Travel retrospective 9 – health confidential

Submitting a prescription


This is how prescriptions are submitted and dispensed at a clinic in Kinshasa, D R Congo. The patient leaves the clinic with a prescription and then goes round the corner into a secluded street where it’s passed through a window to the pharmacist. Once made up the medication is passed out in the same way.

Why should something as simple as this appear so clandestine? Perhaps it’s a security issue, or maybe it’s more to do with the fact that this clinic deals mostly with patients who are HIV positive or have AIDS and perhaps there is a social stigma still associated with that. In truth, I don’t know the answer but it makes me wonder what we do to the dignity and self-respect of people when we end up stigmatising them as a result of a medical condition. It seems, perhaps, that some conditions carry with them a moral judgement making them more serious than others. That hardly seems right.

For this photograph I deliberately chose to shoot the transaction from inside the pharmacy to emphasise the anonymity of the patient.

Travel retrospective 8 – curiosity

An old woman shows interest


It’s curious, sometimes the unexpected just appears before you and proves to be really captivating. I was on my first filming trip with BMS World Mission covering a number of projects in and around Kathmandu, Nepal. On this occasion, we were filming a public health initiative which was focusing on maternal health. Upstairs in a small brick building, babies were being weighed and checked after which there was to be a nutritional cooking demonstration in the yard at the back. I was making my way up the stairs to get some photographs of the baby clinic when I happened to look down into the adjacent property where this elderly woman had appeared and was looking up at the noise coming from the clinic, as babies cried and mothers sang.

I have often wondered what she was thinking, but she has a look of curiosity on her face, Was she struggling with her eyesight and unable to see what she was hearing? Was she fondly remembering being a young mother herself? Was she concerned about something? There’s no way of knowing, but I was immediately struck by her appearance and expression, behind which lies her own personal story. A story we can only guess at but which is real, was lived and experienced.

This photograph was originally shot on Fuji Pro 800 colour film, transferred to digital jpeg format and processed to monochrome in Adobe Lightroom. The conversion to monochrome is a stylistic reference to this being a retrospective view.

Travel retrospective 7 – super flour

Making super flour in Afghanistan

Making flour

On a visit to Afghanistan in 2003 I visited a development project in Kabul making a vitamin enriched super flour which was then used to make various food products. The aim was to counteract malnourishment in children caused by poverty and lack of access to an even basically nutritious diet.

The project covered the whole process of flour production and in this photo we see two women working in the final stage of mixing the different flours which can be seen in the layers of the large batch of flour. They would scoop up across the layers, then sift the flour through the sieves for bagging. They are wearing masks to prevent inhaling the fine powder created in the process.

It was a simple but highly effective project. One woman volunteered to work there after her child’s health improved through eating bread made from this super flour.

This photograph was originally shot on Fuji Pro 800 colour film, transferred to digital jpeg format and processed to monochrome in Adobe Lightroom. The conversion to monochrome is a stylistic reference to this being a retrospective view.

Travel retrospective 6 – Thailand

Two curious little Karen girls


This photo speaks to me of the beauty of childhood curiosity and innocence. What makes it all the more powerful is the context, which is simply not obvious in the photograph. It was taken inside a refugee camp in Thailand on the border with Burma (Myanmar).

There are many such camps providing a safe refuge for the Karen people whose traditional lands bridge the present countries of Burma and Thailand who have been driven from their villages in Burma. The camps are host to simply thousands of these peaceful and dignified Karen people. On a visit to one camp I spotted these two little girls completely engrossed in looking into this water tank. I was struck by the innocence and sheer humanity of the scene. In the midst of a persecution these little girls simply could not understand, they were behaving just like children of their age anywhere. There is hope expressed here, that innocence and purity can exist within turmoil and pain.

As I reflect on this image and my time visiting the camps in Thailand I think of the thousands of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean in recent times and how sad it is that they have become pawns in a political game of “not my problem” among the countries of Western Europe. In the midst of turmoil and pain, innocence and purity can flourish, but we in the West seem to be doing our best to stifle it – however unwittingly.

