I had visions of returning home with hundreds of high-quality National Geographic-type photos to show my students and anyone interested. I had read up on the countries we planned to visit and taken notes, as well as purchased a new camera with a zoom lens.
We bought all the Kodachrome we could in Minneapolis chain stores. The supplies were low for some reason and we only found about 20 rolls. We were under great time pressure and figured we could buy film easily enough in Europe. We did, in England, but at twice the price, with processing costs included, meaning we had to choose between mailing film back to England to be developed or paying for processing twice.
In Europe, I kept notes on each picture I took and wrote background information on a 3x5 card. Very organized, but way too much work!
In Africa, that ended. In Morocco, where tourists are common, it was possible to photograph people who walked around charging $1.00 or more to pose (like the man on the left), but virtually no one and nothing else. It is against the law to photograph women!
Because of our skin color, we were always the center of attention, and a camera outside its case could cause a near riot. Getting a subject framed, focused and snapped before being stoned or attacked would have been nearly impossible, even if I hadn't cared about causing offense.
There were so many people around that it was difficult to find anything to photograph without offending someone.
We were strongly warned not to have cameras out at borders, police stops, or any place that could be construed as strategic or sensitive, such as factories, mines, or military installations. One woman in our group spotted a beautiful big bird in Tanzania. She snapped a picture of it and was immediately apprehended and taken in for questioning. The bird had been perched on an army truck! Fortunately, after a couple of hours of questioning and her willingness to open the camera and give them the film, they released her. She still has the photo and a good story to go with it.
In Niger and certain cities, taking any photo is illegal without a permit costing $40 to $100 a day. Even some game parks required camera permits, although for a more reasonable price.
Even when I could take photos, my camera often registered too little light and the long lens took much more time to focus than I could manage.
People were offended when we wanted to take their photos. I could understand to some degree. Africa has few bona fide "tourist attractions" and I guess that even Americans might feel uncomfortable about people snapping pictures of us in our neighborhoods and markets. Some people have religious objections to photography. Normally, when we had time to become friendly with people, admire their children, and talk with them for awhile, they were much more amenable and sometimes even posed and showed off for the camera. They often gave us their address with a request that we send them a copy of the photo.
Animals didn't protest being photographed, although I was amazed at how camera-shy the elephants seemed. The mountain gorillas in Zaire didn't object at all, even though we were only 15 - 20 feet away, but, again, it was a dark day. Frustration!
Most of the best photos were never taken, despite the fact that we shot nearly 50 rolls of film. I can only hope that the uncaptured images will retain some of their sharpness in my mind, and encourage people who would have liked to see them to visit Africa in person.
Wish we'd had digital cameras. They hadn't yet been invented....
Go on to Sickness
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