Photo essay: goats for the people of Pashtun Zarghun

By Inge Colijn

During my 27 years of work for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, I lived in many countries and they all became special to me. But some places like Afghanistan mean more. I was told at our headquarters in Geneva that people from abroad working in Afghanistan would either love being in Afghanistan or hate it, and that was indeed the case. Nobody remained indifferent.

Afghan boy, Inge Colijn

The UNHCR returned to Afghanistan in 2002 when the Taliban were overthrown. The UNHCR’s main task was to help return Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran. Over the years more than 5 million Afghans returned to their country. By the time I started working in western Afghanistan in the city of Herat, the number of returnees from Iran was dwindling because of the worsening security situation in the country.

Despite the presence of International Security Assistance Force, the situation got worse over the years. The responsibility for fighting the Taliban was placed more and more on the Afghan National Security Forces. They did not defeat the Taliban and the Taliban caused further population displacements. In order to encourage people to stay, UNHCR was assisting people who had been displaced within Afghanistan. Often they were people who moved from insecure rural areas to the towns and cities.

In Herat, we created resettlement sites for people who had returned from Iran but could not go back to their original homes. We provided support for people who had managed to find themselves a new place to live and who needed help in rebuilding their lives. My photos are of people settled in Pashtun Zarghun, a district in central Herat Province in the valley of the Hari River.

Photo, Inge Colijn

The Italian NGO, Gruppo Volontariato Civile, met with people in several hamlets in Pashtun Zarghun and developed with them a project proposal to provide them with seeds, tools, six goats each and veterinary support. As head of a UNHCR branch office, I went visited the communities that we supported.

Photo, Inge Colijn

In July 2012 I went to Pashtun Zarghun to attend a meeting with the villagers. Some of the men and boys were waiting for us outside and they took us into their community hall, where we had a discussion.

Photo, Inge Colijn

After the meeting, they showed us around in the village and introduced us to some women, children and elderly in the village. Although I was invited into several houses, most of my photos were taken outside because of the lack of light inside the Afghan homes.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

In the next village, the men were also waiting for us and after another discussion, they also showed us their houses and water well and introduced us to their families.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

I was struck by people’s dignity. They were proud of their way of life, though they lived under such harsh conditions. After being displaced, they had managed to build new houses and, thanks to the water from the Hari River, they could grow the food they needed. They were displaced together as a community, and that gave them more resilience and independence.

How orderly and organised most houses were inside! Two months after this first visit, the Italian NGO was ready to distribute goats to the families in Pashtun Zarghun.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

The way the logistics were managed was impressive. The goats were sent off the truck into a big open space. All beneficiaries received a registration card and they waited their turn to register. I asked one by one the men to come forward to sign the book, receive their 6 goats and they took them home.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Registering for 6 goats, Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photo, Inge Colijn

It was a great occasion for the people and there was a positive vibe in the air, which the children also also felt. This project in Pashtun Zarghun will always stay in my mind. These beautiful and welcoming Afghan people had accepted their fate with pride and they showed such fortitude and spirit under difficult circumstances.

Photo, Inge Colijn

Photographs through an art filter

Experiments with photo art applications, in particular the PRISMA application.

by Philip Hall

Passing photos through ready-made filters hasn’t really taught me much about how paintings and drawings are made, but doing this for a decade has taught me how important it is to have an artist’s eye and how the artist’s eye – even when it is automated and a little sugary – can be so transformative.

My first experience of art was difficult. I was six and my father dragged me around the Louvre in Paris and all I wanted to do was to sit down. I tried to show interest. I remember the little picture of the Mona Lisa at the end of our long walk through the galleries.

There was a cordon to stop you from getting too close. It was a little dark. There, a lady with a smile looked at me from the painting. She had a strange, high, wrinkle-free forehead. It was mysterious; why was my father showing me this? I wasn’t tall enough to see the pictures, either, so I had to crane. There was another small picture my father looked at for a while. What was he looking at? I asked him. I think he said it was a picture of Adam and Eve. Well, my mother’s name was Eve, so I looked up at it. But it was quite a dark painting. I couldn’t make anything out.

The art that my parents seemed to value was African art. Even the drawings and paintings on the wall. Wherever we went, our parents bought handicrafts and the creative work of the people of the countries in which we lived. Pride of place were Makonde carvings, ancient and abstract. They showed circles of people intertwined or holding hands and forming one sculpture made from ebony. Dark, hard, ebony.

My next encounter with art was in France, where my grandfather – despite the fact that he said he didn’t like modern art – took me to all the modern art galleries along the Cote d’ Azur. I visited them arm-in-arm with my grandmother. The highlight for me was the Chapel Matisse, which, strangely, at age 14, made me cry. I came back 40 years later with my wife to see it again and I cried again. And I hardly ever cry.

When I was older, I read John Berger and John Berger said something that made a lot of sense. Art was paid for by the rich and very often reflected the concerns of the rich and so, the artists had to paint beyond the intelligence or understanding of the mercenary aristocrats and merchants. Or s/he had to paint with their complicity. Like a sort of court jester, or a confidant.

I saw The Draughtsman’s Contract. An aristocratic and childless couple hires a young artist. The husband is infertile. The draughtsman thinks he has been hired because he is talented and witty and good company. What he does not know is the wittier and cleverer he is, the more he seals his doom. He is there to impregnate the character played by Janet Suzman and then be killed.

The wealthy are more concerned with conserving their wealth and power through inheritance than they are with wit, science and art. The movie was off-putting because there were sex scenes with Janet Suzman, who got down on her knees like a brood mare (Peter Greenaway was being obvious here) and Janet Suzman was my mother’s best friend throughout school.

John Berger said that there was a fetish about original art and that there was very little difference between a reproduction and the original. The original was used as a way of monetising something because there was only one of it. He pointed out that the art of the rich shows off the possessions of the rich and presents the picture the powerful and wealthy want to present as a form of propaganda and that the art of that time objectified women.

I did not know at the time that Berger was responding to a much greater, deeper and interesting set of observations made by Kenneth Clark in his series Civilisation. Neither did I realise that Berger was contradicting the art critic Walter Benjamin, who believed that original art retained an ‘aura’.

When I was 18, suffering like hell, I travelled across to France to see my old school friends and my first proper girlfriend and then broke up with her. But it was a messy breakup. As we always did in Paris, we visited modern art museums and saw art house movies. I wasn’t as pretentious as my friends, but I tried to catch up. It didn’t come as naturally to me as it did to them. That’s where I first noticed Gustave Moreau. I still like his work.

We met again in Switzerland and I had an awful time with no money in Italy and finally had to try to get back and hitched across Austria. And I mention this because in Austria an artist gave me a ride from Vienna to Innsbruck in his combi. He was working for a quiz show programme where people answered questions from a telephone box and his job was to set up the telephone box. He said he would give me a lift if I helped him and I did. I set up his telephone box in the rain and the bright lights of the TV switched on and the quiz show hosts suddenly switched on their charm, too. Just like that. It was rather shocking and sinister.

