This past August I was on assignment in Malawi as part of a long term commissioned book project I am doing for the Marist Brothers Bicentenary in 2017. The Marist Brothers are a Catholic order of Brothers who have communities in more than 80 countries around the world.
As my taxi drove through the scorched red-earth hills between the airport and Lilongwe I noticed these two colourfully dressed characters bounding between the bushes. I asked my cab driver to stop and when they were moving past the car my driver asked them where they were going and I managed to take this portrait of the Gule Wankulu.
I was totally amazed by what I had seen and as we drove off I asked the driver to tell me all about the Gule Wankulu. It wasn’t until I could get and read up on the Gule Wankulu cult of Malawi. Twice more on my trip I stumbled upon the Gule Wankulu. They were both on dirt roads in central Malawi, an area dominated by the Chewa ethnic group who the Gule Wankulu cult belongs to.
Of my two other interactions, the above nighttime gulewankulu picture was the most fascinating. Driving home around 8pm we slowed down as these two straw made creatures lurched down the road towards us. My driver a Marist Brother from the Chewa group told me they were transporting the Gule’s to the neighbouring village’s cemetery to be used the following day during a funeral ceremony.
When not spotting Gule Wankulu’s I was I was rather busy working in this commissioned bicentenary book project. Unfortunately more info about it will remain under wraps for the coming 6 months at least. In the mean time here are a few more pictures from my time in Malawi. You can see a few pics below.
As the annual Durga Puja festival comes to a close in Kolkata and across the Hindu world, my work on the amazing event is timely featured in the current edition of The Big Issue. For those of you who don’t know anything about this annual Hindu celebration, its worth knowing about and observing at least once in your lifetime. Here is my full body of work from the 2013 celebrations in the wonderful city of Kolkata.
For those of you who don’t know The Big Issue magazine, you should! I have regularly published with them over the past 4 years and I love the ethos behind their publication. The magazine came to Australia in 1993 when a group of prominent Australians came together to explore solutions to help address Australia’s increasing homeless population. They proposed a model based on the UK’s successful Big Issue street magazine model. The first magazine was launched in Australia on the steps of Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station on June 16, 1996. When you buy an edition of the magazine a large portion of the selling price goes directly to the seller.
As per an earlier blog post, my time working in Kolkata is always spent with a dear friend and fellow ‘chobi wallah’ photographer is Siddhartha Hajra. I’d recommend you all to check out his work, his website is still under construction but in the meantime here is his instagram account. Sid’s photographs like himself are deeply considered and filled with strong emotion. Sid is also currently working on a PHD about family photo albums, I can’t wait to see more as it develops.
I am currently editing a short film from the Durga Puja festival. Once it is complete I will be sure to make it public.
Recently I was exporting some photographs from an assignment in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, when I had a number of exported web res files being corrupted. It is the first this has happened, and only did happen during the web res export and not when exported at high resolution. I have no idea why this happened, but in a weird way I actually really like what has happened.
Last week while on an assignment for the New York Times I had the privilege of making a portrait of Lt. Col. Cate McGregor from the Australian Defence Force. Cate is a delightful woman and incredible advocate for the transgender community world over and I had a wonderful time taking her portrait.
It was a rainy Wednesday and I wandered Sydney’s CBD and caught Cate as she wrapped up an official meeting at the Lowy Institute. I walked with her downtown to where she had another press engagement. Cate was deeply apologetic for having another arrangement and asked if I would wait. ‘Of course I will wait’ I replied. I went and found somewhere to hang out and decided to do some reading on the woman I was sent to make a portrait of. Cate is well known for her role in the Australian military in addition to being an author and a cricket commentator. In 2012 Cate decided to undergo gender reassignment and at the time offered to resign to her boss who now head the Australian Military. Brilliant journalist Julia Baird goes on more eloquently than I ever can, so I encourage you to read the full piece here on the New York Times website.
Once Cate finished her interview we met up and she apologised profusely for keeping me. I told Cate it would be good to find some kind of military context for a portrait, she reminded me of the memorial that commemorates the campaigns of the Royal Australia Regiment, to which she happened to belong. I told her it sounded great and asked if she didn’t mind navigating the wet streets, Cate was totally nonplussed about the heavy rain that beat down around us and we made our way out into the streets heading for Martin Place. Despite the heavy rain Cate obliged my photos and questions, she showed me the memorial and we shared stories of working in Timor-Leste a neighbouring country dear to both of us.
After some time Cate realised that she was about to miss her flight home to Canberra, totally at peace with the idea we stepped out of the rain for a final coffee. The lighting inside was great so I was able to take a few more portraits as Cate brushed her hair which had become drenched from our time in the rain. As we approached the counter to pay for the coffee, the owner a middle aged Italian man told Cate he recognised her from a recent article in an Australian magazine. He said it was an honour to meet her and they hugged farewell. I walked with Cate until she found a taxi for the airport and then we also said farewell before I made my own way home to file.
I felt humbled and reassured to know that someone like Lt. Col. Cate McGregor is a senior figure in the Australian army. I can only hope that we hear more from her in the future.
