daniel-maissan

Gay in Uganda

In the past week I’ve spend some moments with Clare, a gay activist in Uganda. She invited me to her good-bye party, as she’s moving because of safety reasons. Her compound, even though protected by a high wall with barbwire on top and a steel gate, was broken into several times. “It’s only a matter of time before they break through the bars in front of the windows and enter the house”, she said,“I’ll just have to move." 


The morning before I met Clare for the second time, I was watching "the Butler”, a movie about the racial history of America. After seeing it, I realised humanity is a very stubborn student. Basically what happened in the United States in the 20th century isn’t that much different than what is happening right now here in Uganda. Only here it’s the gay community that is being suppressed. Februari this year the president even signed into law the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act. Luckily the law, criminalising being gay, was ruled invalid by the constitutional court only three weeks ago.

Still, the Ugandan gay community is far from being free and many gays and lesbians therefor don’t come out but instead hide their sexuality. Something I understand very well after reading some of the hate mails and fb messages Clare receives. Being out in a country like Uganda, means that you try to avoid public places and when you do go there, you ware a hat, shades and you try to keep a low profile. It means you’re constantly at risk of being bullied or even being targeted with violence. Clare and I visited the church that she used to go to. We couldn’t go in as they told her she wasn’t welcome anymore. I was even forced by police to delete some of the pictures I took at the entrance.

I guess Uganda, and many countries in the world, have a long way to go when it comes down to accepting people for who they are. Whether it’s a colour issue, a gender issue or a matter of sexual preference, the world seems to be far from acceptance. Meeting Clare and seeing how she fights for her rights and the rights of gay and lesbian people in Uganda, was very inspirational.

High...

Patrick used to be one of the many street children roaming the streets of one of the slums in Kampala. He used to be high on a mixture of glue and kerosine sniffed out of a plastic bottle or from a piece of rags and he would sleep on the street in some corner, trying to hide from the wind. But years later, he got out. An American women walked by, days before she would head back to the US, and she gave him the opportunity to leave the streets and sort out his life.

Now years later I’m meeting Patrick at the old taxi park, one of the slums in central Kampala. He’s there for an outreach, helping 60 to 90 children that live there. All of them high, all of them in torn clothes and all of them with cuts and bruises everywhere. He tries to be here twice a week, giving the children some attention, cook a (small) meal for them and have Andrew, a befriended nurse, take care of the wounds that most of the children have. 

As I’m walking around, the area doesn’t feel that safe. I trust that Patrick knows what he’s doing. Some of the kids grab my hand and put it over there shoulder, or they put my hand on their heads. All they seam to want is some love and attention. Though no money is even asked once, I still find my prejudice self clinging on to my bag as if it’s my only possession in the world. Something I feel embarrassed about when I, later that day, return home and discover that some loose change and some paper money that I accidentally left in my pocket, is still there. Sure, I guess that if I would have crossed this part of town on my own, things might have been different. But that’s something I’ll never know and I’m not planning to find out. 

Being there, being with these kids, was confronting and heartwarming at the same time. When two kids of only 8 or 9 years old start to fight over a bottle of glue, that is confronting. As is the cuts, wounds and scars that mark their faces and bodies. But seeing them enjoy the little food they get and seeing them being grateful for the medical care they receive is heartwarming. That said, it was hard to walk away after three hours, knowing that these kids are high only because in that way, they don’t feel the cold of the night and the hunger won’t keep them from falling asleep.

You can see all the photos at my Flickr page

Cuzco mental hospital

As I’m here for this special project, I do have some free time as well. Of course I roam the city and villages around, to do some street photography, but I also like to take on some projects for myself on the side. As I did an extensive project in Malawi on a mental hospital a few years ago, I wanted to make some sort of sequel by visiting one in Peru as well.

Of course I didn’t have the three weeks I had in Malawi, but the two hour escorted tour they gave me here was enough to get quite a good impression. Shooting in Peru is quite a challenge as the light outside, even with rain, is so bright I often have to close down to f4 even when using the Monochrom at ISO 320. Inside on the otter hand I find myself shooting at ISO 1000 with a shutter speed of 1/60 on f2. The difference is huge and it’s a pain, when something happens outside while I was just shooting one of the bedrooms, I still forget to switch sometimes.

Here in Cuzco they make a clear difference between ensured people and people with no money at all. Still they help everybody that needs the help of proper doctors and nurses. Just as in Africa it’s hard to see the rough conditions they live in. But for some reason the patients were very open and friendly. Also the staff tries their best to give the people a proper schedule for the day. Because of the rain, most activities were inside today. Making christmas cards, decorating the rooms for the holidays… that kind of things. Not everybody joins these activities (a lot of them don’t actually) but you can see the effort the staff makes.

