndar Toute neighborhoods, boat painters, immense areas where fish is being dried, ice factories, freezer vans and trucks of all sizes, and then of course the fish market frenzy, especially upon the return of the boats..

I have now come to a point where it’s time to show some of my work in this series on Guetndarian fishermen and their boats. A fantastic opportunity to do so opens in June in Kristiinankaupunki (Finland) where we will be running a one-month long artists’ residency and several exhibitions by our guest artists. I know that Nappkat is a series that I will keep alive for as long as I stay in Saint-Louis so I will always make more and more photographs on this topic. The vibrancy of it is not letting me go just yet!

thanks but no tanks

One recurrent dream of mine is to find myself deep in the ocean on some sort of a mission, or diving deep into the sea and returning on the surface. While in the depths of the sea I seem to have no need to breathe and being underwater appears a prolonged and pleasant experience. Having been a swimmer all my life, I actually never thought of diving until more recently when I started an underwater photography project. Now I am discovering the whole world of free diving and would like to learn it in practice and develop skills related to this sports. I am not so much interested in going into any record depths or anything like that, rather I would just love to be able to stay under water for a couple of minutes and make the most of that – and take more pictures ! Among some friends that I have photographed I have already witnessed this fantastic transformation from their first being somewhat uncomfortable when under water and then getting used to it and being able to relax.

Water – compared to air – is so “thick” that is is a challenge to get good contrasts when working with cyanotype. While I am still experimenting, I am also hoping to get better paper in the future (I am now using Canson) with more texture and higher densities of blue.

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“ID goes deep” from the series Xóot (2017)

Xóot is a series of underwater portraits printed on fabric that I will exhibit in the Dakar Biennale 2018 OFF in May. I am also printing a larger number of these portraits in cyanotype that I will publish later this year in the form of a a photography book with the same title. This sample portrait “ID goes deep” is murky on purpose as the print is made of a photograph of two layers.

I am using #goesdeep to trace back to all my current and future work with underwater portraits available online.

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:

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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

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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

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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!