I’ve never kept a diary when I travel on photography assignments, this is the first time, and reading back through it all I can’t believe how raw it all is. It’s completely different to the kind of travel post I usually write, but it's a lot more real. I hope you like them!
I posted a few photos of Dakar to Instagram that I took on my phone, the rest of these are from the first few days in the field, shooting in a few villages and a school in Sokone.
7th February 2016
I’m writing this on my second night in Senegal, sat in my hotel room and getting ready for an early night before the real work begins.
We flew in last night, me and two people I work with, and after a full day of flying it was a relief to just fall into bed. We stopped over in Madrid on the way from London to Dakar and those two flights were some of the bumpiest of my life. I’m so terrified of flying that I find myself squeezing my eyes shut and clinging onto the seat in front of me, silently saying to myself “please stop, please stop, please just stop it”. I don’t know when I became so afraid of flying but it always takes a lot out of me. And I often find myself wondering why I pursue a career that requires so much travel! The stress on my body that comes with this fear of flying cannot be healthy.
As it’s Sunday in Senegal we have to wait until work starts up again on Monday to get out of Dakar and into the field. But until then we are left to our own devices - Jamie, Sarah and I. Jamie I travel with often, he writes the stories to go with my photos. I’ve never traveled with Sarah before but I must have said to her at least ten times how nice it is to travel with a girl. Usually it’s just me and a bunch of guys for days on end, which isn’t a big deal really and something I only picked up on last year.
My first impressions of Dakar are that it’s warm and peaceful, but I suspect it’s more chaotic during the week. We wander down to the ocean, watch a group of men gather to exercise on the beach (something that seems to be quite common here - they do squats for hours!), and have a really nice coffee - a treat you learn to appreciate when you travel a lot.
After a day of wandering I’m pretty tired and grumpy with myself for making the rookie mistake of wearing flip-flops for too long. My feet are killing me and because I’m tried, the stressful thoughts start to creep in.
I organize these trips, the ideas and the momentum comes from me, so I am entirely responsible for them from start to finish. The pressure is on to get some good stuff (film, photos and case studies), and because we don’t scout our stories first due to lack of time and budget, I always worry about what happens if we show up to the pre-arranged location and there’s just nothing there. What if I go back to London with nothing? What if everything goes wrong and the whole team, five people in total including me, turn to me and say “now what?” - and I don’t have an answer. It’s happened before and I've never not had an answer, but there’s a first time for everything.
We have pizza for dinner and make our way back to the hotel in the dark. I feel like I’ve been trying to make stupid jokes for a while now which is what happens when I get tired around people I don’t know all that well. As we walk the call to prayer sounds from a nearby mosque and I’m not sure what it is at first, I’ve never heard a call to prayer like it. There are men outside on the pavement running they’re prayer beads through their fingers or concentrating on their kouran. A few blocks down are some women sat on the pavement, I noticed them earlier in the day but this time I ask our Senegalese contact about them and he says “basically they’re beggars” - a funny choice of words and I can’t tell if he said it that way because there’s more to it, or because English isn’t his first language.
Often sad realities crop up on these trips and usually I can see them in a larger context of a cultural circumstance, but sometimes my mind zeros in on an issue or an individual and I just can’t let it go - like my heart is just learning of this particular injustice of the world for the first time. It seems weird that every sad situation doesn't make me react this way, but some things are easier to accept than others I guess. Over the years I’ve learned that these are the moments that stick with you forever. In the sheer number of people and animals that I meet as I photograph around the world, these are the ones I will always remember and I can list them in my mind.
Some photos from the first few hours in Sokone...
A five hour drive from Dakar
We get back to the hotel and I shower and try to do some yoga to settle me down. I need to be confident and in charge tomorrow but really I’m just feeling anything but - over the years I've become pretty good at faking it, though I would rather not have to. I try to tell myself I’m just tired, but doing yoga just feels self-indugent and selfish for some reason. I do it anyway though, mostly because I think it’s a good idea and I don’t know what else to do with myself after all the preparations to start work the next day are finished. All my equipment is in order, my camera is taped up, my lenses are clean, my bags are packed...
On the flight over I watched The Salt of the Earth, a documentary about Sebastiao Salgado and it made me feel proud of my work, even if pales in significance to what he did all those years ago. It’s a graphic documentary though, as are his photos covering war, life in refugee camps, environmental disasters - important but brutal work. I can’t get some of those images out of my head. I know that’s what haunts me a bit tonight and I simultaneously feel like it’s ok and normal to be sad about seeing the hardship of others, and angry at myself because my sadness feels petty and small compared to theirs.
The real work hasn’t even begun yet and I’m already feeling it which worries me. If I go to sleep now I can stay in bed for a full eight hours, and maybe try and sleep for all of them.