Senegal

Text and Photography by Harvey Lloyd

http://www.harveylloyd.com

This blog is part of a series entitled

Secrets of Eternal Youth

with artist/photographer Ivana Lovincic

LLOYD A PROFILE IN ALASKA CROP

Senegal

        I went to Senegal to photograph the children of nomad cattle raising tribes in the northernmost desert of Senegal. The children went to school in five villages. My clients were an NGO named Counterpart, and the public relations firm of Ruder Finn. Counterpart had worked with the tribes for some time. Cole Wilson, who lived and worked with the villages, gave the children paper cameras to photograph their villages with a prize for the best.

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I had been to Africa a number of times as an adventure travel photographer. My personal goal was to avoid making the usual grimy, sick or starving children that so often stare out at us from the media. My intuition proved correct. The children were beautiful, well mannered, enthusiastic and very much aware of the United States, as were their parents. It was an opportunity to step back in time and discover a rarely seen image of the people, young and old, ofSenegal or Africa. It was a privilege. The images tell the story.

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My assignment was to photograph children in five villages of northern Senegal. The children had been given one time cameras to use, and I was to judge the best photos. Vision is in the eye of the beholder. The young man named Cole Wilson who started the program with the children for the NGO Counterpart International gives the work
the highest praise, but he also calls the photographs hyper-real. He says the children and adults cannot be that beautiful, except when seen with western (my) eyes. Below is an excerpt from Cole’s unused introduction to the book which raises perplexing contradictions.

“Traveling with photographer Harvey Lloyd was a fascinating and enlightening experience. Mr. Lloyd, with over 40 years of experience, has surely mastered his art. And the broadness of his skill and creativity can be seen in his extensive body of work. Most recently he has been “Breaking the Light,” detaching photography from the lureof realism that has held the medium hostage for most of its existence. For this project he was asked to tack to his more “realistic” or documentary photographic impulses, but after a man “breaks the light” there is no turning back. His images cross the divide between art and realism. There is no doubt thesw images are untouched, save for minor “improvements” that would be sanctioned by even the most militaristic realists, but the viewer immediately recognizes these images as being hyper-real.
“Beauty, as displayed in these images, does not exist like this in visual reality. Rather, Mr. Lloyd has painted the visual reality with light more brilliant than any that exists. And, more than making what exists more beautiful, he has imbued these images with his own love of the people – their kindness, beauty, and strength; his love of the land, parched yet teaming with life; and his own ecstatic energy compounded by his gratitude to witness a place that, to him, was new and undiscovered.”

Here I must disagree with Cole and say that these images reveal the truth of the nomad tribespeople young and old of these tiny villages in the remote northernmost desert region of Senegal. Truth and beauty reside within the hearts and souls of these people. It can only be revealed when they are approached with respect, love and kindness.

A living portrait shares a spiritual moment with the sitter. It peels away the mask, confronts the viewer with a story, an insight and a deep truth about the sitter. A portrait, whether photograph or painting that displays a living spirit is the only portrait worth anything. Nothing is more precious than the vulnerable human spirit. Each of these children and adults were kind enough to be themselves. Young and old know you for what and who you are and respond instantaneously to what their intuition tells them. Respect and love are the keys, and the portraits were gifts. This was an Africa too rarely seen, and Africa which presents the pride and dignity of its people.

INTRODUCTION: Counterpart International is a non-profit NGO that works in over 60 countries to help build a more just world through “service and partnership.” Their Cole Wolfson inaugurated a program in five schools within a few dozen kilometers of the small town of Ndioum in the desert of northwestern Senegal. Many of the schoolchildren were given one time use cameras and asked to photograph whatever appealed to them. A selection was made of the most interesting images. Our mission, sponsored by Counterpart International and Ruder Finn, and aided by South African Airways, was to photograph and record the winners, their schoolmates and teachers, the small villages they lived in, and part of their nation of Senegal. We encountered an Africa we didn’t expect or know, totally different from the sad, war torn stereotypes of the continent and its peoples…where, in a number of villages, a group of herders and their families lived in surprisingly pleasant and pastoral surroundings. We visited and recorded a place of warmth, friendship, kindness and much laughter.