But on our long drive, the quiz booth man explained conceptual art to me and told me about the marvellous Marcel Duchamp. He himself was a conceptual artist, you see. I and I saw what he meant and why Duchamp was great.

Remember, in literature and art, with semiology, the question of authorship is disputable. We are talking about the subjectivity of the viewer, mediated by society, and the subjectivity of the artist and his or her intentions and unconscious intentions and the influence of society on that author and so on and so forth. The 80s and early 90s were the time of post-modernism when D.Js like Fatboy Slim were mixing other people’s music and experimenting with it and calling it their own. It was the age of commercialisation, theft and sarcasm.

In Madrid in the late eighties, briefly, I spent time with an aspiring Australian film director who had just made a film called ‘Saliva‘ and who wore ski pants. I annoyed her a lot because I argued, having read something in El Pais, that the CIA had supported the abstract art of people like Rothko and Pollock and later Schnabel, as a way of undercutting the influence of radical figurative art. They didn’t want any Diego Riveras, thank you very much. They didn’t want political art, they wanted Andy Warhol. The Australian was furious with me. Abstract US art was sacred to her.

And I could continue to recount all the experiences that formed my appreciation of art, but I won’t. I just want to explain why I decided to take using an art app with a phone seriously. Without any pretensions to being an artist, I wanted to experiment by trying to take the pictures that I wanted to and then layering them over with filters.

In an age of a billion photographers, what does it matter? I can co-create. Did the app create art from my photo or did the photo allow the app to make it more like art?

Moreover, the technology is a phone. So, I have been using phones, which are annoying because the designer of the phone camera always automates it and tries to second guess the user. The photo that you take is already ersatz before you actually pass it through a filter. The following pictures are the selection of result of a decade of amateur experimentation with art filters, mainly from the application PRISMA.

Passing photos through ready-made filters hasn’t really taught me much about how paintings and drawings are made, but doing this has taught me how important it is to have an artist’s eye and how the artist’s eye – even when it is automated and a little sugary – can be transformative.

And now, in a strange turnabout, I have met an artist who says he is willing to contemplate turning some of these pictures into actual paintings, changing them again in the process. We shall see.

Pete in Rahima (2013)

The Other Side of the Sun (2014)

Southern Trains (2014)

Eve (2020)

For we like Sheep …(2018)

Fair at the Museum (2016)

Barbican (2021)

Ventilator (2021)

Sea Horse (2015)

Winchester (2019)

Fallen Tree, North Downs Way (2018)

Sodium Light of the Gulf (2012)

Self Portrait, Saudi Arabia (2014)

River Itchen (2018)

Thames Path (2022)

Flowers (2015)

Richmond Park, Ladderstyle Entrance (2022)

Pilgrim’s Way (2018)

Gertrude (2018)

Train to Venice (2013)

The Triangle (2021)

Gertrude (2021)

Stone Lamb (2022)

Brothers after COVID (2022)

Mini (2021)

John and Tere in Richmond Park (2022)

Flowers (2012)

Kitchen Still Life (2022)

Carmen Drinking Coffee (2017)

Piccadilly (2015)

View over Ranmore Common (2019)

Trees in Winter on Coombe Hill (2020)

New Malden Station (2014)

Peter Cowlam (2022)

Ice Cream, Venice (2013)

Net Curtains (2020)

Kingston Rowing Club (2020)

To and Fro (2014)

Vaporetto (2013)

Fox (2020)

Pollarded Tree (2021)

Eve’s room (2016)

Flower (2017)

Epping Forest (2022)

Pembroke Lodge Approach (2022)

Tea Shop in Skipton (2022)

Twickenham (2020)

River (2022)

Night Tree (2016)

Window (2021)

Screen (2021)

Skipton market (2022)

Musengwa: Bareknuckle Boxing in Venda

“tell us brother, what colour was Jesus?”

by Andy Hall

In the Remote Venda area of Northern South Africa local champions from the village of Gabo meet their counterparts from the neighbouring village of Chifudzi on the other side of a river, to partake in an annual bareknuckle boxing tournament known as the “Musengwa“. It is seen as a test of one’s manhood and is open to all who are considered brave enough to confront their fears; regardless of age, size or strength which only adds extra mayhem to this surprisingly good-natured free-for-all fight fest; that can pit seriously good boxers with light-weight wannabe’s. There are very few rules; the overriding one being that once blood has been drawn, the fight is stopped so as to minimise serious injury.

“Foster” the reigning champion, from Chifudzi village, gets ready for this years tournament (his son looks on). Venda, South Africa. 19/12/08

Old-fashioned honour and the admiration of one’s peers is the only prize for the winners during these wild, chaotic but good-natured contests, in what is deemed the Noble Art.

There are very few rules; the overriding one being that once blood has been drawn, the fight is stopped

This festival of male pugilism begins each day with hundreds of men gathered around a big dusty “ring’ into which a fighter – usually a well-known one with a reputation to uphold and an entourage of his mates shouting encouragement in the crowd – steps up and goads anyone foolish enough to accept his challenge. There can be half a dozen fighters at a time, strutting and sometimes performing a dance, inside this ring; and all the while looking around at the crowd and daring any to step out and take them on.

A fighter steps into the ‘arena’ to challenge all-comers, using the familiar gesture of a raised fist (any willing opponent then steps forward with a nodding gesture). Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

A boxer known as “No hurry”, from the village of Gaba, performs a war dance in order to intimidate potential challengers from Chifudzi village. Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

Once the challenges are made and accepted, each fight takes place one after the other. And because, under the watchful eye of the referees, the fights are stopped as soon as blood is drawn; the fights more often than not, turn into lightning quick and vicious 90 second affairs as fists are thrown with the pointed ends of ones knuckles so as to maximise the chance for facial cuts delivered to the opponent.

There can be half a dozen fighters at a time, strutting and sometimes performing a dance, inside this ring

The more practiced fighters with big reputations and training behind them can be a wonderfully agile, even balletic sight to behold; as they launch themselves into the air, fists blazing. This isn’t your average boxing match with the two pugilists circling each other, jabbing and keeping their distance, waiting for the right moment. No, this is usually full-on and high octane. And when it’s two lesser mortals engaged in combat it can be wild and messy; especially as the bouts aren’t separated by weight divisions.

Two bareknuckle fighters display a particular style of fighting using protruding knuckles, so as to make it easier to cut the opponent and thereby win the contest. Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

Bareknuckle boxers display their fast and furious techniques during a bout, using a style of punch (with protruding knuckles) aimed at cutting the opponents face. Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

Bareknuckle boxers excite the crowd with their dramatic fighting displays.. Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

“Foster” (last years overall champion) is knocked out by challenger “Lucas”(orange shirt). Knockouts are rare, as a boxer is usually declared winner if he manages to knock an opponent down rather than out. Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

One of my subjects in this picture essay had a big reputation as a skilled and athletic fighter, but came up that year against a large man built like a buffalo who didn’t look in the least fit, but wow, did he pack a punch. So much so, that he knocked out the favourite who lost consciousness before he even touched the ground.

the favourite lost consciousness before he even touched the ground.

