Big Cats, New Shoes and Police Corruption: Three Weeks in Kenya.

Today’s Guardian’s Global Development site  is publishing  a story I produced ( with Journalist Zoe Flood ) looking at the extraordinary conditions for the mothers and children  of Eldoret in Kenya forced to scrape a living from the municipal dumps.

Kenya , Eldoret Dump – Living and Working  in Poverty

FlorenceKhalumbia (46) With daughter Alice (7 ) lives just 50 metres from the “California” dumpsite in a one-bedroom hut with her five children. None of the children go to school – she feels that it’s better that they stay home and help their family to earn a living. Eldoret’s main Dump nick named by the locals, ironically, as ‘California’ is home toa community of Kenyans who make their living here recycling plastic, metal charcoal and even scavenging for food either for themselves or for their pigs. The average adult here earns about 150 -200 Kenyan shillings (£1-1.30) The consequences for those who work here on a regular basis including woman and children as young as 7 is tough; with disease, injury, substance abuse and even the threat of violence an everyday reality. 

 

For  Guardian readers interested to discover more, please click/scroll as appropriate:

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Phrases I’m unused to hearing include, ‘Louis get in the car there is a Hyena behind you!” Or “Close the windows or the monkeys will get in”( they did) . I am not used to this level of wildlife.  This is the first time I have been to Kenya. I am here on assignment but am squeezing in a family Safari. Highlight of the trip to the world famous Masai Mara game reserve includes having tea with a lion ( well almost). We got as close as the jackal and vulture waiting nearby, anyway, as you can see here…

A Lion With its kill, sleeping off its meal, in the Masai Mara

A Lion With its kill; Check  more on Instagram #louisquail

 

The Work With charity Mary’s Meals

Africa is an amazing country with some amazing places to visit and wonderful people but also complex problems. One of the reasons for my visit is to document the work of Mary’s Meals.

Their charity’s mission is simple: to feed children in schools. In places where there is extreme poverty like Eldoret, this means children who would otherwise be forced by their parents to work, instead of attending school, have the advantage of being fed and educated at the same time. Buying food accounts for the majority of the weekly wage for poor families so for them it’s a no-brainer. The children get fed and educated and very often, respite from some tough conditions at home.

A teacher working in one of the supported schools offered an explanation as to why Monday was the favorite day of the week for one child: “For this seven year old, Monday lunch was probably his first meal since the last day he attended school on the Friday.” In chaotic households, with parents often using drink and drugs, the children often have to fend for themselves.

Me and the journalist were won over pretty quickly by two of the girls who would go to school during the week and work the dumps over the weekend .

Lucy Wambui (13 ) photographed in one of the classrooms at Attnas Kandie School.

They are included in the feature. Bright, cheeky and ambitious, ( ‘ I am going to be a journalist like you when I grow up”) Lucy even had the nerve to ask for a pair of shoes. One has to be very careful to avoid such obvious requests for handouts because of unforeseen ramifications; and it can be frowned upon.  So of course we said yes.

Shoes for Lucy  and Sarah

Shoes for Lucy and Sarah

It was worth it and then some, to see the look of pleasure on Sarah and Lucy’s faces.

In our report we concentrated on the mothers forced to work the dumps of Eldoret to make a living. We worked largely on the main dump. It never occurred to me there would be a problem covering an important story with an established charity; until of course we were picked up by the police.

This ended the photography at the dump, something to do with the right papers, blah blah, permission, etc etc. Ultimately, someone somewhere was looking for a handout . I suspect money exchanged hands simply so the charity could continue its work, or face the possibility of  being kicked out of the country. NGOs and their reputation for fair play are not always welcome in a country famous for corruption.

Don’t take my word for it Here is a link to an article to a friend of mine about Police corruption. Apparently the police kill more people than even the armed robbers .

What I did discover was that Kenyans do not get the best deal from their government and the work of charities like Mary’s Meals is still vital. What I also learned, is that despite many risks there are many Kenyans campaigning against injustice in Kenya.I was fortunate enough to meet and photograph several brave and tenacious activists. Boniface Mwangi , well known for his anti corruption activism, is one of the most well known. He is pictured here at the offices of his company http://pawa254.org/ . Forced into some kind of retirement for his own safety, he is directing his energy into art as an instrument for social change.

Boniface Mwangi poses on the roof terrace of the office at PWA254.

