1. Africa, here I come, (for the 40th time!)

    • By Ben Langdon

    Scrolling through Twitter recently I saw a photo of a young woman who had just won the 2018 United Nations Human Rights Prize and realised I recognised her. I recognised Rebeca Gyumi because I had taken her photo whilst working with VSO in Tanzania ten years ago. At the time she was running a youth workshop about sexual health and gender equality.

    One of the many privileges of our work is that we travel to amazing places and meet some fascinating people. It was inspiring to read what Rebeca has achieved in the last ten years and it made impressive reading, especially for someone aged 32.

    In early February, Mile 91 are heading back to Africa, Kenya to be precise, which is where my journey as a photographer and a filmmaker began back in 2000, nearly twenty years ago! We are there to run a communication workshop and story gathering training for Pendekezo Letu, an organisation that supports street children and their families, particularly those who work on the rubbish dumps of Nairobi.

    We will be spending a week or so in Nairobi either side of that workshop so that we can gather stories, photos or film for other organisations. We know that commissioning an overseas shoot is a significant investment and beyond the budgets of many NGOs so, we thought while we are there why not make ourselves available to those who might want our services for just a day or two. If you have any need for content in the East Africa region, get in touch quickly as we are finalising our schedule at the moment.

    This will be around my 40th trip to Africa, a continent which I fell in love with as a student and has influenced my career, my life choices, my philosophy. During that time we have met many amazing people who, without fail, welcome us with smiles, enthusiasm and joie de vivre, often despite challenging personal circumstances. My faith in human nature is always restored when I visit Africa.

    We have visited cocoa farmers in Ghana, photographed caesarean sections, visited rural health clinics, captured stories in noisy classrooms, made films about female entrepreneurs, met Rwandan Paralympians, farmers, fishermen, solar engineers, the list goes on. We have worked in slums, remote rural communities, and some of the largest hospitals in the world.

    It’s been fascinating, inspiring, sad, uplifting, exhausting and we have learnt a lot along the away. So, as I prepare to return, I am reminding myself of some of the important things to remember when collecting stories and wanted to share some of those tips with you.

    Remember the brief

    It may sound obvious but as a ‘creative’ it is easy to get excited about a destination and to see lots of photographic opportunities. You might gather some amazing photos, but what story do they tell, and are they linked to the reason for you being there? It’s something I continually remind myself when I’m working. What is it we are trying to capture? Who is the audience and what do we want to say?

    Use your ears as well as your eyes.

    We want our photos and films to stand out and to look good but more important than that they have to capture ‘something’ and help tell a story. We often find that ‘something’ by listening; it’s why nine out of ten times we do our interviews and chatting first. What might seem like a boring or ordinary photo can come alive with a good story or quote that goes with it.

    Engage with people

    I’ve learnt that this can unlock some really great photos. If you have a rapport with your subject they are more at ease in front of the camera. Chatting first sometimes throws up good ideas for shots or stories that you might never have thought of or seen. Engaging people in the shoot gives them ownership of the process which we feel is really important. Mile 91 is not in the business of barging in, pointing cameras and making a fast exit.

    And one to remember, perhaps particularly in Africa or anywhere that is a different culture to your own, is to smile. A genuine smile instantly expresses friendship, openness and is a lovely way to start a conversation.

    Mile 91 will be in East Africa in February 2019 and have availability for shoot days in the region. Please get in touch to find out how we can help.

    To see some of our Africa work in action please visit our website.

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