My photo albums are sufficiently stocked with the postcard images of Africa (smiling schoolchildren, colourful markets, battered old buses, banana trees, misspelt signboards, etc…). And they do tell part of a truth about this country; the kids do smile and the buses are old. But, of course, they leave out the aesthetically uninteresting and the (to our eyes) unexotic/normal. That selectiveness is how photography (and any art) works, I guess, and it’s what makes your images yours and not someone else’s.
But a more real account of Tanzania would describe the rest of it too, which is partly what led me to (or at least led me to bring my camera to) a flashy event in Dar last night. Maybe I’ve been influenced by the ongoing chatter about “rebranding” Africa. Maybe it was the article I read yesterday on how to avoid “travel photo porn” – those stereotypical images carefully packaged to fulfil the viewer’s expectations. Or maybe I’m just sick of seeing, and photographing, people struggling.
In any case, surrounded by the teeny dresses and designer stubble of the Dar party people (the everyone-knows-each-other middle class, the emigrants home for the holidays, and the expat brats), I found my antidote to banana farmers and shy children. Admittedly, I was still a bit out of place – funnily enough, I’d never thought to bring an outfit from home suitable for a Hollywood-themed red carpet party – but it was a relief to be ignored this time, instead of being the Mzungu to be shouted at, begged from, or eyed with suspicion.