Boniface Mwangi poses on the roof terrace of the office at PWA254.

Like I said Kenya is an amazing if complex country. My time here was mixed: uplifting, shocking and inspiring in equal measure. But perhaps the best memories are those of the Masai Mara. As this is ( predominantly) a British audience, maybe it is fitting to  end ( in practice with internet tradition) with a picture of a cat.

 

Thank you Arts Council

How many times have we heard someone say, ‘if I had known how hard it was going to be, I would never have started in the first place”?  It felt a bit like that filling in the Arts Council proposal. It is no slight undertaking. Especially when one is hugely form-phobic; but Phew we, ( myself and co-producer Alison Brisby) have got the go ahead and I believe it’s a testament to the value of the project. It’s a huge boost to have some one believe in something as much as you believe in it yourself, so thank you Arts Council.

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The Fallen, Then and Now ( #ThenandNow)   is the project we have now been officially funded for: it’s a work which I have discussed in previous blogs exploring the aftermath of the conflict in Afghanistan, recreating existing family photographs of service personnel killed in the conflict and running the pictures alongside the testimony of the family members left behind trying to make sense of the devastation.

The work explores memory, and remembrance from a very personal perspective.

Then and Now series Loss in Afghanistan

The proposal for the Arts Council was to expand the scale of the project to 20 case studies and to turn the work in to a touring exhibition. I am hoping the size of the project will make it valuable as an archive and a tribute to the loss and sacrifice not just of the soldiers, but their families too.

I will be reporting on the progress of the project here, but please feel free to share this with anybody who you feel may be interested in getting involved –  especially service personnel and charities working in this sector.

 

Thanks: 

Thankyou very much to Alison Brisby for helping me steer this proposal along without which I suspect I would not have managed to navigate the hoops and hurdles required to get funding. Thank you also to Four Corners Gallery and Oriel Colwyn the first galleries able to confirm space for the shows in September and November 2015.Thanks also to all of the guys who checked and rechecked the proposal to make sure it was strong and appropriate, have expressed interest in showing the exhibition  or simply for having the decency to share their worldly wisdom and own experiences for Arts Council funding: including Open Eye gallery,  Dave and Carla at Four Corners,  Emma Smith at Look 15 Liverpool International Photography Festival, Colin Cavers, Fotospace gallery , Fife ; Kate Peters; Ania Dabrowska; Ed Thomson; Adrian, Katy Regan and Sophie Gerrard  .

Ok now the hard bit: Do the project!

 

For more information on completed work click here for the previous blog.

 

 

Then and Now- a Story of Loss in Afghanistan

“After Afghanistan” published this month in Marie Claire , is a story I have been thinking about and working on for a while.  (My working title is Then and Now). I came up with the idea of recreating family snapshots after conflict bereavement during a trip to Libya, in July 2012. I was wrestling with the idea of how to tell stories of Loss in the aftermath of War (a theme I have explored in several countries). In the picture below we see the recreation off a snap after the child (later a rebel) on the right was killed in action in Tripoli, Libya . libya45 In Libya the culture of the the family snapshot is not so great; and this made it a difficult approach there but I knew it would be well suited to a similar story in the UK.  Its great Marie Claire have given the space to these stories. I really believe its important to consider the sacrifice the families of service personnel make alongside that of the  soldiers. The interviews by Katy Regan are really powerful, there is no online gallery but here’s a sample from Caroline Munday’s  interview ( pictured below) that really struck me:

“I was just leaving work, at Parcel Force, when I saw my sister had rung, leaving an odd message saying I had to call mum.  Mum was very insistent I immediately go home to her and Dad’s.  I just felt this blackness come over me. I said, “Oh God, tell me it isn’t James”.
I was on my knees, alone in the car park, screaming. I felt like my heart had been wrenched out.  Then, this bubble just emerged around me. I walked back to the building and said, calmly to the security guard, “I’ve just found out my son’s been killed in Afghanistan. I need to go back into the building

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A big thank you to all who took part, once more, for the emotional strength and commitment to the story.

You may be able to help?

I am planning to apply for Arts Council funding to make this a much bigger project, with many more stories told which would tour as an exhibition – hopefully as part of our remembrance celebrations. In order to have a chance of getting this, however, I need to find ‘match funding’ that is, a partner to supply sponsorship.

You could help by sharing this story with your contacts and colleagues. My hope is, that it would then reach organisations who might be interested in giving back to our troops’ efforts and their sacrifice by backing such a project.

