I show with my pictures the reality I encountered in West Africa. About the people and their everyday life, combining old indigenous cultures, animistic religion, hard work and joy of life. Africa is so much more than the one-sided view that the media feeds you.
When I photographed a Grand-Popo school on my first trip to Benin, I noticed a small doll on top of a student’s desk. I thought the girl had taken her toy to school. However, that was not the case. Later, I got to know the twin cult related to the voodoo gods and the family community, which also includes the dead family members. The birth of twins is believed to bring special happiness to the family. In poor conditions, however, it often happens that the other twin dies. That’s when the deceased twin goes on with their life as a little wooden doll. Through a ceremony, they receive the spirit of the twin. This way the twins are not apart and the gods remain favoured. Relatives carry the dolls with them and care for them like a living child.
Once a friend of mine came to ask me for help in buying a chicken. His brother had been ill for a long time, and nothing had helped him heal. The family now wanted to sacrifice the chicken to Sakpata, the God of sickness, so that the brother would finally be healed. Of course, I would have liked to advise them to buy drugs, but then I thought that how would I know how they could best treat his illness. So the chicken was bought, and the brother was healed.
I experienced filming and contacted Africans surprisingly easily, just sometimes in difficult conditions. A positive approach gets along, on both sides. I don’t describe anyone against his will, but rarely has anyone denied it. I also don’t buy permission to shoot. For those that I have shot a lot, I have given something in return with Grand-Popo residents who have come to know us, and I photographed their lives for a long time. I made the pictures for the 2007 exhibition in Lissa Gbassa, Villa Karo. Familiar landscapes and faces in the pictures hung on the gallery walls delighted the villagers. At the end of the show, they were excited to get the pictures for themselves.
In Africa, I bring the simplest possible camera equipment. However, it is good to have a spare camera with you. On a push taxi ride on a bumpy road, my camera broke right in the first week, even though I had packed it well. Heat, salt, moisture and sand are also poison to the camera.
Colours are important to me as a photographer, especially in Africa. I can’t ignore its stunning, strong colors, and I can’t photograph Africa in black and white, at least not yet. My favourite light when shooting is the Harmattan light. The Harmattan wind blowing from the Sahara brings fine sand when it comes and covers the sky in the light mist. It softens bright and hard sunlight into stunning photographic light. The sharp lights and shadows of the sun on the faces of Africans soften. Although not everyone likes dewat, and many complain of dusty sand clinging to their throats, it doesn’t bother me.