Because there was only little time, I’ll probably head back there somewhere at the end of this week to do another hour or so, joining the medication round, some meeting or anything else that I will bump into. In any case I’m quite happy that my own special projects can still continue while I’m doing my job.

Moving around...


As I’m not yet getting the contacts I want/need, to work on the reportage I had planned. I’ve been sitting around a lot the past week. I’ve been in Juba for the past seven days and had numerous meetings and appointments with people that might be able to help me but I haven’t come far just yet. I did learn some new quotes like: “In Africa waiting is an activity” or “ You westerners all have watches, but us… we have the time”. They’re insightful and I learn a lot from them, but nothing has happened just yet. Of course I’ll keep on trying and it taking this long, was something to expect when picking a topic that is as delicate as gender based violence. But today I got tired of staying in the surroundings I’ve stayed in all this time. I needed to get out.

Luckily a friend I met here offered to drive me to the desolate villages on the outskirts of Juba. The ones that are left empty after the fights of December last year, the ones that have been broken down, looted and burned out. 

Slowly some people are returning though, and a few even never left. It’s kind of eerie to walk around on these grounds and I was glad my companion could speak some arabic so we could have some communication with the few people we met and the soldiers that stopped us along the way.

It’s strange for me to be this careful when doing my job. Always ask permission, never walk around with the camera out of the bag, basically making sure that you are as inconspicuous as possible. A though job being 1.90 m, full of tattoos and white. As a consequence of this, most pictures I’ve taken up till now are posed or people are very aware I’m there. I didn’t tell them how to sit or stand, but people just tend to pose when you ask them if you can take their photo.

Also it’s a strange revelation to notice that, up to now, I struggle with the choice of monochrome or color. I’ve always been and still am a huge fan of black & white. But these surroundings, despite the horrific history, just scream to use color. 

Well, at least I’ve been able to do a little bit of what I came here for. And like I said, I’ll keep on going to try and get the story on sexual violence that I came for. For now, I’ll just settle and take in the stories and surroundings that I encounter.

Just to be clear: The women in these pictures, to my knowledge, have not been victims of gender based violence or indicated such in any way. I haven’t spoke to them about this nor did I ask, as this wasn’t the time nor the place and I didn’t have a proper translator with me.

Sequel to the previous post...

Upon request I’m writing a short sequel on my previous post. This time with some of the photos in black and white. It’s strange to see what it does. For me both are nice pictures, I’d like to think both are beautiful, but both bring up a complete different story. Which to me is quite logical as I had two different feelings struggling there when I walked around. On the one hand the eerie feeling of the short history that burdens this place… Black & White enhances this, the drama, the emptiness… On the other hand the resilience of the people that return to their houses and, even with the little means they have, try to continue their previous live or start a new one. Because of this feeling of duality, I have to admit it’s hard for me to choose whether to go for color or black and white. I guess it depends on which story you want to tell. Fortunately in this case I don’t really want to tell a story except for how this morning and afternoon made me feel. I guess I’ve done just that by not writing one, but two blogs on the same pictures.

You can see my final choice on my flickr page!

Just to be clear one more time: The women in these pictures, to my knowledge, have not been victims of gender based violence or indicated such in any way. I haven’t spoke to them about this nor did I ask, as this wasn’t the time nor the place and I didn’t have a proper translator with me.

Change of perspective.

Traveling through India for a couple of months, I’ve been roaming the streets, got lost in the slums and had some nice conversations with people I portrayed. Whether it was a big city, a small village or out in the country; there’s one and a half billion people and they all had a little story to tell. Like I said in one of my blogs, this is how I try to understand the world.

 

To keep challenging myself and to learn even more, I also need to change perspective every now and again. Most of the time this happens unexpectedly. Coming to Khajuraho, that opportunity presented itself quite clearly. The first day I still did what I always do. I walked the little streets, had some fun with the kids that ran around me, when roaming through the outside neighborhoods.

(picture by Maartje Grond)

But Khajuraho is known for its temples. Even though it’s a very small village, it even has an airport to fly in the herds of tourists coming to see the Kama Sutra temples of Khajuraho. So there was no way around it. I had to pay my entrance fee and see what the fuss was all about.

