It’s a great testament to the vibrant Congo Crew that they were able to take direction from a french-less photographer with no experience in either basket ball, or bag modelling. Deciphering hand gestures, grunts and emotional high pitched whines are wonderful around post dinner charades but when a massive Orange stills campaign is underway its very important that everyone should know precisely what to do, and when to do it. At some point, in frustration at not being able to describe that Isabelle’s dress should flare up as she walked, I confess to placing my hands very high up inside that dress and demonstrating the effect I desired by sort of ‘clapping around the crotch’, as it were. Isabelle smiled, and the crew cheered. Team work. As a photographer, releasing the shutter is the easiest of tasks, all other tasks are made much easier when all other role players are pulling in the same direction. By any means possible, you must be able to effect this – or things will fall apart. They didn’t fall apart in Kinshasa, and had no reason to. The production crew were intuitive, models though street cast, were awesome. For example, the night before I clapped inside Isabelle’s dress she had stood half naked and shivering in cell phone light while a tailor expertly fitted the next day’s garment. For hours. Her smile in the end image was probably in relief that the fiasco would now be over…though she has gone on to be involved in more Kinshasa production, and she’ll be very good at it.
Picked last for most ball sports as a kid, I found myself trying to explain to an undergrad doctor who had far madder skills than I, how I wanted him to appear in the final image. That the ‘ball’ would be ‘dropped in’ in retouch – his body position had to suit the text placement and his eye line had to measure up to the layout – though I wasn’t quite sure what that meant either. My own eyes were nervously darting around. Any activity on a Kinshasa street draws attention and I had learnt this the hard way when a bullying gendarme had taken my camera the day before. I got it back, just. But the thing is when you’re shooting with one eye on your subject and one eye on whoever is going to come down the road next, you’ve got to be quick. Everyone does. And everyone was. The Doctor knew what to do despite my flailing’s and strange hopping about.
Quickest to understand urgency though was perhaps our driver, papa Christoff, who took us to the airport the following day. Kabila was about to announce his willingness, or lack thereof, of allowing elections to continue and the populace were tense and peppered with cops. The last ‘insurrection’ had left heartache and a hundred dead on the streets. That wasn’t long ago. Papa Christoff flew us to the airport in a Toyota Fortuner. Vendors ducked their heads down as we zoomed overhead, and children lay face down amongst squawking chickens and cowering hounds. Any one who could afford to leave, was leaving. Africa is the happiest and saddest land, and thats one of the reasons why. Its also one of the reasons why I love working here, photographing.