Trailing a photographer shooting the Safaricom Calendar 2015.
At breakfast today, Kevin joined the group and sat at a different table then proceeded to hold his head in his hands mournfully. “Kevin, are you OK?” Lilian, our producer, asked sweetly, “Do you want to join us on this table?” Kevin without looking up said gravely, “I’m OK, give me a moment.” Lilian shot me a worried look. “Give him time, maybe he’s praying,” I mumbled between mouthfuls of omelet.
He’s in that state because he’s not confident that he is nailing the project. He feels that he isn’t nailing the project because there just aren’t many opportunities to get an “unexpected” shot of Kenya with real people in it. Then he has to wonder what other four photographers are doing, because it’s a competition. And nobody wants to lose. And you can sympathize with these photographers because there isn’t enough time to get that shot. You have only a day to get at least three winning shots before you move. You have to keep moving, keep exploring without missing opportunities. The pressure! So you would understand if Kevin wasn’t feeling too sunny this morning.
Eventually he joined us, placing his bowl of cereals before us and placating us with a deceptive “I’m-fine” smile. His long face pulled the next seat and sat. I observe him discreetly and realize that what he needs is a stick to lean on. A third leg. “ You know how many shots Michael Jordan missed in his career?” I asked him. He shook his head. “More than he actually made. Keep your chin up, yesterday might not have been good but today we have another chance, so we go out and give it our best shot. If he doesn’t happen today we try again tomorrow. And we keep trying.” He looks at Lilian who offers him a brave confirmatory smile.
“Cool, let’s do it.”
Today we spent the whole day in a big dhow out in the sea. Our guide was a phenomenal chap called Juma, a deep-sea instructor with a quick tongue and a twisted sense of humour. We skipped Shimoni, the caves that were once used holding cells for slaves. Too haunting for a calendar. Out at sea we run into a group of two fishermen with weathered faces and hard-gnawed hands, bobbing in the water. Juma got into routine and explained to them how it works: We will take your pictures for Safaricom’s calendar, we will pay you X amount of money as models, should you agree we will require you identifications cards, and if your images are used in a calendar or is used on a billboard we will fly you to Nairobi- all expense paid – and offer you a boatful of cash. You agree? Good. Sign here, please. This is the producer’s job. Every person we meet Lilian goes through this gamut of documentation. Logistically it’s as exciting as flashing a broken loo.
The irony of being in this dhow is the fact that Kevin can’t even swim. That, for someone who comes from an island in Lake Victoria (Mfangano), comes with great disappointment. He sat in the dhow the whole time, looking at the sparkling blue water like a dog contemplating to cross a river. And when he finally had to step into the water, he stripped down to his boxers, and held his camera high up in the water. It broke my heart a little.
We ran into dolphins but by this time I was too seasick to care. They enticed them but the dolphins weren’t in the mood. Sometimes dolphins are tired of humans nosing around in their hood making a big racket. They especially don’t fancy those who can’t swim. Someone opened a packet of crackles. Juma warned that they have “chemicals.” Someone jumped overboard to snorkel. Of course it wasn’t Kevin. He sat cradling his camera to his chest like he was about to see the pediatrician.
Eventually we disembarked on the island for lunch where we smashed crabs with small wooden clubs from a modest seasonal café that overlooked the mainland. A cool breeze soothed us. Hussein, our scout location guy, played Bob Marley’s “Stiff Necked Fools,” from his phone. Juma, the hilarious loudmouth, yakked constantly over Bob.
“Your wife, must be the silent type,” I offered across the table.
“Why?” he asked gathering a special kind of delicious seaweed with his chapatti.
“Because you just can’t seem to shut up,”
Chuckles at the table.
“Well, I married her because she is the only person who can make me shut up,” then added logically, “and anyway, I spend so much time alone at sea, when I come to land I try to compensate for the time I spent not speaking to people.”
Someone smashed the shell of a crab. I ignored mine; too much work for such little meat. Like some women.
Later we went to the coral garden, through this amazing boardwalk. It looked like the set of Harry Porter. As Kevin took a picture of this Swahili lady, I – knackered – curled on this warm boardwalk, in the sun, and took a short nap. I had s snappy dream of me peeing against a boat and a very young Muslim cop showing up and scolding me about killing sea-life. Don’t ask.
Thankfully, before I was arrested, I was awoken by the clamor of Kevin and company climbing back onto the boardwalk. On our way out villagers tried selling us shells. And beads. And kashata. The sound of the Imam in the mosque called out to faithful. A group of school children sat at the beach, waiting for a boat to take them to mainland. Kevin sat on a stone, hunched over his camera going through his images.
“Are we good?” I asked.
He grumbled, “Getting there.” Oh, well, a satisfied photographer still remains an oxymoron. Out at sea, our lean coxswain thrust the long pole into the water pushing his boat towards us.[Photo credit: Kevin Ouma]