By the time he had come out of the ambulance 15 minutes later – the first time they had employed any proper medical professional (thankfully up and conscious again) – a crowd had gathered near him; and the defeated fighter with no anger or regret in him, declared and joked that he had died and seen heaven. To which a man replied, “tell us brother, what colour was Jesus?”. Bout after bout would take place until sunset, after which new champions were born and new reputations and admirers were made. And even though blood was spilt and each village goaded the other as to who’s champions were more fearsome, all was done in good spirits.

A fighter feels the pain of defeat as well as cut and swollen eye. Fights are immediately stopped and a winner declared if a boxer is cut, for fear of the spread of HIV/AIDS. Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

The champion bareknuckle boxer known as ” Senior” is held aloft by his fellow Gaba villagers after he wins yet another bout. Adoration from his peers is his only prize. Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

I did this photo essay some 20 years ago now, and since then rightfully, women have been allowed to attend as well, and the Musengwa boxing tournament has become more regulated and less dangerous, but no less interesting.

A boxer known as “Senior”, from the village of Gaba,surrounded by admirers, is about to take on his next victim. He is this years hot favourite for the title of overall champion.. Venda, South Africa. 20/12/08

Andy Hall is based in London and has been a freelance photographer since 1989. His work has taken him on a wide range of commissioned news for numerous publications around the world. Andy is contracted to the Observer and the Guardian, but he has also published numerous times in newspapers and magazines like The Times magazine, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the New York Times Magazine. He has also been commissioned by Red Bulletin Magazine, Newsweek, GQ Magazine and Der Speigel Magazine. He publishes photo-essays with Ars Notoria.

Doorways to Mali

The carved wooden doors and doorways of a Dogon village are great works of the imagination.

By Leigh Voigt

Mali is in the middle of the bulge of Africa. In the middle of Mali, is Timbuktu; inaccessible, intriguing, fabled. The very word conjures up images of men in blue robes on camels in the desert. Mali is a country as big as South Africa, yet has a population of only 21 million people. In 2008, when we were there, it was 12 million. Mali is completely land-locked, surrounded by Algeria, Niger, Burkino Fasso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania. The word Mali means hippo.

     Two rivers flow through the country, the Niger and the Senegal. The Niger rises in the highlands of Guinea and flows, seemingly in the wrong direction, for 4200 kilometres eventually being absorbed into the sea off Nigeria. By the time Niger has reached the coast, it has passed through and nourished at least 1700 km of desert and semi-arid Sahel. A dry wind called the Hamatan blows constantly, gathering up 300 million tonnes of dust from the Sahara and depositing it over West Africa, piling sand up against buildings and covering everything in a fine layer. Crime in 2008 was virtually unknown. No alcohol is consumed openly as 90% of the population is Muslim. Everyone had a job. They are mostly self-employed entrepreneurs selling everything from mangoes to bicycle tyres. The markets are colourful, exciting, and noisy.

Mali is a country as big as South Africa

    The family unit is respected. Women are respected most of all; they symbolise peace and harmony and they make the important communal decisions. The remarkable women of Mali, along with child-bearing, have many other responsibilities: wood-collecting, water pumping, millet-pounding, cooking, trading and child rearing. They dress elegantly and with flair, in brilliant colours: emerald, orange, yellow, purple, lime green, shocking pink, viridian, powder blue, royal blue and indigo. They wear these clothes even while hoeing, or cooking food in vast black pots over open fires, or when sitting behind their piles of goods at the marketplace.

    Since the troubles in Mali, in 2012, over 87,000 people have been registered as displaced. Family structures have been broken up. Poverty and illness have increased, and Mali has entered into a humanitarian crisis. Yet, life goes on; babies are born, children grow up, young people fall in love and new houses are built. Old damaged buildings are plastered with mud and repairs are ongoing.    

The word Mali means hippo.

  In 2008 the Northern Branch of the Archaeological Society, of which I have been a member since I was twelve, set out on a tour of Mali. I was on a bus travelling with 26 other people.

     The capital and largest city is Bamako. It is bustle, noise and movement; plastic bags and litter cover the bare ground. In the centre of town is a congested market with a tempting array: sculpture, jewellery, bogolans (cloths), indigo throws, shirts in different colours, hats, live chickens, snake skins, cowrie shells, baboon skulls, wooden masks, Dogon doors and ladders, baskets, daggers, leatherwork and musical instruments.

    From Bamako, we traveled by bus to Segou, home of one of the world’s most famous music festivals.  En route we saw the Shea trees, from which Shea butter is made. At the village of Segou Koro, we paid our respects to the grandson of Coulibaly, the Chief. Here, a giant tortoise is kept in a small enclosure. The tortoise is the official taster; it tries the food before the chief eats it to make sure the food hasn’t been poisoned.

    The food is mostly Capitaine, fish, which is always fresh from the Niger. There is meat, goat, lamb or chicken; couscous, plantains, rice, vegetables and delicious French bread. Another result of French colonisation is that the second language of many Malians is French.  

   the second language of many Malians is French.

    Puppets, story-telling, singing, and music are important to Malians and children participate in the festivities, clapping, chanting and shouting with delight every time the giraffe (two men in a painted costume) chases its victims, who scamper away in all directions. The women dress up in their silks and satins in glorious colours: purples, red, lime green and shocking pink, whilst the men stand tall and imposing in robes of royal blue, vivid green, gold, black and cream.

    At Fanbougou we stopped at a baobab forest and found the ground covered in pottery shards, signalling multiple eras of human presence.

    Stopping at the little village of Bla, we saw that all villages have their own brick-makers, cabinet and plough-makers, and always there is a bearded elder headman draped over a chaise in the shade, wearing his patterned bubu. Many varied and entertaining motifs decorate the flowing garments: figures of butterflies, fish, airplanes, birds, leaves, slip-slops, propellers and – amid the other designs, even portraits of Saddam Hussein and Madonna.

Segou [is the] home of one of the world’s most famous music festivals. 

   Along the road there are traffic police checkpoints at regular intervals, and the driver has to stop, get out and present his permit to carry passengers. In the villages there are many speed prevention humps, demonstrating the Malian respect for pedestrians.

    With the increase in the number of cattle and goats, and the encroachment of the desert, much of the local wildlife has disappeared. There were once 616 different species of birds. One bird is endemic, though, the Mali Firefinch.

Photo by Leigh Voigt

   In September, the vast swamp beyond the village of Kesseedougou, is home to waterlilies, soft reeds, waterbirds and huge herds of cattle. Soil erosion, desertification, deforestation, over-grazing, pollution and an ever-increasing population are concerning.