Each case study who takes part gets to support their chosen charity, so by even just tweeting or Facebooking the story, you would be giving back in a small way.

Seamus Heaney 1939-2013

Seamus Heaney, in his kitchen , photographed , at home, shortly before the launch of “District and Circle “for the Telegraph.

Afterwards Seamus took us ( me and the journalist whose name evades me) to Dublin for a memorable pint of Guinness, where I remember a very animated conversation about poetry. What a privilege to spend this time with a fabulous poet and fabulous man.

Many pictures of Seamus online are quite serious such is the fashion for photographic portraiture; but I’m pleased I took this which reflects the warmth of spirit he emanated, – like a radiator. RIP Seamus.

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Renaissance Photography Prize 2013

What a lovely summer we are having here in the UK. I have to say all those barbecues and iced drinks can be very distracting ,  but think I ought to put my work head on for one moment and point you all towards the Renaissance 2013 Exhibition which takes place at the  Wapping Project Bankside gallery from 3-7 September. The gallery is located a short walk from Tate Modern on London’s Southbank.

I am a finalist; out of a submission of almost 5000; and with a prestigious selection of judges (including “Monica Allende, Sunday Times; Bret Rodgers, Director of the Photographers Gallery;  Simon Bainbridge, BJP; Mirander Gavin, Hotshoe; Chris Littlewood,  Nadav kander and so on)  I was  needless to say, very pleased. Apparently the standard was very high, but  you may want to  pop down and decide for yourself.

Right now I’m off to pack for France, how smug!

Director Licensing Department,Department of Tourism and Marketing.Dubai, UAE.

Story Telling in Azerbaijan.

Baku, Azerbaijan.  It was 4am and dark on the streets outside the Landmark Hotel (this works better if read in the style of an American Private detective, circa 1930s!)

The city was quiet at that hour, the shiny baroque facades obscured by the dark. Baku was a brand new city, a signal to the world that Azerbaijan was a place to do business like any other town in Europe – Paris, London  – At least that’s what we were supposed to think.

A man gets out of a black Sedan. He is wearing the standard Baku uniform: black leather jacket, jeans and boots, no sunglasses at this hour though. He mumbles something in a thick accent: ‘British Embassy?’ I nod and get in.

It’s only then I start to question – who is this person? He could be taking me anywhere! This is Baku not London. I should have checked his I.D.  It’s too late…..dun dun deeerrr!!

It’s ok, relax, fortunately he was my designated driver dropping me off at the airport after all – phew! – Only my active imagination was cause for suspicion.

I had been running a workshop in storytelling in Photojournalism, aimed at the emerging photojournalists of Azerbaijan. I think sometimes we can learn as much from writers about storytelling as from photographers. Each needs a beginning, middle and end; photographers look for the opening shot, writers consider their prologue and so forth.  (By the way, you can drop the American accent as you read this now and excuse my indulgence in writing. I guess there’s a novel in all of us eh?)

I have to say I really enjoyed teaching out here. The students were passionate and actually not exposed so much to outside influences and because of it keen, soaking up information like sponges. This made our role there seem very worthwhile. The OSCE (Operation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) were funding this. They believe a free and professional press is a vital building block of a functioning state. Unfortunately, Azerbaijan scores very poorly on the freedom of the press ranking 140th out of 200; so in a way one could say myself and my fellow tutor Guy Martin were on a bit of a mission.

Not a secret mission however, but one where we discussed the vital ingredients of story telling in photojournalism:  For example: the building blocks of a good picture story, ethics and legislation in photojournalism, the Golden Proportion and aesthetics in image-making to name a few of the lecture’s themes.

The students were up for the challenge. Everyday we sent them out and by the end there was a real sense they were developing and working with enthusiasm and commitment. I am posting some of the pictures here (assuming permission from the talented photographers of Baku) mainly from the last day’s exercise:  “The Environmental Portrait”, hope you agree they make an interesting set.

Exhibition at Streetlevel Photoworks

Pleased to be taking part in a group show at  Scotland’s Street Level Photoworks Gallery in Glasgow. The work was selected from the Desk Job series shown at Format Festival.  Also showing is Ken Grant, Kajal Nisha Patel and Moira Lovell.  It’s nice to be part of a smaller show with such an interesting collection of work.  Desk Job - Workers at their Desks Around the World