 

After five minutes I already noticed… this is not what I’m looking for. I can see how impressive the buildings are. I can even be overwhelmed for a minute by the idea that everything is build by man, some 1000 years ago. But this moment of astonishment only takes a very short time. It’s probably why I don’t do architecture photography, or product photography. (Although I like to work for real estate agents… but that’s because I can snoop around in people’s life just for a couple of hours or so.)

 

My curiosity towards the “typical” groups of tourists on the other hand is something that immediately made me grab my camera. The way these herds of white-socked people, with safari hats and huge amounts of camera gear move, is something that intrigued me right from the start. It may sound like a huge judgment if you read that last sentence, but it’s not! I think it’s great people travel the world to see what other countries and cultures have to offer. And I really couldn’t care less how they do it. It’s just that “their way” of traveling and exploring is completely out of my comprehension as well. Therefor I did what I always do when I don’t understand. I photograph.

To see the complete series, both the streets ánd the temples of Khajuraho, check my Flickr page.

Out of the city

Most of the time when traveling, I find myself going from city to town and back to a city again. Sometimes I almost forget there’s more than that.  When I hired a little motor bike and just cruised out of the town Pushkar, I noticed everything changed. Landscape, there’s no surprise, but also the contact with the people I met along the way.

There was no hassle, asking for money or trying to sell me anything anymore. People were open and friendly, inviting and very photo genetic. I wrote a blog a while ago, about sending a private driver back home and taking the bus between destinations. I’m still very happy i did, but after a day driving around on my little moped, I guess next time I’ll be traveling with a drivers license for a motorbike. That way I can buy myself a cheap motor and travel the country on my own. Bringing only my small Leica kit - same as I have with me now - and some necessities like underware, there will be no trouble with luggage and it will bring me at places I’ll otherwise won’t see.

So, at least I have found my reason to stay traveling and go back to beautiful India again and again! ;-)

If you like to see these pictures and some more in higher resolution, check my Flickr account

Monochrome

So the decision is made… I’m jumping in the deep again during one of my trips. Last time I ended up falling in love with the M9 in Cuba. This time I’m going to India, land of colours, bringing a Leica Monochrome. Very exciting. Here is the first photo I took with it. By lack of models I used myself in a mirror. First picture is as it came out of the camera. Second is with little post processing in Silver Effex Pro… just a little more contrast and some structure added. Oh, and a very exciting thing about the photo… it’s taken at ISO 6400. I did use a little noise reduction, but the amount of noise is really making me smile, I think I’m already in love!

Just a quick one...

It’s the night before return… and as I was busy with other fun stuff today, I didn’t have time to use the Noctilux anymore… now it’s to late… But I decided before the day really ends I need to take at least one more.. So a quick self portrait in the mirror is the result.

Hopefully I’ll be able to use it some time in the future again…

Leica M9 with Noctilux 50mm at f 0.95 - 1/30sec - ISO 640

Jennah Bell

I’m so lucky. Beautiful weather, plans to go to the beach and luckily I brought my camera. Lucky because Jennah Bell was performing live at the beach. This girl comes from New York and just played the night before with her band at North Sea Jazz. Mark my words, she’s going to be huge!

I just lost myself taking pictures while listening to her wonderful songs. After the gig I started chatting with some of the band members and I was pleasantly surprised they were heading for the studio the next three days. 

Jennah Bell from danielmaissan on Vimeo.

They responded very happy when I asked them if I could come to the studio as well. For them it would mean some extra photos and for me it would mean, watching these artist at work and testing the Monochrom in a sound sensitive environment. Would it be silent enough for me to sit in the studio while these musicians were recording? Yes it was and I could stay with them the whole time while recording… It was great.

Dragqueens

Every now and again you get an assignment that, upfront, you know is going to be fun. Today I had to photograph six drag queens in the studio. It had to be done with my DSLR because the art director was watching and a M9 unfortunately doesn’t work thetered.

Never the less, the gentleman needed some time to become ladies. Therefore I decided to do some behind the scene shots with the M9. It was unbelievable to see the great care these ladies put in their appearance.

