Category Archives: editorial

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.

 

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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

Scan 4

Scan 21

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.

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

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My bowl of Rice Crispies has  just enough snap crackle and pop to get me to wordpress,  this week to update my blog.

It was smashing to be invited on to the Guardian Master Class to talk about photographic story telling with Sebastian Myer.  The class seemed to work (we  got nice feedback at least)– perhaps because of  a combination of our different approaches to story telling: Seb is a classic photojournalists use to working on the front line, I tend to approach story telling from a completely different perspective.  Seb talked about techniques in traditional photojournalism, while I looked at how I use portraiture to tell national even global stories- Looking at work done in Libya , Kosovo, Afghanistan and also my  recent story, Desk Job.

This  links me nicely to its selection for Format Festival in Derby which was another highpoint this month. It was  a treat to visit Derby, not just to catch up with old friends , make some new ones perhaps , but also to look at new work like Brian Griffins excellent commission at the Museum or  to enjoy work by friends like Oliver Woods.

Other exciting news includes the publication of the same work in Wired blog , Raw File ( last week, apparently stats are good and it should get  a quarter of a million hits)  and also on the 20/3 in Fotoredactie Vrij Nederlandand.

Also ,  I’m off to  teach a workshop to 17 Azerbaijani photojournalists  In Baku on the  02/04  (The theme, once more, is Story telling  in photojournalism)  with Guy Martin . 

Finally, while i’m here , just time to mention the  fascinating commission for Marie Claire magazine that started this week. Looking  forward to updating the blog with news on these fronts soon, Thank you for reading,

Libya, Remembered – Bhenghazi, 17/02/2012.

In June last year, I went to Libya to discover for myself Gadaffi’s legacy and its impact on post revolutionary Libya.The anniversary approaches on 17/02/2012 for the beginning of the revolution in Benghazi; and   it seems like a good time to shown the work again – to remember the courage and loss of the Libyan people.

Here  are the pictures , a link to the full body of work, and an explanation of the motivation behind the work:

http://www.louisquail.com/PDF/Talking_About_a_Revolution_final.pdf

Out of all the countries in the Arab spring Libya for me seemed the most interesting.  There was something inspiring and clean cut about the way the people removed such a brutal dictator whilst  introducing democracy and keeping control of the revolution ; side stepping the drift into insurgency ( as has happened in Syria).

In Libya the whole country it seems is behind the process of democracy. After the recent, and highly regrettable, killing of the American ambassador , 30 000 people came on to the streets to remove the militias allied to Islamic extremism deemed responsible. This truly is a popular Revolution.

However, although we have heard much about the Islamic extremists how many people know  about this huge  popular response to extremism  days later.

The nature of the news machine is to report the most dramatic, the most inflammatory stories if you like. My personal response to this is, and has always been to think  ‘there has to be a more complex and honest way to report on and understand a situation’.

I reported in my introduction:

“Our perceptions of Libya are constricted by a news industry that focuses on the most dramatic events – the fighting and global strategy. However, it’s only by talking to the individuals intimately involved with the revolution, that we can truly see the big picture and understand the legacy of Muammar Gaddafi.

So driven partly by my fascination with Libya and partly by the urge to tell stories in a less sensational manner I felt compelled to visit Libya.

I was first inspired to work like this in Kosovo and have since been to Afghanistan and Haiti, (www.louisquail.com) working in a similar way.

Of course there are many difficulties still in Libya as it recovers not just from revolution but 42 years of a brutal dictatorship.  While I was in Libya there was a gun battle outside my hotel, and the airport hijacked by a disgruntled militia (more of this on my earlier blogs).  Shocking as this is, it was in no way indicative of my lasting impression of Libya.

I met some truly amazing people, such as the lawyer, turned soldier, turned lawyer Ghelaio who fought to protect his family and is now fighting for a truly free Libya or the 15 female revolutionaries in Tajoura who risked their, lives fighting for freedom.

When every house hold has a gun, and easy access to grenades its not surprising that trouble happens, but what I was always amazed by was how little trouble there was. This is a country with problems but also of moderation.  For the most part the Libyans were friendly, and optimistic that there would be a better life for them and their country men.

I shot on film, taking my time, and interviewed people, sometimes at length. I felt it was also important to document and pay tribute to the ordinary people involved in extraordinary events and to report on their tragedy, courage and stoicism not to mention other unexpected qualities such as  moderation and tolerance.

Often for the most part people seemed grateful that they could at last speak openly, and people were always friendly.

My one regret was I didn’t get to see the fabulous Roman city outside Tripoli. I’m betting if I return to Libya in a few years or so it will be along with thousands of tourists enjoying a peaceful country with an amazing history.

 

Libya Tear Sheets

Big Thanks to the magazines publishing the story completed recently in Libya , notably A-magasinet (www.aftenposten.no) , and Der Tagesspiegel.