I have always thought any decent photographer should be able to work outside of their comfort zone. That one of the marks of my personal progress is to be a familiar name beyond Kenya. To be a ‘photographer without borders’. My perception of success changed on a very hot June in the middle of Nairobi when two lady photographers were left in my care for 2 weeks. Two professionals from the real Photographers Without Borders.
At first site, Daniella, vibrant, super energetic, all smiles and hugs walking towards me at the airport from Canada. A day later came Mattie from Massachusetts, very graceful, super polite and observant. She came off the plane expecting to smell the Kenyan soil, literally. They had both been in Kenya before and had an appreciation for everything.
This was the perfect team! We had a plan.
Our first assignment, portraits of the HAART staff. Swift and engaging. Everybody got to know each other. The stiff were softened the talkative were heard. We were building a story about HAART. For the subsequent weeks, each department had its moment on the spotlight. From an open door into the victims department where the photographers had interaction with the girl survivors at the shelter to document their lives and stories, to travelling across counties with the social outreach department for an educational session with primary school children in Machakos. The children ever so curious, got to learn how to prevent themselves from being trafficked.
We ate, we drank, we played. Every girl at the shelter was free to express herself not minding the camera within their identity restrictions. They felt safe and happy to have made new friends. They also had a special studio portrait session with Mattie. Mattie whispered and held hands with the girls whilst getting to know them personally. She let them pose as they wanted and they constantly peaked through her viewfinder to look at themselves. Everybody who saw the images, was blown away. They captured the strength and hope of young girls determined to make themselves whole again.
Week two came as a surprise for the photographers as time seemed to move so fast. They had a few days left to complete the assignment and depart from HAART. Bonding was part of the story telling session and highlighting this was an early morning trip to the Nairobi Aboretum for a documentation of Sophie’s story, one of our adult survivors. Danielle set up an atmosphere of trust and friendship. I had never seen Sophie float so high in the clouds as she swirled around amongst the trees. She got to tell her story her way and it was amazing that Danielle got to creatively embody that.
The days came to a close and the photographers had to leave. The Photographers without borders had left their mark.
Danielle and Mattie paid attention to detail, mingled with everybody non discriminately, made everyone comfortable in front of the camera. They were there as a tool to help us express ourselves to the world. Being a photographer without borders is about social clarity, identity and the preservation of human dignity. It is about respecting the story teller beyond your creative intuition. It is about an open mind and an open heart.
By Rehema Baya