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.0 - 1/180 sec - ISO 800

Leica M9 with summicron 75 mm at f3.4 - 1/125 sec - ISO 800

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.0 - 1/30 sec - ISO 800

Leica M9 with summicron 75 mm at f3.4 - 1/180 sec - ISO 800

Leica M9 with summicron 75 mm at f3.4 - 1/45 sec - ISO 800

After the official shoot, witch was studio lit on a pink background, I decided to take them all outside and make a quick portrait there as well. Here they are, but ofcourse you can check them in higher resolution here

Miss YogY

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.0 - 1/1500 sec - ISO 200

Miss Windy Mills

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.4 - 1/4000 sec - ISO 200

Miss Ginger G-spot

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f3.4 - 1/350 sec - ISO 200

Miss Janey Jacke

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.4 - 1/2000 sec - ISO 200

“name to be anounced”

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.8 - 1/750 sec - ISO 200

Miss Fucksia

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.0 - 1/1500 sec - ISO 400

When all pictures were taken, and some empty bottles of wine were on the table, the girls decided to go and have a snack in the city. So off we went. To see some more pictures and these ones in a higher resolution check here

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.8 - 1/250 sec - ISO 400

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f2.8 - 1/125 sec - ISO 400

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f3.4 - 1/60 sec - ISO 400

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f3.4 - 1/90 sec - ISO 400

Parents association

Yesterday we had a gathering of families with an autistic child. They came together to get to know each other, talk, drink hot chocolate milk and have their kids play together, including the non autistic brothers and sisters. The idea behind it was to form a parenting association (I have no idea if that is te proper English term for it.)

It was a great afternoon and besides documenting the event, I was asked to make some family portraits in the tradition of Peru… very posed. It’s not what I normally do, but I loved the challenge. Especially as some of the autistic kids didn’t want to stand still or stand there with their parents. Therefor sometimes I had to improvise, but it all worked out.

In the mean time some of the kids decorated the place, making beautiful chalk drawings on the floor. Others played a game on the phone, or just sat in silence in a corner.

Finally, it’s there. It took some time, my patience was tested to it’s very limits, but now it’s finally there: The Leica M240.

I had tried it about a month ago, courtesy of Transcontinenta - the importer of Leica in the Netherlands- during the world justice forum in The Hague. A perfect place to test it, because the new M is already the standard in American court due to its silent shutter release. 

It was a great opportunity to test it, as many of the conference halls were quite dark to work in. So cranking it up to 1600 ISO was a necessity in many accessions. And it worked, it worked very well. I loved the colours coming straight from the camera and the resolution is amazing.

I really had to get used to the new buttons on the back though. Half of the time I wanted to have a quick playback, I immediately ended up in live view mode. And the fact that the info button is now on the other side took some getting used to as well. 

Still I’m very happy. For one, I can actually see what I’m doing now. As the LCD is finally giving some proper image and some higher resolution feedback on what I’m doing.

So the actual transition has happened. All my Nikon gear is for sell (most of it already sold even) and from now on I will be using either this beautiful monster or its sibling the Monochrom. Having “only” a Summicron 35mm and a Summicron 50mm and these two babies in my bag makes me the happiest person alive.  

Where wandering is easy, but taking photos is kind of hard.

Here I am, sitting on a coconut tree beach in the South of Ghana. In a couple of days I’ll be back in Accra, the busy capital, to do some work for a Dutch NGO. My last week in this country I’ll be working on a project that was initiated by Sander (a good friend and brilliant cameraman), Maartje (a talented writer and the woman I love) and myself.

So it’s these few days that I have time to wander around through the little fishing villages along the beach. Of course accompanied by my cameras, safely tugged away in my trusty bag. Most of the people I meet are friendly, up for a talk or hysterically waving from a distance. Children will follow me like I have a tail and and ask me to give them a ball, a pen or cash. Being a fly on the wall… it just doesn’t fly in this place. They see me coming from miles away. No problem for me though, I can sit down, have a chat with whomever I meet. There’s plenty of people around that speak a bit of English, combined with hands, feet and some drawings in the sand, that can make for quite an entertaining conversation.

But I am, what I am… a photographer. Sooner or later the moment comes that I want to take that picture. Unfortunately, people here are extremely aware and they have an incredible distaste for people taking their picture. Some will ask money, but often that’s not even the case… they just don’t want their photo to be taken. Immensely frustrating as I would love to show you the beauty (and ugliness) in this part of the world. The way people are working together to bring in the fishing nets, mothers preparing the food in front of the house, children running around with their self-made toys. All that in a small but beautiful little village looking out over the see that is right at their doorsteps.

It’s a confrontation with myself. I do have a few very nice pictures. At least, I’d like to think so. But normally while wandering around, I shoot a multitude of what I have shot now. Suddenly I feel te addiction that it appears to be. As I realised there isn’t many villages around, and the beach is wonderful, I tried leaving the camera in the bag and focussing on a book I brought… Make it a short holiday. Sitting in the shade, cold coke on the side and my cigarettes within reach, I read a couple of chapters…. In the distance I can see the fisherman getting in their boats and even though I’d like to get up right away and walk over, the experience of yesterday and the day before thought me they will wave hello, even recognise me as the man they talked to before, but a photo…. “no, no, no.”

