Photographing machetes and football 

Taking photos in the street is always challenging. You do not want everyone to know that you are there photographing, since that will most likely make the photo feel constructed. At the same time, you do not want to offend anyone or make them feel harassed.

You generally do not have these kinds of problems when you are photographing landscapes. But yesterday was an exception. I went on an evening walk trying to capture the Niger River that, more or less, runs through my backyard. Parts of it are dried up, which has left a moon-like landscape that looks amazing.

I took picture after picture but never seemed to get it right. Finally, I decided that I would try to include someone who might be passing through the area, to make the picture more dynamic.

I waited until I saw two people who seemed to be crossing the river a couple of hundred meters in front of me. As I raised my camera and looked through the view finder, I noticed that one of them stopped and changed direction toward me.

This is could mean trouble, but I decided to stay where I was. As I put down the camera, I realized that I his face was covered by one of the masks you usually have on you to avoid smog. He was also carrying a small machete.

So I realized that the situation looked a bit worrying. We were pretty much alone out here, but I decided to stay put. To walk away now would make me look guilty. But boy was he was upset. He pointed toward where he had stood when I took the picture and shouted in both French and Bambara. I speak neither but realized that gestures become way more dramatic when you’re holding a machete — even from a five-meter distance.

Instead, I used one of the oldest tricks in the photographer’s book: I played stupid and regretful. I told him that I did not understand why he was angry, but that I was sorry to have offended him. He yelled some more. I gave him my puppy-eye look, and he walked away.

 

I went back to the city and decided not to go home directly but to try to turn this around. But this time I would make sure that I had everyone´s permission. To hell with taking genuine street photos.

Photographing children in Mali is a pure joy. They are everywhere and super enthusiastic. If you have the opportunity to say hi to any grownups nearby, you´re completely safe.
In the time it took me to listen to one punk rock song, I found a bunch of kids playing football. I said hi to the grownups who smiled and waved back. I sat down among some kids, showed them the camera and was immediately welcomed. I got a few decent pictures, a lot of smiles and said goodbye.

One street away, I was invited to join a man who was sitting by himself. We did our best to understand each other, and after a couple of minutes I decided to ask him if I could take his portrait. He kept pointing toward his house, and before I knew it people were streaming out through the main gate.

My portrait had suddenly turned into a neighborhood photo, including at least 20 people. Everyone was laughing and joking as the group grew bigger and bigger. I asked for an email address so that I could send the picture to someone. Instead, I got a girl´s phone number. Not sure what to do with it, but at least it´s a lot better than being yelled at by a man carrying a machete.

 

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Storming corridors of power

Storming halls of power

After weeks of interviews with musicians it became more and more clear that I needed a comment from someone who was involved in the shaping of Mali´s culture on a political level. Also a few comments concerning Mali´s mining policy.

My first chief editor told me that you should always aim for the person at the top and only move down the political ladder if you have to. A good rule, but that often results in that I get answers written in an email from a political secretary. This after days of emailing. A meeting? Never. At least not in Sweden.

Therefore I was a bit worried that here in Mali this might become a bit of a struggle. Organizations such as Reporters without borders do not exactly rank Mali among the top countries in the world when it comes to freedom of press. Since I neither speak French or Bambara I did not want to try to reach them through emails or phone. So we tried a different approach.

Almost all ministers in Mali are working in a handful of buildings placed next to each other, surrounded by walls and guards. These buildings contains almost every minister’s office and all the staff that surrounds him or her. To get in my driver had to show his ID and explain the reason of our visit, I only had to show my white skin (or maybe it was my smile, who knows?).

Inside the walls we just followed a few signs and started to ask for the minister’s office – and it worked! Ok, we did not reach the culture or mining ministers themselves, but we got to me both ministers representatives – without filling in a single piece of papers or spending days trying to organize a meeting.

So here I am with answers to all my questions from people that represents top politicians in Mali. And it only took me one day.