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Photography in Zambia with the Peace Corps

Joseph Conrad , May 12, 2000; 01:19 a.m.

Please forgive me, but I submitted a similar question to this one a few days ago with some general information, but have since been able to add some details to the mix. I'll be leaving for Zambia (South-Central Africa) in a month to volunteer there with the Peace Corps for two years. Apparently, Zambia has a 5-6 month rainy season, but is otherwise reasonably mild in climate. I will be taking a Nikon-based system consisting primarily of an FM, N90s, T4, and assorted (4) Nikon lenses. I am thinking that I'll take three film types: B&W, slide, and print (P&S). I do not have details yet regarding my living arrangements. I think that it is safest to assume that they will be rustic, at best. Any advice on long term photography in a developing nation, specifically Central Africa will be very much appreciated. I'm particularly interested in how to handle my film before and after exposure and in how to prevent damage from humidity and water.

Responses

Bill Ross , May 12, 2000; 03:55 a.m.

Watch out for theft in Zambia.. note the broken glass & razor ribbon on the high walls of the middle class compounds/stockades in the neighborhoods around Lusaka. Take that malaria medicine! Read the threads on photographing black/brown skin tones. Especially watch out for the army. For practical purposes, I would assume that they are involved in smuggling drugs and are very paranoid about being found out. Some people I knew had the window of their vehicle smashed with a rifle butt as they careened out of an encounter with soldiers in the bush after some intense conversation, and others ran into a similar situation in Lusaka itself (without the window breaking). Be ready to let go of your equipment for your safety.

That said, hopefully you will be in a nice spot with a stable enough food situation and will be beloved of all around. Zambia has a wonderful climate at the right time of year, and people can be very nice and engaging. The social divide is perhaps not unlike (what at least used to be better-off) Zimbabwe, by the way.

Brian Post , May 12, 2000; 08:41 a.m.

I'm not a pro photographer, but spent a few weeks in Africa and have a friend over there so I know some about the Peace Corps life. You could probably bring enough film over to last a couple/few months at first. I would imagine if you want high quality film you will need a contact in the US to send it to you. My experience is that air mail is about two weeks or so between here and Africa(Tanzania for me). You will probably have trouble finding slide film over there. And probably will want to send slide film back to US for processing. If you just want print film for the P&S to fool around with, you can probably get away with just buying the film over there and developing it in Zambia.Keep your film in the plastic cases and I carried mine in a flexible/insulated lunch type bag. You may want to think about whether you need all your equipment, you will want to travel light and will obviously not be shuttled around in Land Rover like most expensive safaris. What about just taking one SLR and the point and shoot? Maybe just two zoom lenses? Camera equipment is a theft target all over the world. Your housing situation is unknown and storing your stuff in a locked house is not %100 safe. But more importantly, don't get too caught up in the photography. I know you've heard this before, but be discreet and don't flaunt your gear. It will take you a while just to settle into your living situation and you may never feel comfortalble just walking around with your big equipment. I'll stop now and here are some good links to check out: www.concentric.net/~jmuehl/links.shtml This is THE site for PC info and I found a couple sites of current Zambia PCV's. There is a message board and you can probably contact some current or former Zambia people for photo info. Even thought they might not be photo experts, their advice is probably more practical than stuff here. Hope this helps and take my advice lightly as I've never been to Zambia.

Bill Graves , May 13, 2000; 07:15 a.m.

I spent three years in the former Zaire aboout a decade ago. I only had a p&s with me. I have a couple of suggestions: bring: ziplock bags for your equipment and film (dusty truck rides ruin unprotected equipment; kodak mailers adressed to your home and US stamps (you can send your undeveloped film back to the States with returning PCV's, and they can drop it in the mail); lots of film.

I would also suggest locating a minilab nearby and using it for at least some of your film: people are much more willing to allow you to photograph them if you can share the results.

Theft is a real problem throughout the region. A PCV walking around with $2000 of photo equipment on his neck will be noticed, and it could be stolen (the horror!). I would lock the Nikon equipment away in some secure place (the PC office, maybe), use the p&s as the daily camera, and pull out the heavy equipment for travel and safaris. I am great beleiver in Mr. Greenspun's premise that our equipment is tools and should be used, and not coddled, but you need to possess it to use it.

Finally, depending upon where you are posted, you will find that local people have varying feelings about photography. It took over a year for my me to be able to photograph my neighbors. Good luck and happy travels.

Anthony Rodgers , May 15, 2000; 06:48 a.m.

I spent time in Zambia a few years ago, but Africa is a dynamic environment and I'm sure has changed much since, but here's my two cents worth.

I agree with all of the above. Theft and weight conservation - especially on long hikes in the heat are a consideration - and as they have been covered, I will speak to the subject of storing your film before and after exposing it.

If you are settled in a hut, then I suggest you identify the wall that gets the least sun and, at its base, dig a small pit. Place all of you film - in waterproof bags - in the pit and cover it. This should help to keep it insulated from the heat. What if it rains? Well that's why you have zip-lock bags.

Good quality trannie film should be given to a friend for processing out of Zambia. Locally, South Africa, and Kenya both have places you can trust, but check with other photographers to see how this may have changed; as I mentioned Africa is dynamic. Enjoy your stay and remember that you are a guest in their country. Act as you would expect them to act in yours.

Viraj Patel , Feb 25, 2001; 06:23 p.m.

Are you teaching people how to raise fish ponds, by any chance?

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