Certain moments and scenes in the villages remain unforgettable…the protocol meeting Susan, Gail, Cole and I attended with the Maribou or bishop of the area,and his elders and the villagers…we sat on rugs under a large tent, as has been the custom in the desert for thousands of years…the colorfully clad mothers who proudly took us into their“humble” homes decorated with rugs, draperies and colorful plates…the joyful exuberance of the children running and leaping in front of my camera as though I were a rock star…the wonderful asymmetrical constructions of the corrals around the huts…the smiling faces and wry, humorous expressions of the exuberant children…the proud statuesque carriage of village women and the bright eyed stares from their babies…the colorful raiment of men and women’s ’coats of many colors’…the sunset over the river that set the clouds on fire over an arabesque of trees reflected in the still water…the kindness, good nature, hospitality and acceptance by all of the people…our Susan, Cole and Gail , pied pipers from America, surrounded by bright eyed eager youngsters and small children, ..and so much more…

(Cole Wilson) I have given single-use cameras to 56 students, ages 7 – 15, in five schools in Northern Senegal. Most if not all of these students have never taken a picture before. After giving them a basic lesson on how to use the camera – nothing more than “put what you want to photograph in the viewfinder and push the button” – I instructed these students to take pictures of things that are important to them or significant in their lives. After developing their prints I gave each student a copy of his or her pictures and asked him or her to pick out a couple of his or her favorite images and tell me why each picture chosen is their favorite. These images coupled with the narratives serve as the backbone of this book.

(The children’s images appear in the trade book THROUGH MY EYES,
The Remarkable Children of Senegal)

(Cole Wilson on children’s photographs) Much can be learned from the pictures and narratives. For one, while the human self-selecting aspect of photography remains, the images we get are arguably rawer and more unfinished, with objects the photographer wanted in the picture missing, and images that were not intended to be photographed prominent. Alone these images would not mean much, they would just be the half-hazard documentary images of those who can literally only point and shoot. But these images coupled with narratives by the photographers provide the context of what the photographer shot on purpose or otherwise, and what, culturally, the contents of these images mean to the photographers. The photographs are as close to unadulterated documentation as possible of the physical environment, and the narrative provides the meaning and the significance. The narrative fills in for the inability of the virgin photographer to not only capture solely the subject of interest, but also to use the camera as an easel and brush, to project statements and emotions. We end up with photographs that, because of their very nature, show us things we otherwise would not see. They tell a story, a story we in the developed West are not often privy too. They tell a story from the perspective of the local, representing to the world through this book what is important to them and how they would like to represent themselves to a larger audience.

(Cole Wilson) It could be said that the scope of photography ranges from pure form to pure function, with most inhabiting the vast space in between. Pure form, such as abstract light photography, uses the medium of photographic equipment to express visions and emotions. The world’s light and its effect on film or a digital sensor is paint brush and canvas. Documentary photography supposedly is the sober opposite of art photography, using the camera as an unflinching machine incapable of obfuscating reality. In a perfect world this would be true. However, any camera must be operated by a photographer, a human being with penchants, biases, and aesthetics. One must choose what is shown, and, more importantly, what is not shown. Photography has for years been enslaved by this dichotomy – the “real” versus the abstract. Keeping the discussion in terms of this dichotomy has reduced the functions of photography both as a form of documentation and as art. There are however ways of moving past this discussion, forever present and forever unsolvable. This book seeks to be one of those ways.

The methodology of this book is a prime example of Counterpart’s philosophy of the world, of its assistance, and of its development work. This book allows the children of several communities in Northern Senegal, communities that rarely if ever have the opportunity to represent themselves to the world at large, to provide the images of their life and their culture. Mr. Lloyd’s photographs paint this part of the world as we in the development world see it – and arguably as the people who live there experience it: full of life, laughter, color, and kindness. There is poverty, but also a can-do attitude. There is hardship, but also a drive for betterment. There are problems, but there is optimism.

(Cole Wilson)This project started off simply enough as a way to show the world Northern Senegal as the people who live there see it and experience it. It started out as a study of understanding what people of the region thought was important. But, with the inclusion of the photographs of Harvey Lloyd, it has turned into so much more.

I present the words of Cole Wilson, the leader of this group of Counterpart people as he wrote them. I present my photographs of the children and adults from this seemingly ancient time as they were, their reality and beauty which is always the most difficult task for a photographer. The cliches of the media prefer the dark side of Africa. They live in two worlds, our American culture and their traditions of long ago. I celebrate the dignity and wonder of human beings of any age. You must love and respect your subjects, and wait for that moment of revelation when the spirit briefly stares back at you. That is a epiphany, a gift from the gods. The images from Senegal shown here were given with joy and received with joy.It is our human tenderness and soul that is often hidden. Respect
and wonder is all.