    Djenne was founded in the 9thcentury, and nothing much has changed. Each doorway frames a smiling woman elegantly dressed in a colourful dress and matching turban, her gold or amber necklace reflecting the sunlight. We took a walk through a labyrinth of narrow alleys, down the centre of which run children, goats, chickens and open sewers.

Each doorway frames a smiling woman elegantly dressed in a colourful dress and matching turban, her gold or amber necklace reflecting the sunlight.

    The hubaloos, holes in the roof used for poo, are situated upstairs on the top floor. The toilet for pee is downstairs. Both latrines pipe their waste straight into the earth, or down to the sewers in the allies. There is a powerful, pervading smell. Still, the happy result is the fertilising of the soil used for the planting of the onion crops. The onions, of course, only augment the smell that permeates the village.

    Djenne was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 1988 to preserve its architectural integrity. We were shown a building under construction. It conformed to the age-old tradition of simple mud walls with cool rectangular rooms, open yards and Morrocan facades.

Photo by Leigh Voigt

    Castellated mosques are typical of the architecture, and wooden poles protrude as permanent scaffolding for the regular renewal of mud, which is a duty willingly performed by all able-bodied members of the village. The oldest man of the village is called a Hogon. He acts as the spiritual leader. His wives live separately and he is not to be touched in public by anyone, including his wives. He never washes, as, according to traditional beliefs, during the night, a snake is said to lick him clean.

    When a Hogon dies he is succeeded by a group of the village elders. After his initiation, the new Hogon is governed by strict rules. He is forbidden to leave his compound. Millet gruel is sprayed onto the façade of the Hogon’s house as a special offering and gifts of grinding stones are placed at his feet.

The amber used in Malian jewellery that comes from Nigeria, is about 60 million years old

  Malian children seemed happy. Well, they were happier in 2008. They are all the members of extended families. The African saying, It takes a village to bring up a child, is apt. There is a strong community-minded social structure in Mali where each child has a right to education and three meals a day.

    Profound depth of feeling, artistic prowess, humour and charm are evidenced in Malian art, in their conversation and their music. Sadly, the Festival au Desert has had to be postponed yet again, with the following announcement:

Until the music can return to its roots with freedom of expression and dignity, the Festival au Desert has become a Festival in Exile

Photo by Leigh Voigt

    Malian jewellery consists of amber beads, cowrie shell necklaces and elaborate gold ear-rings. Although amber is so often associated with the jewellery worn by the women of Mali, it is sourced from the coastal countries of West and East Africa. To make its jewellery, Mali traded with other parts of Africa. Nowadays, 90% of the world’s amber comes from Russia and the Baltic, its continued preponderance in Mali is a little mysterious.

The amber used in Malian jewellery that comes from Nigeria, is about 60 million years old. The amber is the fossilised resin of the amber pine, not to be confused with ambergris, which is the waxy aromatic substance created in the intestines of the sperm whale. Both amber and ambergris are washed up on beaches, which explains the confusion.

    To find out whether amber is real, rub with a cloth, inducing static which attracts bits of torn paper, or make a solution of 2.5 tablespoons salt with one cup of water, and if it floats, it’s amber, not plastic.

… fifty camels set out from Timbuktu every week for the month-long round trip. Each camel carries four slabs of the white-gold

    Salt caravans from the Taoudenni mines 720 kms to the north of Mali still (as at 2008) arrive in Timbuktu, as they have for a thousand years. Today most salt travels by truck, caravans of up to fifty camels set out from Timbuktu every week for the month-long round trip. Each camel carries four slabs of the white-gold of the Sahara, so-called because centuries ago salt was literally worth its weight in gold. Today a 20kg slab would fetch around $12.00 (price in 2008).

Photo by Leigh Voigt

    In the river port of Mopti, fish of all shapes and sizes are sorted and dried, then sold from woven baskets in the market of the cobbled quay. It reeks of fish, cinnamon, chillies, people and Mopti’s sewers. Mopti is not for the feint-hearted, especially when it is 40°C in the shade, and the more delicate of our archeological aficionados on the bus suffered from stomach upsets. Today, Mopti is a no-go zone, as the infiltrators from the north make sporadic attacks; armed groups of Islamist militants. There are local rivalries and sporadic communal violence, as well as issues such as lawlessness and banditry.

    At Ounjougoua a team of archaeologists from the University of Geneva excavated fragments of pottery dating back 11,400 years, older than the ancient ceramics of the Middle East. Only in East Asia and China has pottery of the same age been found.

    The Dogon tribe of the Bandiagara Region in Mali is one of the most interesting tribes of the world. They are a peaceful resourceful group of people whose presence was noted in the 15th Century. Through the years, constant threats from other tribes and historical pressures forced them to build their homes out of mud high up cliff faces, safe from marauding tribes. In this way they were able to retain their religious and cultural beliefs. They are an authentic example of how people can live in harmony with nature and the environment.

Photo by Leigh Voigt

        The Bandiagara plateau is composed of eroded rock, windblown and sandblasted into wonderful abstract shapes. Our first introduction to the Dogon cliff-dwellers was a pre-sunrise walk through a natural tunnel at the end. A small band of children chanted soulfully. chant, their, strong voices resonating and echoing through to the hills beyond.

The tunnel opens out to reveal a hillside covered with baobabs, and a cliff-face at the bottom of which are the almost inaccessible great houses made from dried mud, and the tombs and granaries of the ochre skinned Tellem tribe.

Photo by Leigh Voigt

    In the centre of each Dogon village is a Toguna, a shelter reserved for men, where the elders hold meetings to discuss the administration, politics and the day-to-day running of the affairs of the local area.

Sometimes … the doorways are edged in viridian, a sharp and perfect contrast to the natural wall colouring.

    The carved wooden doors and doorways of a Dogon village are great works of the imagination. They often portray ancestral figures who protect the people of the village and their families. Each door has its own character and is the expression of the owner’s character. Each door has the patina of continuous occupation. Sometimes, as in a few other villages throughout Africa, the doorways are edged in viridian, a sharp and perfect contrast to the natural wall colouring.

Photo by Leigh Voigt

    The lock or door handles have simple mechanisms to keep the door from swinging open in the wind. They are decorated with symbols and figures, sometimes simple and sometimes elaborate: there are carvings of stylised animals and geometric patterns. The Dogon doors are flanked by mud walls, with soft natural earthy colours. Edges are always rounded and gently curved.

    Highly prized by collectors, Dogon artifacts are looted. They have been disappearing from their rightful homes and are sold at huge prices in the curio shops of upmarket European and US boulevards. Wealthy South Africans also buy them up and sell them on.