Last night was the finals of Tropfest 2013. Walking into Centennial Park under the final hour of epic golden sun was a perfect way to finish a summer weekend in Sydney. This year the theme was ‘change’ and the 16 finalists interpreted it in different ways, you can see the finalists here.
The finalists were all rather disappointing particularly the third place winner, a first person account of a young Australian soldier in Afghanistan. It was almost too painful to watch and listen as the narrator went on “I keep reminding myself there is a bigger picture, that’s why we’re here, fighting for human rights.” As it closed the regular applause was topped off by a few blokey howls. I was surprised that the majority of the crowd weren’t shocked by how awful the film was and I reminded myself of the same questions I when not too long ago a large portion of voting Australia elected an Abbott Government.
Amongst my group of friends as we waited for the winners to be announced we were unanimous that the the best film of the evening was Off the Meter. Off the Meter follows Daniel Folkmover an older Australian cab driver who refers to himself as a ‘people person’. D Folkmover initially evokes an idea of a character some people may know from their own large family gatherings or someone in attendance at a recent wedding. Daniel Folkmover picks up a van load of refugees in his maxi taxi ‘off the meter’ and takes them on a tour of Melbourne before bringing them home for a meal where his wife is waiting.
The power of the short film is in the closing scene and one of the last lines as Daniel Folkmover addresses the interviewer and says “we are just trying to do decent thing by decent human beings you know, we are all boat people just about aren’t we?” The character of Daniel Folkmover was significant for me as a day before I was in Wilton a western suburb outside Mount Druitt photographing South Sudanese soccer games. After the games as I said goodbye to some friends I also had a quick chat with the referees who weren’t dissimilar from Mr Folkmover in the film. Two older men in their 60s, they warmed down after refereeing three games of soccer and told me off hand they both had an hour drive home ahead of them but they each week turn up “to give these young fellas a go.”
While the finalists were disappointing, in some ways they weren’t that suprising but more a reminder of how far Australia still has to come.
From Nairobi it took me three flights and what felt like an eternity before I touched down in Bangui the capital of the Central African Republic.
As I moved through the airport with the other strange assortment of passangers I was greeted with the familiar sense of official chaos I know well. Despite my time spent poring over as much writing as I could find about the country I realised very quickly how little I knew as I looked around the airport. I stood in line for my visa actively perspiring as I looked on perplexed at the soldiers in a vast assortment of army uniforms all whom were unarmed. What I didn’t initially realise is that these soldiers were members of the FOMAC force working alongside the French forces to protect key sites around the capital including the airport and French embassy.
A short intro for those who don’t know much about the place commonly known as C.A.R. The Central African Republic is a landlocked country bordering Chad in the north, Sudan in the northeast, South Sudan in the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo in the south and Cameroon in the west. Colonised by the French in the 1880s, C.A.R. became independent in 1960 but after a number of leaders and coups it wasn’t until 1993 when multi-party democratic elections were held for the first time. Earlier this year on March 24 a coup led by the Seleka leader Michel Djotodia took the capital and seized power from President Bozize who fled the country. According to the International Crisis Group it is estimated that there are about 400,000 internally displaced people, 64,000 refugees.
Eventually after close to two sweaty hours of waiting, Sylvester from the SOS Children’s Village national office successfully managed to arrange permission for me to leave the airport without a visa. For the record, the visa was something I literally had stamped in my passport hours before I left the country a week later, first time for everything. As we left the airport I was surprised to look around and see the heavily armed French soldiers stationed at the entrance. Bumping along a road with minimal paving that led us into downtown Bangui I tried to suck in as much as I could from the darkness but all I could catch was the whir of street sellers standing over their glowing coals that slowly cooked corn and meat. Inside the taxi, Sylvester apologised repeatedly for the mode of transport. He told me how the Children’s Village cars were stolen a few months pripr when the Seleka rebels took over the village and demanded money, computers, vehicles and anything else of value which they said they had earnt as unpaid fighters in Seleka force.
The Seleka who seized power earlier in 2013 is a rebel force made up of fighters from the north of the country as well as large contingents from neighbouring Chad and Darfur. While the conflict wasn’t waged along sectarian lines, in recent months it has become evident that animosity is growing between the largely Christian population and the Muslims from the north.
We stopped outside a rather nice hotel and was told that it was is too dangerous to reach the children’s village at night time. Sylvester told me that since the Seleka rebels came to power it is very rare to drive at night unless part of a French convoy or moving with the Seleka rebels. I checked into the hotel and unsurprisingly was the only guest.In the morning we continued on to the SOS children’s village where I was based from my week in the country. Unfortunately due to security issues we weren’t able to leave the capital and at all times I was accompanied by the writer and a member of the country office.
Visiting the local area surrounding the Childrens Village it was evident that many people were still living in an active state of fear since the invasion by the rebels in March. Bangui is only divided from the Democratic Republic of Congo by the wide and fast running Congo River. As word grew of the impending invasion of the capital thousands of young men fled into neighbouring Congo as they feared being attacked by the rebels. A number of people we interviewed had lost a family members, most males, at the hands of the rebels. In addition to murdering the Seleka also looted from countless homes Non Government Organisations and government offices.
