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Interview for Flare

Interview for Flare

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Pernille Bærendtsen on Jan 16, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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March 2012

Issue 038




You have taken photos of very different Tanzanians - musicians, politicians, fashion models. Who was the most interesting?

Pernille Bærendtsen is a Danish photographer who has worked for 10+ years with people who work for change. She has lived in ex-Yugoslavia, northern Uganda and Tanzania, where she has engaged in campaigning, activism, communication and photography. We came across her work and were attracted by the content as well as the vibrancy of everyday objects or people. More of her work will be featured throughout this issue. She will also be having a show at Alliance Francais on 21st february to March 3rd called ‘Kigoma Colors’. Web: www.duniaduara.org Blog:www.pernille.typepad.com

’ve always taken an interest in politics, and obviously working with Zitto Kabwe (MP for Chadema and Kigoma Kaskazini) was inspiring as it has given me a deeper insight into the political life of Tanzania. Up to then I had been looking at Tanzania from either a tourist’s or from an NGO-worker’s view point, and that obviously has certain limitations. However, it is not so much about who you are, as how you are. I like working with people who have ambitions, who trust their team and leave space for creative madness. Your photos rarely depict the glossy, tourist-attracting postcard image - neither do they depict the Western media’s frequent photos of helpless Africans. In fact a lot illustrate basic, almost boring, everyday details. What’s the idea? To me digging into the daily details has been a way to enter Tanzanian culture and everyday life. First, I thought I knew everything – how difficult can it be? Gradually, I realized I was wrong, that Tanzania is far more complex and full of contrasts. However, to me photography is also

about looking for colour, texture and composition, not necessarily for what you think people want it to be. I like the art of finding the odd beauty in something most would ignore, to present it from another angle and attract attention. Practically, doing what I do, I have spent a good deal waiting for people and plans to be realized, and in those cases it is very convenient to be able to kill time with a camera no matter where you are. You often refer to the ‘kelele in Kariakoo and Kisutu’ as one of your favorite places to take photos - why is that? To me photography can turn a bad day into good. When I worked in the office of a Danish NGO in Upanga I went to the city centre in order to chill, and to hang on to the real world. Also, visually, Kariakoo and Kisutu are just interesting places in Dar es Salaam. You’ve also spent a lot of time in many rural areas - lately in Kigoma. Some may say that rural Tanzania is ‘undiscovered’ - ignored - what difference do you think you can make with your camera in this regard? The majority of Tanzanians live in rural areas. Most are ignored, which isn’t only a Tanzanian phenomenon. I grew up in rural Denmark, and the

March 2012 

Issue 038
situation is similar: Rural areas are suffering in regard of public services, but they are also often looked down upon. It makes me angry when you see the contrast between the ones who have plenty and the ones who don’t. It makes angry when the ones who have, think the ones who have less are equivalently stupid. If I can contribute to change a tiny part of that by putting my photos on display - to make it less ignored and less looked down upon - I am happy. What would be your favorite motif in Tanzania and your favourite Tanzanian to photograph - if you could pick? I love when people share their own personal stories, and I have heard a lot over the years. I’d love to take part in documenting Tanzania’s history through citizens’ personal stories and pictures. I think it could be interesting to do a series of photography depicting two or three generations, across geography and gender. Let generations speak to each other of what used to be, what is now and of what is coming. Evidently among those it could be interesting to have a few famous characters included, to attract attention, but I don’t have a preference.

That Evasive Nairobi Sound … by Buddha Blaze Whenever you visit an African city whether it’s Lagos, Dar es Salaam or Johannesburg the musical sounds coming from dala dalas, taxis, shebeens and local bars always provide a perfect soundtrack. It’s like the city’s signature. Dar es Salaam has the ever so poetic bongo flava, Johannesburg has the kwaito sound which you’ll hear everywhere you go even on a cold hazardous Jozi day. Lagos has its Afrobeats and from Ikoyi to VI you can hear the infectious beat. The one vibrant African city that is missing a sound is Nairobi. Is there a sound that reminds you of Nairobi or is Nairobi a soundless city?

by Pernille Bærendtsen -Caption: Zitto Kabwe during a meeting in Kigoma. You work closely with people from all walks of life, politicians to street vendors and manage to make all their stories ONE, how do you do this? In Denmark you can walk through the centre of Copenhagen and talk to no one. In Tanzania, and Africa in general, you would rarely ever do so. Once, close to the Burundian border I was greeted ‘tupo pamoja’ - ‘we are here together’ by a woman when I jumped down onto the shore of Lake Tanganyika after having spent 7 hours on a boat from Kigoma. An obvious fact if you translate directly into Danish, however in that setting it meant acceptance and inclusiveness. You have to respond to that, and I am honored whoever welcomes me with respect and pride. You may have little, but so much more does it mean to be offered part of that.

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