Photo by Leigh Voigt

   When I think of Mali, I also think of Mali’s trees, particularly the Baobab; those tortured, pollarded, maimed, colonised, infiltrated and abused behemoths of the plateaus and riverbanks. It is not unusual to see half the tree denuded of its younger shoots in the upper half and a metre of bark stripped from the trunk. The fibres of the inner bark are strong and durable, and make rope, roof-coverings, baskets and fishing nets. Fortunately, the bark of Adansonia digitata regenerates and within a few years has recovered, leaving only a layer of ridges, scars on its elephantine body. Malians know not to take too much from the tree, keeping it alive, only just, so as to guarantee its usefulness for future generations.

Photo by Leigh Voigt

To see a Malian baobab, chopped, scraped and hacked to within an inch of its life, and to see that nearly all of them survive. The Malian ability to live in harmony with nature can give is hope that nature and people can work together in harmony.  

Photo by Joe de Beer

Leigh Voigt is a South African artist, essentially a watercolourist, best known for her natural history subjects, never more beautifully depicted than in Lulu Phezulu, Leigh Voigt’s African Album, published in 1999, which won the Book Data’s South African Booksellers Book of the Year award.

    The highly acclaimed book The Abundant Herds documenting the Nguni Cattle of Southern Africa was published in 2004. Voigt was invited to work closely with experts Marguerite Poland and David Hammond-Tooke, and spent nine years researching her subject. During this time she painted hundreds of watercolours and about eighty large oil paintings to illustrate this important southern African publication.

    Her fascination and love of trees led her to hold three solo exhibitions of tree paintings: Recollections of a Dendrogenealogist, 2010, with the accent on familial connections; The Boscias of Tswalu, the Musomorphology of Boscia albitrunca, 2015, reflecting her passion for wide open spaces and music; and the Silent Spectators of History, which was held at the Everard Read Gallery in London in 2018. All these tree paintings were oil on canvas.

    Leigh is married to the artist Harold Voigt, about whom she produced a book, Harold Voigt, The Poetry of Sight, written by Cyril Coetzee. It was published in 2006.

  It was during this time that she also undertook to finish and publish her mother, Barbara Jeppe’s book, the Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa, which had been 45 years in the making. This done, she and the author, Graham Duncan, felt that botanists and plants lovers would need a more useful field edition and in 2021, the Field Guide to the Amaryllis Family was published by her own company, Galley Press.

Letters from Leigh

A Lowveld Garden

By Leigh Voigt

I send you greetings from a lovely summer Lowveld. I shall send you pictures of my garden.

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

By Leigh Voigt

Leigh Voigt

Leigh Voigt is a South African artist best known for her studies of trees, birds, cattle and small wild creatures. Her wildlife studies have great sensitivity and are remarkable for her use of colour. Voigt concentrates on the patterns which identify various animals, rather than the details which describe them; the spots in the guinea fowl, the stripes on the francolin. This empathy with the essence of the creatures which she portrays has caused her work to be much in demand as a painter but also as a book illustrator.

The highly acclaimed book “The Abundant Herds” documenting the Nguni Cattle of Southern Africa was published in 2004. Voigt was invited to work closely with experts Marguerite Poland and David Hammond-Tooke, and spent nine years researching her subject. During this time she painted hundreds of watercolours and about eighty large oil paintings to illustrate this important southern African publication.

Voigt is a keen conservationist who devotes time to assisting organizations such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust. She is the daughter of renowned South African botanical artist Barbara Jeppe, and is married to the artist Harold Voigt. A multidisciplinary artist, Voigt designs and creates beautiful tapestries, and is also a talented portraitist.

Voigt’s first solo exhibition was in 1967 at the Lloyd Ellis Gallery. Since then she has held many successful solo shows and participated in selected group exhibitions throughout South Africa. Her original illustrations for the article “The Rarest Birds in the World” for the International Wildlife Magazine were exhibited at the Wildlife Gallery, Toronto.

Everard Reed

The Magic of Madagascar

Wishing you a rewarding and sublime journey!

By Abhay K.

Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island; after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Madagascar is in the western Indian Ocean. Some consider Madagascar to be the Earth’s eighth continent because it has such enormous biodiversity. 

Photo by Abhay K.

Geologically, Madagascar broke away from Gondwanaland with the rest of the world’s continents alongside Africa 167 million years ago. 65 million years ago it broke off from the Indian tectonic plate and it has been isolated ever since. 

Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar has a diverse landscape. There are narrow plains in the east, a chain of mountains in the centre and wide plains in the west.  Its variations in topography mean it has a variety of climatic regions. This has lead to the evolution of many unique species of plant and animal.

Photo by Abhay K.

The first humans probably arrived in Madagascar in boats from Borneo about 2,000 years ago. Later, migrants reached Madagascar from East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, India and elsewhere. As a result, Madagascar has population made up of 18 different ethnic groups.

An ancient Indian graveyard in Madagascar, photo by Abhay K.

Members of all these ethnic groups speak Malagasy, with some regional variations. Malagasy is a rich language full of strong images, metaphors and proverbs. Most of them originate from Indonesian languages, but some words come into Malagasy from Kiswahili, Arabic and Sanskrit.

Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar is a global biodiversity hotspot. Its unique flora and fauna are conserved in a network of national parks and protected areas consisting of over 120 places on the island.

Madagascar has made me a haijin

Madagascar has about 13,000 species of flowering plants out of which 89% are native to the island. Madagascar is also the homeland of the baobab tree. Out of the eight species of baobabs found worldwide, six are exclusive to Madagascar.

Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.

There are over 150,000 species of invertebrates, including insects, centipedes, spiders crabs, mollusks and leeches. Incredibly, Madagascar also has 300 species of butterflies out of which 211 are native to Madagascar. There are 283 species of birds. 51% of these are only found on the island. Madagascar also has over 110 species of lemurs, from the pygmy mouse lemur weighing only 25 grams, to the Indri Indri, the largest surviving lemur only found here.

Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar has made me a haijin. When I arrived in Madagascar in March 2019, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would start writing haiku. I began with usual length poems but soon felt that I was not able to capture and express the multiple layers of enlightenment I felt taking place within me as I woke up to birdsong, and looked at: mynahs, hoopoes, black Vasa parrots, red fodies, yellow wagtails, green geckos, colour changing chameleons, butterflies and dragonflies of all possible colours.

Bees sucked nectar from flowers and made beehives, while I was upside down on the grass in a yogic headstand pose, gazing at the sky.

Photo by Abhay K.

Long poems were inadequate to express the illumination I felt while travelling across Madagascar listening to the calls of the Indri-Indri bird (critically endangered), or watching silky Sifakas dance, or seeing turtles swimming freely in the emerald Malagasy sea, or watching the sun set through the alley of baobabs.

watching the sun set through the alley of baobabs.

I decided instead to wander around this new continent like a fakir and follow the tradition of Basho, Buson and Issa. As I did so it was as if I came to another island and another time and space.

Photo by Abhay K.

