Taking photos in West Africa

My tutor suggested I'd write a post on what it has been like to take photographs in West Africa, how it has influenced me and also the way I look at other photographer's work. 

The first thing that comes to mind about taking the actual photos is the stress that I woud experience most of the time. Am I safe? Are people going to get angry with me? How can I set up a kind of relationship that doesn't make the subjects feel like I'm exploiting them? Because of this fear and a few nasty experiences I felt really hesitant to go out and take photographs and if I would, I'd make sure to have a plan, talk to the people beforehand about what I was going to do and time it. What didn't make things better is that I photograph with a Nikon D700 and a humongous lens, which made people say I was a professional and think I'd make lots of money with it. 

Now that I've moved I regret not having taken more photos and especially more time to go out and about and invest in the people that I knew. It is a lesson for my now and I feel I have to structure my life better to have set points in the week in which I will go out and photograph or film. 

When it comes to the exploitation part, I did understand why people didn't want to be photographed. Most of them work and or live in the streets and even though it is a public space, for them it is their space that should be respected. Also, most of them have never been in an other country, so have never experienced the sensation of something being new or exotic and have difficulties understanding why a Westerner would want to take photos of them. 

I think it is important to realise beforehand what it is that I'm interested in, what is it that I want to capture and explain that to the subjects involved. The clearer that is, the easier it is to know what to focus on and not just photograph out of the first hand intuition, although that might be quite exciting at times as well.

Mainly I realised how important it is to keep your eyes fresh. When living somewhere you get so used to otherwise interesting views. Often I would try to go back to the moment when I had just arrived and focus on what surprised me then, what I found particularly beautiful or exotic and go back and photograph that. 

I think that most of all, I was always amazed at the resilience of the Senegalese and how they were able to adapt places into a home, with such different standards and ideas than I had, but still give it their own style. 

Regarding photographing people I have often thought about whether my way of working is respectful or evasive. I think what helped is that I was used to the people and the way they looked and dressed, and even though that sounds quite sad, also used to their poverty. Because of this I think I was able to have a different look than the 'white man's look' and see the humanity and personality beyond. I find that with a new place and people it takes at least 6 months to see the particularities and characters in people's faces and look beyond the color and typical features. I'm not sure if this is visible in my images, but the Senegalese that I photographed were just as exotic to me as a Dutch person in the The Netherlands. 

It's a privilege to live in other countries for such a stretch of time and the challenge lies in seizing all the opportunities I get every day. Too often I hear myself thinking that I'll photograph it an other day and before I know it I've moved on to an other country. Careful planning is so important in order not to get swallowed up by daily chores and activities.