Thursday, 23 February 2012

Face to Face at the Arusha Masai Cafe

23.2 - Its raining every day here. The autumn is approaching and by mid March the heavy rains will be at their fullest and the streets will be like rivers. With the afternoon rain comes the power cuts and here at the cafe the staff run around outside removing cushions and the guests take shelter underneath the straw shades.

This morning I was at the police station to report the stolen phone. Fares Lameck came with me and the process took only an hour. There are no computers here, the station is a drab and dirty building with heavy report books and papers everywhere.  At 8:30 am it is full already. A group of officers carry out a beaten up guy covered in blood and he lies on the floor beside 7 others huddled together. The officer takes the details of my case with Fares's help and the large report book with a carbon copy is filled out. We are directed upstairs to a long corridor with women and children huddled at the end of the hall and a series of rooms where I fill out forms and pay the 500 TZS with receipt - followed by another room where I pay a further 1000 TZS without receipt and are free to go.

I'm coming close to the end of my stay in Tanzania. Yesterday I gave a talk at the St. Constantine International School on the outskirts of town to a group of 14 and 15 year olds - some local children and some the children of diplomats and NGO personnel. It is midterm exam time and so the planned workshops during the week were cancelled and some students will join us this weekend and combine with the group we started with last week on Sunday for a final day of print. At the end of the talk several signed up for the workshop and I'm expecting a busy few days.

Seppo and I had been talking about the Face to Face project which I had done in Germany and Finland - a spontaneous and surprising exhibition of portraits created in real time and printed on the Epson SP 9900. The Arusha Masai Cafe is a meeting point with plenty of visitors popping in all day from 12 noon to 8pm and I thought it would be fun to try this using my Canon speedlights inside the gallery space. We've put an advert in the local advertiser and starting at 2pm. Emmanuel Kichere will be my assistant and will handle the downloading and cataloguing and prepare the shots for print.

So, on Wednesday afternoon we set up the lights and I ran him through the workflow. He's a bright guy, a very fast learner and certainly knows more about computers than I do - so he's at ease with the process and will hand the printing.

As were were experimenting with a few lighting setups Taanisah walks in the door - a young Tanzanian artist making enquiries about the space and I seize the opportunity to model and teach Emmanuel a bit more about lighting at the same time.

Here then is the very primitive lighting set-up. I've got 2 x 580 EX's - a key light mounted on a tripod stand and with a Lastolite softbox and the power set to 1/2 through 2 diffusers. This creates a relatively strong main light. Emmanuel uses the light meter to get us a good exposure at 125s ISO 200 and F6.3 for a shot with enough depth of field to keep the models face in focus and blur the not-very-smooth wall behind.

Our really basic lighting set-up with Emmanuel Kichere
I would like a darker background to give better separation but you work with what you have and I'm happy with the results. The fill light is provided by a shoot-through white umbrella jammed inside the rungs of a stepladder and up really close set at 1/32 power. Everything is on manual so I can jump around the model and always get a perfect exposure.

As we were finishing up, Alvaro - the Spanish biology teacher and gifted photographer whom I met at St. Constantine's International School turned up for a beer and chat. He gave up a lucrative photography career in Madrid to come to teach biology here after getting his PhD.

Face to Face - If you are in Arusha (or want to pop down to Tanzania for the afternoon) come and join us. Its going to be a great last day (barring technical issues like power failures which happen on a regular basis anyway) and on Tuesday I'll be on a bus to Nairobi to meet up with Mukesh from Epson before I fly back to Finland on Wednesday.


  1. Looks really professional and busy over there ! Great that you have such a bright assistant/ co- operator! Meanwhile we are celebrating Swedens little sweet newborn princess, cheering up our otherwise colourless life. Hopefully yesterday's snowfall did put an end to this 'heavenly' media surrounding us from top to toe! Best regards to you all and happy workshopping!

    1. I bought a phone card today for the old Nokia. The woman at the outdoor sales desk said 'I love you' as I left. Interesting customer relations. My phone number is + 255 768 086088 if you want to text me. Looking forward to shoveling snow again. Tomorrow night workshops begin again flat out until Sunday evening - then the Face to Face on Monday. Nce to be busy.

  2. Yes, yes little princesses everywhere. My friend also popped one out Tuesday. Makes me feel happy and old and useless... and happy. You really see many sides of the life over there, not just the shiny surface. How lucky we are you sharing it with us with words and pictures. Thanks a million and safe journeys there and eventually back home.

    1. Yes - many sides of life and death. I wandered around outside today - visited the coffin makers across the road and got invited to the morgue. Walked around inside for a bit during the quiet time before sunset - then suddenly there was a rush of dead bodies at the door and I quietly made my exit. Somewhere near by a mosque is in full session with loudspeakers and not the best Hi-Fi system in the world.
      At the police station today they asked me what my religion was - I said none - the officer looked up from his grubby book and gave me a strange look. Thought I might have to make up one just to get out of there.

    2. Wouldn´t "atheist" count as a religion? Or is that too restrictive also?