I had a chance meeting with Gabriel Rosenstock in Wardha, India in 2013 at a poetry festival and received from him a copy of The Naked Octopus: Erotic Haiku in English. On another occasion, Robert Hass sent me a signed copy of The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa from Robert Hass in Washington in 2018. I started reading these books only after arriving in Madagascar and found the short Haiku form to be the perfect medium to help me capture Madagascar’s exquisite and unparalleled natural beauty.

Photo by Abhay K.

These are my very first haiku and I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. Nevertheless, I hope you will experience the luminosity of the island which I am experiencing firsthand as you read this. I try to conjure up that beauty with these images.

a purple shower
of Jacaranda flowers
who needs a red carpet?

sea of innocence
exuding amber light
lemur’s eyes

an ascetic meditating
turned upside down
the baobab tree

giant eggs in drawing rooms
where have all
the elephant birds gone?

below a baobab
what a blessing!

how much
green gecko loves
the bright winter sun

dusk now
radiated tortoise
still grazing

calling out
to walk barefoot
the tsingy of Bemaraha

satanic leaf-tailed gecko
pressed against a tree
doubt you can find it

who could say
they’re not aliens
painted mantellas

flames of yellow
lighting up Ranomafana
moon moths

singing, flying, mating
they spend their days
Vasa parrots

Abhay K. in Madagascar

Abhay K. is the author of nine poetry collections including: The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020). He is the editor of many poetry collections including The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems, CAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems.

Abhay’s poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines including Poetry Salzburg Review and Asia Literary Review, among others. Abhay’s poem Earth Anthem has been translated into over 140 languages. He received the SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress in 2018.

Abhay’s forthcoming book length poem is titled Monsoon. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit, won the KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award for 2020-21.

Abhay’s most recent book is called The Magic of Madagascar. It is published in English and French by Éditions L’Harmattan, Paris, 2021

The cover of Abhay K.’s book, The Magic of Madagascar

Photo by Abhay K.

Photo-essay: The Million Man March

The marchers came from all over North America in a shared experience; strangers hugged and held hands as if they were old friends

By Andy Hall

In 1995, The Nation Of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan had called for a march on Washington similar to the one 32 years before organised by Martin Luther King and the NAACP. But this time it was African American men from all over the U.S.A. who converged on the National Mall in Washington DC for a day of black solidarity and brotherhood, to be known as the Million Man March. As a photojournalist, I wanted to be there and document it.

The Million Man March. Washington DC. photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

This unique way of highlighting racial inequality in America was also a clever way of grabbing the media’s attention. The march highlighted the economic and social plight of the African American community, but this time with the emphasis on self-help; Black men taking responsibility for themselves and their communities and fighting negative stereo-typing.

Men from the African American community gather from all over the U.SA to march on Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

In the run-up to 16th October, the day of the march, there was a nervousness in the media at the thought of a million angry black men marching on Washington. I remember the talk on news channels of the potential for riots and security issues, and the need to protect the Capitol buildings. 

A man holds up a portrait of Malcolm X during the gathering of hundreds of thousands of black American men in Washington D.C. photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

Over 800,000 African American men gather at the National Mall in Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

The fears were pretty ironic, when you think that 25 years later, in January 2021, it was white supremacists laying siege to the seat of U.S. Government and democracy; not the descendents of people still feeling the effects of centuries of slavery and state oppression.

A participant of the Million Man march. Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

Men from the African American community make their views clear during the Million Man March. Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

Two white men take time off work in the government buildings to witness the gathering of over 800,000 men from the African American community. A nation of Islam member next to them gathers funds for the organisation. Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

The event was huge and peaceful. I remember it as an emotional gathering. 870,000 black men were together, and all was upbeat and heartfelt. The marchers came from all over North America, in a shared experience; strangers hugged and held hands with each other as if they were old friends.

African American men from all over the United States come together in a show of solidarity and brotherhood. Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

I arrived in Washington at dawn. It was a hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment as I witnessed thousands upon thousands of people silently, slowly walking into the vast arena of the National Mall, while a powerful sound system played Marvin Gaye’s seminal song What’s Going On. The music drifted, echoing all over America’s capital city as the sun rose.

African American Men from all over the United States, Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

Even though the Million Man March was the creation of Louis Farrakhan, the vast majority of people who came had nothing to do with the Nation Of Islam. For the rest of the day, I walked around capturing scenes of lighthearted togetherness and solemn contemplation; big groups of college students laughing and joking around together. Men silently bowing their heads in prayer.

Over 800,000 African American Men gather with special emphasis on self-help and combating negative stereotyping of black men in the media and popular culture. Washington D.C., Photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

Statues of important figures from American history (Were all of them white?) dotted the enormous area around the government buildings. Now, they were covered with people listening to the speeches. And the whole time, everywhere, in a call for solidarity and unity, men thrust the black power salute into the air.

The Millon Man march. Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

Barack Obama recalls being there as a young man and listening to speeches from Farrakhan (for two hours, behind bulletproof glass) as well as Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks and Cornell West.

Friends holding each other up to get a better view of the speakers, who included Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson and Maya Angelou Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

The event did have some critics like the civil rights hero and feminist Angela Davis, who complained that the Million Man March was not inclusive enough. The Million Man March was widely regarded as a big success and it also galvanised a national voter registration campaign. resulting in 1.7 million more Black American men registered to vote.

African American men gather at the “Million Man March” in Washington D.C., photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

The Million Man March in Washington D.C. to highlight racial and economic inequality in the United States. photograph by Andy Hall 16/10/95

Andy Hall is based in London and has been a freelance photographer since 1989. His work has taken him on a wide range of commissioned news for numerous publications around the world. Andy is contracted to the Observer and the Guardian, but he has also published numerous times in newspapers and magazines like The Times magazine, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the New York Times Magazine. He has also been commissioned by Red Bulletin Magazine, Newsweek, GQ Magazine and Der Speigel Magazine. He publishes photo-essays with Ars Notoria.

Andy has collaborated in book projects ranging from Montreal – Eye on the Metropolis (2000), to the British press photography anthology – Eyewitness; five thousand days (2004), Muhammad Ali – the glory years (2002), as well as the book project UK at home (2008). His commissioned work on the ongoing hunger crisis in sub-saharan Africa was screened at Visa pour L’image, Perpignan in 2012.

Andy is also an established street photographer, having had his work published in specialist magazines such as PDN (Photo District News) and Eyeshot magazine. He is also one of the winners of the PDN sponsored Best of Street Photography 2016, and has given talks on his work in the Street London Festival in 2017 and on Radio London in 2018. He runs street photography workshops and judges street photography competitions on the Photocrowd photography website. Andy was recently awarded series finalist in the Brussels Street Photography Festival 2019. Andy was also a series finalist in the Lensculture Street Photography Awards 2021.