The health clinic at the Childrens Village is headed up by the charismatic Dr Placide Bassenge. Dr Placide leads a team of overworked health carers who have struggled to respond to the growing need and minimal resources available since the Seleka invasion. Medical supply routes from neighbouring Cameroon have been closed since March. This means acquiring medical supplies such as sterilising equipment, pain relief and antiretroviral drugs has become almost impossible. For Julian Valida a lab assistant who functions as the centre’s pharmacist, work has become incredibly stressful with the growing power cuts which means he must now keep drugs cold with only a few hours of power each day.
Dr Placide Bassenge spoke of the rising number of health issues since the rebels came to power in March. One of Dr Placide Bassenge’s greatest frustrations is his clinics limited resources, this means all serious cases must be referred to a hospital in Bangui. The problem with referring patients onwards is twofold. Firstly most patients coming to the clinic cant afford health care and secondly since the crisis many government departments including hospitals have been unable to pay their employees.
The road ahead for the Central African Republic will not be easy. The rise of self-defense militias and clashes between Christian and Muslim communities are now said to be part of daily life in parts of the mineral-rich country. In the last few days there has been serious calls for United Nations peacekeepers to be dispatched urgently to intervene with Christian-Muslim fighting which is at risk of spiralling into genocide.
I have worked on assignment for SOS Children’s Village throughout the world and during these trips have been warmly welcomed into communities in places as diverse as Haiti and Bangladesh. In the Central African Republic my experience was no exception and the hospitality I experienced first hand was deeply humbling. On my final night at the Children’s Village in Bangui, I sat with Jennifer the journalist I was working with and a number of the SOS Mothers lit only by a full moon. We talked for hours and covered a range of topics from the nightmarish days when the Seleka arrived and looted the Children’s Village to a collection of funny memories since living inside the village. I flew out early the next morning after saying goodbye to the national office staff and the community development workers. Aboard my flight to Cameroon as we banked over a wide river that snaked through the landscape I bid farewell to the troubled country. While the nations future is uncertain, I was confident that the children who call the village home will always know the same love and care that exists during peace or turmoil.
As I wrap up a two week long assignment I feel the need to share how much I love what I do. I have thoroughly enjoyed these two weeks between India and Nepal focusing on a range of themes and issues affecting South Asian countries. This last week I was able to see a vast array of the countryside but still with ample time in the capital Kathmandu. Kathmandu is one of my favourite cities in the world hands down.
Chasing the light here in Nepal has brought me great satisfaction and below are some that stand out pictures so far. I write quickly as I prepare to head off for another week long assignment to the remote Khumbu region of Nepal where I am sure there will be no shortage of light to find.
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few albeit brief days in Vanuatu on assignment.
My time in Vanuatu on Malekula the second-largest island of Vanuatu at just over 2000 km2 with a population of approximately 30,000. Below are a few photographs from my first evening on the island of Malekula at an outdoor screening of Namatan 2013 Vanuatu short film festival. The 13 finalists were projected outside aTVET builing in Norsup, Malekula. As the films rolled through I made my way around ever growing crowd and took the following pictures.
While in town I was also able to spend some quality time with an Australian photojournalist I have always been deeply inspired by, Ben Bohane. I will be writing on here in the near future about Ben’s soon to be launched book ‘The Black Islands’, in the meantime you can check out some of his work here.
As part of an ongoing personal project in late 2012 I attended the National South Sudanese Basketball Competition in Canberra. The 2 day competition was brimming with talent and the finals lived up to expectations. The role of basketball for young South Sudanese Australians is just one aspect of what I am looking at with my project Stories of the South. More aspects of this project will be featuring on my blog in the coming months.
Below are three pictures featuring Akolde Mayom, a friend and great basketball palyer. I first met Akolde in 2006 when he along with his siblings and mother moved to Newcastle. Akolde and I first connected around music and sport. We hung out making mixed cd’s featuring Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Glen Washington and other reggae musicians and played daily football games in the park across the road.
Akolde and I also studied together at university and would regularly catch the bus home at the end of the day. It was during these many conversations and time spent pouring over online news that I started to learn more about South Sudan and the nations push for independence. Independence finally came after a referendum in early 2011, bringing an end to the long and brutal civil war which lasted 28 years in which 1.5 million people were killed.
When independence was declared on July 9th 2011, I made sure I was in Juba to document the birth of the new nation. To see my work Birth of a nation which is on my website. The two months I spent in South Sudan were fascinating, challenging, colourful and overall an utterly tiring experience. Life let alone shooting in Juba was tough going, but overall I left with a deeper understanding of why independence is so important to South Sudanese people world over.
One event I covered that symbolises the hope and expectations of the new nation is South Sudan’s first basketball game. There is no doubt that many of the South Sudanese ethnic groups are naturally built for basketball, tall, lean and incredibly athletic. Case in point Luol Deng who was born in Wau, South Sudan and is now playing in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls. While Luol Deng is a stand out, I know a number of young South Sudanese basketball players in Australia dreaming to follow in his footsteps. With greater opportunities and more talent scouts on the hunt I don’t doubt there will be more success to follow.
Below are a few crowd moments from the finals.