I realise, who can blame them… Imagine you sitting at your desk job or standing behind the bar while serving your customers. Every 15 minutes or every our, a tourist walks in and starts to take photos of you. Even worse, imagine sitting in your living room, reading a book or standing in your own kitchen preparing your dinner. Than all of a sudden you’ll hear: “Hi sorry to interrupt you in your daily business and invade your house, but it looks so nice what you’re doing, can I please make a photo?” Imagine that happening not one time, but a couple of times a day… every day.

foto: Maartje Grond

Of course I’d like to think I’m different. I’m not just a tourist, I’m a photographer. I know in my heart I’m sincere. I have the best intentions and I tell myself this is what I do. I’ve worked hard to learn the skills and I’ve gone the miles… It’s my job. So I’ll keep trying, I’ll keep wandering, and I’ll keep asking… respectfully. But not today. Today I’ll lie in the shade, order another coke and read my next chapter… where are my cigarettes.

A few shots...

Just as I promised… not always a story, but just a few shots taken during this weekend of beautiful weather. I figured out, I need to keep shooting as much as possible with the Leica. If I don’t, I lose the touch and I can start all over again. So that’s just what I do.

Leica M9 with summicron 75 mm at f5.6 - 1/750 sec - ISO 160

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f4.8 - 1/750 sec - ISO 160

Leica M9 with summicron 35 mm at f4.8 - 1/1500 sec - ISO 160

Schooling money...

So I start this post now with a little extra, added three days after the original post… I don’t make it a separate post because it’s one story and besides, I dont have any pictures to add ;-)But I did F*ck up again!

Again I had to learn! I did get all my money back like discribed… The man giving it back, the man that I thought was playing me, ended up the only real trustworthy person in this total story. He paid ALL back… no questions asked. This was the first time I met someone during this trip that explained to me, he actually wanted to make money, he had told me that from the start (he did!). But he only wanted to make money the honest way! “I believe in Karma, most people in India do, they just don’t always act like it”.

I felt guilty, ashamed even. We ended up talking all afternoon, having chai and talk about the hassle and hustle of the Indian people and tour operators in Delhi in particular. I’m glad I have a friend now, whom I can trust and call whenever there are problems.

Finally I’ve learned now… Whenever you go to India; NEVER trust a place that says Government Tourist Information Center. They are ALL crooks and mafia. These are the guys that did f*ck me and didn’t get me any money back. In the end I should have listened to my gut feeling right from the start. But, as Indian people in general - at least the ones I’ve met so far -  should all get an Oscar for acting, they can make you doubt about anything… specially your gut feeling. So if you read the rest of this post… read it with this in mind!



Original post:

I don’t know if the road really was closed, and therefore I had to stay three more days in Srinagar. What I do know is that in these three days, the man I stayed with helped me cancel a tour I booked for a huge amount of money. I really thought I had lost this money and was stuck with a trip I didn’t really want to make. It took some calls and emails, but with that I was going to get all my money back. It’s hard to conclude that, while traveling India, I can trust nobody. Even when you think you can… you can’t, in the end it’s still all about money.

For this I of course have to pay a little. (still probably a little to much, there it is again) Which I’m perfectly happy to do. Also, I did stay on his beautiful houseboat, he gave me food ( good food I may add) and showed me around… so it was definitely worth it.

It’s funny how, when you stay at a place, within two days a place starts to feel like home. After three days I even see that I have formed habits that give structure to my day. You see the same things happening on the streets, you walk the same route to the same internet cafe, drink your chai at the same place because you like the kid that’s making it for you. It’s time to leave. My mission of getting my money back has succeeded and I’m ready for new places and new ways to f*ck up and than learn again.

Liberation day

The 5th of may is the day we celebrate liberation day in the Netherlands. We remember getting back our freedom in 1945. There are different festivals in many cities. A lot of friends and I decided a couple of years ago to start the day with champagne. Really celebrating instead of only having a party at the festival. It started with just a couple of friends, but every year the group is getting bigger, there is more food and champagne is better.

In the past years I made a video, but this year I decided to take the Leica D-lux 4 to take some pictures. I didn’t have the guts to take the M9, because of the party and because of the champagne ;-) Here’s some of the pictures, the video’s of past years you can see here and here.