What do you do with an image that you think is great but has a
fatal flaw? Well, nothing, it floats around your archive like an orphan.
This is one of my favorite ‘orphans’, a image of the charismatic man
who calls himself Sinbad, taken on Lamu island, Kenya. There is no
remedy for the amputated hand.
Sinbad, his tourist name, was all about attracting business, hence the shades, the hat and his little dhow.
Sinbad’s technique was to unrelentingly hassle you the moment you set foot upon the island until you limply complied to whatever he had for sale. This was the preferred method of extracting off traveller types. But once you had paid your dues, well, the rest of your stay was hassle free.
I bear no grudge – Islanders need to make a living – but there was a time when you could go to Lamu without the tourist persona hanging on you, buy at local prices, meet people on equal terms. A steady flow of visitors, caught by the romance of open roofed nights and warm monsoon breezes, have set the tourist trap forever.
The insanity of racial violence bought to you by way of ‘beach bum’
photographers and, dowsed with dollops of intimacy and history; girl
friends, mandrax and bhang parties, Reuter contracts, suicide and Afrikaner gunslinging racists
(itching for a full on battle to the death with black people). Out of
this chaos emerge images that win the pullizers, sell newspapers and
But the awe dies, you’ve realised, that in fact, bringing yourself to
within a hairsbreadth of death (yours or someone else’s), might not be
so heroic after all, its like voyeurism into lunacy, but once you’ve
seen it, an apathetic deadness sinks in, faith in life destroyed when
you see how much is now left to repair.
Apartheid has barely faded and the Rwandan genocide is coming alive and then Iraq and Iraq, and shit you know I’ve missed some….bang, bang, bang!
PM: At the same time you admit to capturing the ‘worthy moment’, which
also points to all the countless moments of truth which go undocumented.
Are there any photographs you have taken, which beyond the notion of
looking for the photographic moment, have amounted to a visual lie?
and the answer:
GT: Yes, but I won’t tell you which ones! Perhaps in this context there are no lies, but then there is no truth either.
We only need half a brain to realise images lie (even quite as badly as say, the british media), and quite substantially more than a brain, bordering on superhuman abilities, to find the lie. If there is any judgment to be planted, perhaps it should be sown near the intentions of the ‘peddler’. In the case of the british media, the sentence? Life. In the case of Guy Tillim? The right to lie.