The Photographs of Harvey Lloyd

Traveling with photographer Harvey Lloyd was a fascinating and enlightening experience. Mr. Lloyd, with over 40 years of experience, has surely mastered his art. And the broadness of his skill and creativity can be seen in his extensive body of work. Most recently he has been “breaking the light,” detaching photography from the lure of realism that has held the medium hostage for most of its existence. For this project he was asked to tack to his more “realistic” or documentary photographic impulses, but after a man “breaks the light” there is no turning back. His images cross the divide between art and realism.

I repeat these lines from Cole Wilson because here is the dichotomy between photographic “realism” and the new art of photography which has nothing to do with “what you see is what you get.” still film photography. The new art, like quantum mechanics, is subject to physical and metaphysical effects. Reality lies in the mind of the beholder. The spiritual or metaphysical camera reveals what “isn’t there.” Cole is a deep thinker but he is too conditioned with past ideas of the art and craft of still photography to confront my images of the children, eyes wide open. I thank Cole for his considered comments and for sponsoring this program with the children of Senegal. The wisdom of the eye surpasseth reason.

(Cole Wilson) There is no doubt these images are untouched, save for minor “improvements” that would be sanctioned by even the most militaristic realists, but the viewer immediately recognizes these images of being hyper-real. Beauty, as displayed in these images, does not exist like this in visual reality. Rather, Mr. Lloyd has painted the visual reality with light more brilliant than any that exists. And, more than making what exists more beautiful, he has imbued these images with his own love of the people – their kindness, beauty, and strength; his love of the land, parched yet teaming with life; and his own ecstatic energy compounded by his gratitude to witness a place that, to him, was new and undiscovered.

Mr. Lloyd’s lack of familiarity with the culture, language, and history of the region means that he had to focus on the visual and the personally emotive rather than telling a story of the villages and their people. He had to tell his story, not their’s, and it has come through beautifully.

Much can be learned from the pictures and narratives. For one, while the human self-selecting aspect of photography remains, the images we get are arguably rawer and more unfinished, with objects the photographer wanted in the picture missing, and images that were not intended to be photographed prominent. Alone these images would not mean much, they would just be the half-hazard documentary images of those who can literally only point and shoot. But these images coupled with narratives by the photographers provide the context of what the photographer shot on purpose or otherwise, and what, culturally, the contents of these images mean to the photographers. The photographs are as close to unadulterated documentation as possible of the physical environment, and the narrative provides the meaning and the significance. The narrative fills in for the inability of the virgin photographer to not only capture solely the subject of interest, but also to use the camera as an easel and brush, to project statements and emotions. We end up with photographs that, because of their very nature, show us things we otherwise would not see. They tell a story, a story we in the developed West are not often privy too. They tell a story from the perspective of the local, representing to the world through this book what is important to them and how they would like to represent themselves to a larger audience.

While alone these photographs and narratives are of interest academically and intellectually – as well as photographically – they only tell part of the story. These images have been paired with the work of renowned photographer Harvey Lloyd, who brings not only the typical Western perspective we see in countless photography books of the people of Africa, creating a fascinating juxtaposition of representations of the same subject from two different cultures, but also a master’s touch to the area, creating images of bottomless physical beauty and infused with the emotions of his experience with the people and the region.

The Child Photographers

Mr. Lloyd’s images serve as the perfect foil to the images produced by the child photographers. These images expose us to the everyday realities of the people of the region, shown through the eyes of the children, and of what is important to them.

Bringing the Two Together

Unlike other photography books, this book does not highlight our differences. Look at the photographs. Read the narratives. These children are showing us the universal experience of domestic life and family. Perhaps some of the details vary, but by and large we witness a mirror image of us – Americans, Humans – as we would be if we were born some place else.

Mr. Lloyd’s photographs show the modern Senegal, the historic Senegal, and the rural Senegal. This rural Senegal is where most of the people live. And the ones pictured in this book are in many ways typical.

Mr. Lloyd provides the beauty and the children provide the context.

The children and adults of this distant desert region
bid us farewell.It is rare that we are privileged to be
in such a remote and giving place. Our lives are bounded
by love and the desire and willingness to go to the ends
of the world to be part of the universal beauty and
eloquence of the earth and its many diverse peoples.
I thank the gods and the spirits of all races for this
opportunity, an epiphany and an apotheosis. We artists
are oracles of the gods and bow to all. Salud.

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