  • Camera, Nikon D70S
  • ISO-1600
  • Aperture, f5.6
  • Shutter, 1/800 sec
  • Focal length, 300mm

Originally shot in colour the photo was processed to Monochrome in Adobe Lightroom with slight adjustments to tone, sharpness and grain reduction.

Travel retrospective 5 – Kathmandu

Hindu temple


In these days following the earthquake in Nepal I have been remembering my visit there in late 2001. With so many people killed in the devastation of a natural event I wonder what has happened to the people I photographed almost 14 years ago. This particular photo was taken at a Hindu temple in Durbar Square. I believe it was destroyed in the earthquake and, looking at this photo, I wonder if it was empty at the time or if there were people inside.

Having a personal connection with a place brings a greater sense of reality when a disaster strikes and suddenly it is easier to be aware of the real people affected by tragedy; those who have lost their lives, those who have lost loved ones and their homes, their places of work, their capacity to earn a living and the stress placed on their hope for the future.

Amid the tragedy, it’s been good to know that all my BMS World Mission colleagues living and working in Nepal are safe and well. I know that they are now busy doing what they can for those in need. I’m pleased that BMS is running an appeal for help and that once the relief effort, the cameras, microphones and reporters have left, my colleagues will still be there working with people to rebuild their lives and their hope.

This photograph was originally shot on Fuji Pro 800 colour film, transferred to digital jpeg format and processed to monochrome in Adobe Lightroom.

Travel retrospective 4 – simply being

Looking out


It was a very hot humid day on the Indonesian island of Nias, which sits just off the western coast of Sumatra. This was in the latter weeks of 2005 after the island had suffered from an earthquake on March 8 and the earlier tsunami of 26 December 2004.

I was there as part of a BMS World Mission filming team and as we were filming I spotted this couple watching us from the window of their home across the road. I was struck by their white faces, covered in a rice paste for sun protection.

This just seemed to present such a peaceful contrast to the seismic upheavals the island had endured so recently. Here was a couple of people who seemed completely relaxed and at peace in their circumstances, happy to simply sit in the shade of their home watching the world go by. Or, more specifically, watch some white westerners filming in the heat of the day. I wonder what their impression was of us.

This makes it into my travel retrospective as an expression of the simple things in life and how we can learn so much about value from those who have so little in material terms. I often think that we easily become prisoners of our material prosperity; the more we have, the more energy we must expend in maintaining and protecting it. How easy it is to forget about the joy of simply being.

This photo was shot at 1/600 sec at f4.5 on a focal length of 105mm.


Travel retrospective 3 – thinking in the light

Thinking in the light

Deep in thought

I recently gave a short talk illustrating different ways in which photography is communication and used this image as an example of paying attention. By that I mean that there’s an aspect of communication involving the photographer through paying attention to the subject. For me this happens at least three times. First of all in the original taking of the photograph, considering the framing, composition, lighting and exposure; secondly in the editing process, and again in any viewing of the photograph.

This photograph was taken in Afghanistan in 2003, soon after NATO had taken over security in the country following years of conflict and Taliban rule. The taking of this photograph happened very quickly as it was one of those quickly spotted opportunities. In paying attention to the subject I was struck by the thoughtful reflective pose of this older man as he sat among some friends. I particularly noticed how the light was falling across the upper part of his head, coming from slightly behind and that his eyes were looking down, essentially away from the light. Given this man’s apparent age and the recent history of the country, I wondered what his eyes had seen and what his thoughts might be. I found it easy to imagine that he was thinking about things he’d seen, things that had been visible to him because the light fell on them. He looked to me like he carried the burden of his thoughts and I wondered if this meant he was a little discomforted by the light.

Originally shot on colour film this image was transferred to a digital format allowing me to work on it in Lightroom where I decided to convert it to monochrome in order to make the feelings it evokes rather more stark. I needed to pay attention to the subject again in the editing process in order to reconnect with my thoughts on taking the photograph and to get the tones and balance right in the mono conversion.

It’s a personal favourite, and was an easy choice to include in my retrospective.