A thoughtful obituary for Malian photographer Malick Sidibé is in the New York Times this evening. Sidibé’s work was also covered in an exhibit review that appeared in Slate last fall. Both articles are worth the read.
In addition to Jeffrey Gettleman’s article in the New York Times today, there is also a remarkable photo essay of photographs by Richard Mosse of the ongoing war (anarchy) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It was shot on infrared film, lending an eery, surreal cast to the images of war and fertile landscape and thereby drawing the viewer to take another look at images that might otherwise look like many that came before them.
I just finished a book about the Nigeria/Biafra civil war. It’s called “Half of a Yellow Sun“, by Adichie, and I highly recommend it.
I also just finished reading an old National Geographic dedicated to Africa. I was struck by an essay written by Alexandra Fuller, who wrote a well-known memoir of her childhood in Zambia, called “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.” I attach a link to the article, as well as a passage that captures something I have felt in Laikipia (in the 3rd paragraph below) but never seen in writing before.
Alexandra Fuller writes:
“The Cost of Walking for Days Through the Middle of Nowhere
The women at the Chifungwe scout camp, seeing me emerge from the bush, sent a child in search of a mirror. Like characters in an 18th-century novel, they deemed it prudent to show me the full horror of myself. Then they fetched me a bucket of hot water, tea, and a comb.
“Rolf met me here, having driven down off the escarpment on axle-breaking roads. That night I fell asleep listening to the village breathing. In the morning there was the domestic chatter of women to wake me, as they walked down to the river to fetch water. There was such an explosion of birds I couldn’t untangle their song. It was the mopani-leaf turpentine that I smelled and wood smoke and game droppings and the pungent swirl of the river. And the world rocked with life.
“On this page I can’t smell the burnt-honey scent of bee sting, or feel the smallness of who I really am under the ponderous annoyance of an elephant, or understand that animals share my fright—a leopard is chased by an angry baboon troop. But I have understood that I am only the sum of my biology. And what this grants me is the undeserved gift of connection, usually granted men and women of transcendent and disciplined lives.
“Long Words on a Hot Afternoon
I do penance by pretending to read the exhaustive A History of Wildlife Conservation and Management in the Mid-Luangwa Valley, Zambia, by W. L. Astle, published by the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol, August 1999. From the preface: “It is an account of recorded events . . . from the start of European penetration at the end of the 18th century to the early 1970s, the time of the start of a ferocious onslaught by commercial poachers.” “
This strikes me as the oddest photo shoot. Nostalgia for colonialism, a designer blanket on a baby elephant, and the romance of your jeep breaking down in the middle of a river? I hope the Maasai community and the elephant trust got some well-targeted money out of the deal. I don’t know if I’m offended (BH, should I be?) so much as the whole spectacle seems very odd and irrelevant. On a selfish note, I wish I were going to be as CLEAN as Keira Knightley is in the pictures…