Andy Hall can be contacted via his website at:

The Striking Colours of Indonesian Markets

Women working in the markets of East Java

By Inge Colijn

Prompted by a colleague, Inge Colijn, a passionate street photographer, finally overcame her reluctance and travelled to Indonesia. Her reluctance was partly the result of complicated feelings about her father’s relationship to Holland’s colonial past. Inge visited East Java, where she took photographs of women working in the markets. We see the lives of the women market workers through her photographs. As Andy Hall, the Observer photojournalist, remarked: ‘Inge’s use of well-composed colour is striking and admirable. Her pictures are full of human warmth and fun.’

I am fascinated by Indonesia. It is made up of 17,500 islands. Indonesia is the biggest archipelago in the world. Indonesia spreads over three time zones and parts of it, like Java, are very densely populated. Many people forget Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world.

Blitar market woman, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

Women have a much more prominent place in society in Indonesia than they do in the Middle-East. In East Java, especially, people’s worldview is strongly coloured by ancient Indonesian beliefs, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Women have a much more prominent place in society in Indonesia

Women are not forced to stay at home in Indonesia, they go out to work and make a living for their family. This is particularly true of the women married to fishermen, or small farmers. The women will sell their produce on the local markets. Women sell all sorts of things in Indonesian markets: onions, bananas, fish … they may even work as fully fledged butchers. Younger women, often better educated, sometimes work in shops and offices. It is many of the older Indonesian women who work in markets.

Malang market women, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

I have always had a complicated relationship with Indonesia. I actually only went there for the first time in March 2017. The pictures you see here were taken during my third visit, between July and August of 2019.

Some women become fully-fledged butchers, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

There were two reasons for my ambivalence. In the first place, traveling to Indonesia while my dad was still alive felt a bit like betrayal because I knew it had been his dream.

Surabaya market women, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

My father dreamed of going to Indonesia in 1947. He wanted to experience Indonesian culture, but he would have done so as a soldier. He was in the marines at the time of the infamous politionele acties‘.

Surabaya market woman, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

Surabaya market woman, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

My father was excited by the possibility of going to Indonesia, but to his chagrin, his battalion was the one kept behind in the Netherlands. He tried to join the troops who were sailing off to ‘Nederlands Indie” as it was called, but needed the approval of his father. He wasn’t 21. His father, my grandfather wouldn’t give in. I am very grateful that he wasn’t allowed to fight for Dutch colonialism.

Surabaya market woman, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

My relationship with Indonesia was complicated further by the fact that I studied Cultural Anthropology at Leiden University. Despite the fact that I was so attracted to Indonesia and even though I had the opportunity, there were so many people who seemed to know so much more about it than me that I felt at a great disadvantage. This feeling affected my confidence and made me decide to stay far away from taking any course on the subject.

Malang market woman, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

Malang market woman, East Java, Inge Colijn ©

Finally, in 2017, I overcame my reservations and decided to go – encouraged by a UNHCR colleague in Colombo.

I loved Indonesia immediately, not least because the people there are approachable and friendly.

Inge Colijn

Inge Colijn took up photography as a teenager. Later, as a student of ethnography, she studied Ethnographic Photography. While working for UNHCR, Inge carried a camera with her in the field, but photography was always an afterthought to her main job. After retiring from the UNHCR, Inge enrolled in photography workshops and got excited about street photography. She is part of a group of travelling street photographers and the photos here were taken on a visit she made to Indonesia in 2019 with her group.

Nature in Black and White

By Leon Kreel

Storm Eleanor, Newhaven, photograph by Leon Kreel ©

photograph by Leon Kreel ©

Dead, photograph by Leon Kreel ©

photograph by Leon Kreel ©

Hastings beach, photograph by Leon Kreel ©

photograph by Leon Kreel ©

photograph by Leon Kreel ©

Ploughing, Sussex Downs, photograph by Leon Kreel ©

Storm Dorts, Newhaven, , photograph by Leon Kreel ©

Leon Kreel

Leon Kreel has exhibited in salons around the world. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society. His photographic trips have taken him to Yellowstone national park, Iceland, Namibia and India. Leon uses photography to immerse himself in new and old environments and to capture the wonders that he discovers – and continues to discover.

Wake up in Uruapan

By Felipe Elvira

Audio of ‘Wake up in Uruapan’

Imagine waking up in Uruapan. Many thousands of Uruapenses who have crossed the border over into the USA dream of doing just that. They make films about it. Uruapan, with its orchards and breathtakingly beautiful national park built along river banks.

Uruapan’s park has hundreds of fountains all carved out of volcanic rock, each one original, different.

The river Cupatizio gives life to Uruapan. It is born inside the city out of a pool called the Devil’s Knee. The story goes that the devil fell to Earth on his knee creating a dent in the ground and cracking it so that a spring of water rushed up.

The Cupatitzio is the most beautiful young river possible to imagine. It jumps, it dances, it gushes, it rushes about and foams, it splashes with its arms wide. When the water reaches a pool it sleeps, still as a baby, riverine eyes transparent and open. Cupatitzio in the Tarazco language means ‘The River that Sings’.

So, it is not surprising that the municipality of Uruapan is the world centre for avocado growers, that Uruapan produces its own coffee, the fragrance of which wafts seductively through the town. Well-watered, Uruapan has trout and macadamias and fruit of all kinds, some you have probably never heard of, like yellow, sulphurous changungas.

It is has often surprised me that Uruapan is relatively unknown. It hosts what must be the greatest market for handicrafts in the world every Easter. There are two million beautiful objects on sale. You can buy furniture: tables, trunks and chairs inlaid with mother of pearl, copper pots and lamps from one town, guitars from Paracho, clay sculptures of green pineapples from another, beautiful cloth in luminescent colours. The colour of the traditional rebozo from Uruapan is electric blue.

Uruapan is famous throughout Mexico (and the United States) for being the home of carnitas. It has a whole market dedicated to the most wonderful food: El Mercado de Antojitos. Delicious! You’ll find it when you walk through the narrow lanes behind the Huatapera. The tables and benches are heavy and painted black. There are rows of cooking stations where women work all under two roofs made of solid timber.

Uruapan surrounded by volcanos, even has its very own active volcano. The only one for 50 years which people ever witnessed appearing out of the level ground anywhere in the world. Paricutin was active for 9 years before it went quiet. It is a grey black hill in the distance. When it was exploding there were free fireworks for everyone, and in the morning the streets and cars were covered in grey dust. Many poor people lost their land to the lava.

Uruapan’s people are friendly and generous. They are Purhepechas crossed with Spanish and a little French and smidgeon of Italian. Uruapenses are conservative and devout. Religious occasions are all well-observed and all society is on show at the large Immaculate Heart church. On festival days there is dancing in the streets and there you see young men and women dressed as old men and women doing the dance of the old people with walking sticks and masks. The masks are hook nosed and painted pink.

The city of Uruapan has grown and grown and where once it was as picturesque as Patzcuaro, prosperity made it a little rough around the edges. The best houses in the centre all have central courtyards and are made with the traditional material, adobe. But adobe is expensive now and the new build uses too much brick and breezeblock.

