Kinshasa photo feature
Lieven Symaeys. photographer. from Belgium. inside the Congo . . .
I always had an obsession towards Africa. Congo used to be the old Belgium colony and when I was a kid Maps of the central African country were still hanging on the classroom walls. Every year there were Flemish White fathers, “missionaries of Africa” coming to school trying to convince or prepare the young students for a future life as a member of “the missions”.
Nowadays it seems strange that a country in the middle of Africa seemed an impossible destination but back then flying all over the world was not such a common thing to do.
In my childhood dreams it was even a bigger adventure. I guess I imagined myself wanting to be just like Henri Morton Stanley or even David Livingstone…
Much much later I started working for KVS a theater company in Brussels.
A play written by Hugo Claus, Leopold II introduced me again into the story of Congo, the start of an old Belgium colony.
The KVS started to work more and more into the subject of Congo and even started a project totally covering the subject.
For several years I toured with another play that was written by David van Reybrouck, “Mission”. A story about missionaries that lived and worked in Congo for the last century…The fascination for Congo could only grow bigger !
The last two years I had the change to work for “Coup Fatal” a play directed by Alain Platel.
We toured with 13 Congolese musicians / dancers all over… ( Mostly Europe ) but at last I got the chance to go and work for the production in the hometown of these friends : Kinshasa !
When I travel I do use my Canon A-1 a lot. For Australia and Africa I decided not to take my favorite camera along. The old microprocessor into that machine has sometimes the bad habit to work in strange ways when it’s exposed to exterior heat. I was also a bit afraid that it could get lost or stolen. For me it would be very difficult to replace.
I bought it some years ago for peanuts… (like all my gear 😉 but it’s not that easy to find in good condition for a fair price.
Anyway, I’m also a real fan of the old Chinon SLR CM – series… I decided to take a CM-4 ( b&w film ) and a CE-4 for color with me. The Chinon SLR’s work easy and fast, have lovely lenses and are if necessary replaceable in my “collection”.
The first thing you hear when you land in Kinshasa is that it is not allowed to take pictures on the airport. Too late, I already had a shot out of the window on my pellicle, I hope they can forgive me…
Photography in Kinshasa is a difficult thing to do. There is an old believe that a camera could steal your soul when your picture is being taken and it seems that even nowadays that awkward habit of mind is still present.
( This superstition was even encouraged in the “Zaire Mobutu” period… )
Otherwise anything is good for the dollar and taking pictures of any subject
is good enough to get into a discussion about shooting property and having to pay for it. I totally don’t like paying my subjects so I did have to find solutions to get the feeling of a city of 11 million people on film without getting into trouble for every shot I take.
I got real fast into shooting out of driving cars with my Chinon cam’s.
Anyway, you just have to brake the rules and just ask, or shoot and see
what is happening next ! Kinshasa is an incredible city where millions of things and stories are happening around you. The city does not sleep so that is for 24 hours a day. There is also a lot of misery on the streets. But at the same time, loads of beauty… Pollution is a way of life and sometimes you feel like walking, driving and living on a dump.
But the most fascinating thing about the city is that everybody is into a sort of struggle for life and that with a big smile ! After a couple of days I had to agree the problems are so immense that even thinking about them in all sorts of ways does or will not solve them at all, maybe time will…
I think I found out that the only way to survive Kinshasa, is to accept Kinshasa !
more of Lievens work here:Muli Muli