Uruapan even has its own alcoholic beverage. It is a spirit called Charanda, and now there are people who are refining the drink into something special and they have asked for protected designation of origin and got it. You can’t make it anywhere else under the same name.

But the people of Uruapan love their city and there are constant restorations. Cobbled streets are reopened. The old churches are renovated and repainted. The jewel of the town is the Huatapera, built in the 16th century. It is both ornate and simple. It is beautiful. It even smells heavenly, of wood and porous stone.

Imagine that you are waking up in Uruapan and about to take an early morning walk. Has it just rained? It rains a lot in Uruapan. Coffee and sweet breads await you.

Photos by Felipe Elvira, article by Philip Hall

Photo-essay: my photographic career began with the Big Bang

On and off, for over thirty years, Andy Hall has aimed his camera at The City of London

Top- hatted City gent going into the bank of England 1987, Andy Hall

My adult life began at the end of the 70’s, more or less in line with the beginning of Neo-liberalism, which over the last 40 years has come to dominate, with such an uncompromising grip, the way our countries – and our lives – are run. Global Financial centres, such as Wall Street, and the City of London’s historic financial district, known as the Square Mile, were at the very heart of these world-wide changes; where the rules were ripped up and drawn again to favour the free marketeers. When I first went to live on my own, I studied at the City of London Polytechnic, positioned on the very edge of the City of London, in Aldgate. I got to know the City and it’s environs well – the edges of it, neglected, much of it, decrepit and dirty.

Similarily, my life as a professional photographer began very soon after Thatcher’s de-regulation of the City, known as the Big Bang in 1986, which heralded the ever-crazier boom-and-bust cycles that have been happening there ever since.

… my life as a professional photographer began very soon after Thatcher’s deregulation of the City, known as the Big Bang in 1986

My father was a journalist, and I wanted to follow his footsteps into the world of newspapers and magazines, but as a photojournalist I got my break in 1987 when I had the opportunity to work on a regular basis for the Financial Trade Magazines based in the City, such as the Financial Advisor and the Investors Chronicle. Their test for me before I could get onto their books was to produce a set of photos depicting daily life in the City’s Square Mile area.

I quickly became fascinated with the Square Mile after walking the streets of an area where so much was changing; where I could get photos of city gents still in top hats while I walked around the neo-classical facades of the Bank of England and wandered the nooks and crannies of Gresham street, Leadenhall Market and the Guildhall; at the same time trying to capture the energy of the “new” money barrow boys in and around the trading floors of the exchanges and brand new developments like the NatWest Tower, the Lloyds building and Broadgate.

The 1980’s, with it’s monetary policies, were a volatile time in the City, where the financial dealings came back to slap the city-boys in the face. The stock market crash of October 1987 took everyone by surprise and I found myself commissioned to take pictures on Black Monday of shocked-looking brokers and traders on the floor of the Stock Exchange, surrounded by discarded paper slips.

The floor of the Stock Exchange on Black Monday in the Crash of ’87, Andy Hall

There were rich pickings for me in my early days as a photographer as I followed one shyster fraudster after another; in and out of office entrances and inevitably to the Old-Bailey and other crown courts. Scandals such as Barlow-Clowes, Polly Peck and Barings played themselves out on the streets of the City as the less scrupulous followed the less regulated.

Barlow Clowes goes to court, Andy Hall

Whilst Black Monday and the banking crisis of the late 1980’s gave way to Black Wednesday and the (ERM) currency crisis that hit the City in the early 1990’s, I was now working for national and international publications like the Observer and travelling a lot and, apart from covering the odd IRA bomb going off, I spent less and less time in the City of London.

Coming back as a street photographer

I started going back to the City of London after 2008, aiming my camera at the fall-out issues following the biggest financial crash of the post-war era. But while all of us out in the real economy suffered, the actual financial centre itself underwent a huge construction boom, and as with so many other economic crisis, this latest bust never hit share prices. Instead, money kept on pouring into big developments all over the Square Mile, and with the politicians from all sides in favour of ever – bigger skyscrapers, new glass palaces to corporate capitalism have been springing up all over the city in the last 10-15 years – with names like the Walkie-Talkie and the Cheese-Grater.

The City, 2019, Andy Hall

When I started going back to the area on a regular basis – this time as a street photographer rather than a photojournalist – I would sometimes get lost, unable to recognise the landmarks I became familiar with back in the 80’s and early 90’s. Nowadays, I love nothing more than hitting the streets with my one, small camera body and lens, pitting my wits against the human activity around me. I try at the same time to look towards graphic, strongly-lit scenes – pockets of light, and light reflections from windows hitting walls and pavements below, as figures, shadows and silhouettes mingle with each other in the streets.

There’s another thing that has changed in the Square Mile – The erosion of public space. Public spaces have been bought up by companies that own the new developments that have sprung up. It’s every street photographer’s hazard as he/she has to stand there explaining themselves, itching to get away for fear of missing some serendipitous scene playing itself out somewhere nearby. Being told you aren’t allowed to take pictures in a privately owned area is frustrating when you see city workers and tourists waving their phones about and capturing themselves and everything around them without any fuss.

The near empty high-tech City, during the Covid Crisis, 2020, Andy Hall

They say nothing stands still in the City – this most dynamic of places. But although the financial centre has largely danced to its own tune, despite everything that has been happening in the real world as a result of the City’s own boom and bust ways, things are now happening to the City of London that it cannot control. It survived the Banking crisis of 2008 and maybe Brexit won’t hit as hard, but the Covid crisis and lockdown has accelerated trends that have been unfolding for some time.

Nowadays I love nothing more than hitting the streets with my one small camera body and lens, pitting my wits against the human activity around me.

The swanky bars and restaurants that were once banking halls and trading floors, and the luxury apartments built alongside the glass skyscrapers (making the city look more like downtown Houston) during the construction boom of the 2000’s, might soon be mostly empty as supply still exceeds demand. Increasing use of digital technology means there is a long-term reduction in people going to work, with the devastating effect that has on the service sector that relies on all those city workers. This potential unravelling of urban life, means that the glass palaces of corporate capitalism are hollowing out. They are becoming white elephants.

As I walk around this summer, the Square Mile increasingly feels to me like it’s in a coma caused by Covid. And with people still staying away, working from home, will it ever wake up? No doubt the City will re-invent itself somehow, but while I don’t miss its dysfunctional behaviour, I do miss its busy streets.

Andy Hall
Instagram: @andyxhall

You can see some of Andy Hall’s latest pictures of the City in the street photography exhibition THE SQUARE MILE by iN-PUBLiC

A Personal Vision of Richmond Park and Beyond

by Philip Hall

Richmond Park is not far away from us. It’s easy to reach it and to walk in it. We enter by the Kingston Gate and from there walk to the Ham Gate. At the Ham gate there is a small pond.