Back from Bangladesh

Asia, Bangladesh, Documentary, Film, Uncategorized

It’s been a very long time since my last post about the leprosy exhibition, which went very well. In October I went off to Bangladesh, and stayed there for the next 6 months furthering my photographic practice at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, a school for photography that has produced many fine artists over the past two decades. It was an intense time, but a superb opportunity to experiment and improve through critical feedback.

I’m now processing the experience as well as the 30,000+ photos I took there. As I begin to put together a couple of stories I’ll put up a few photos every now and then on here and get back into the habit of regular blogging.

Here are three portraits from Jaflong, a stone-mining town on the northern border with India. Taken on my Rolleiflex with Kodak Tri-X.

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Leprosy Exhibition in London

Documentary, Leprosy, Photojournalism

Very excited to announce that I’m going to have an exhibition of the leprosy project at the Art Gallery in St Paul’s School in London on 30th September. If you’re able, I’d love you to come and see how six years work looks on the wall of a gallery. Some of the stuff you will have seen on the blog and my website (www.tom-bradley.com) and some has been newly shot this year.

Do RSVP (info@tom-bradley.com) if you’d like to make it. Many thanks

Here is the Press Release…

Tom Bradley Leprosy SPS Exhibition Press Release-page-001

Okegbala portraits

Africa, Documentary, Leprosy, Nigeria

Okegbala, in Nigeria, is a settlement made up of three large hamlets and a leprosy hospital. The residents are there because they, or their parents or grandparents are affected by leprosy – originally moving to be near the leprosy hospital. Here are portraits of three of the residents, all affected by leprosy, the last of whom is blind.

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A Nepalese witch doctor at work

Asia, Documentary, General comment, Nepal, Shaimanism, travel

While I was photographing my leprosy project in rural Nepal last year I came across an intriguing scene just across from my hotel (a tidy £2 per night). A frail old man was laying down coloured powder into patterns outside a two story mud-and-wood house. There was a group of mainly middle-aged men gathered and with help from one of the leprosy field workers I was with found out that the old man, a Jhankri (the Nepalese equivalent of a witch doctor or Shaiman), was about to perform an exorcism on a young child who had been ill.

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I watched as the Jhankri hung up a crab outside the door (covered in red powder, above) and began banging a saucepan covering his head. I watched the ceremony unfurl across two hours, with the patterned powder eventually getting swept away and the crab being trapped under a heated metal dish. Family and neighbours sat around chatting, occasionally observing when the Jhankri did something new.

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My understanding is that going to the Jhankri before trying the clinic is still quite common in many of the more rural areas of Nepal.

Congolese Mourning in Kingangi

Africa, Documentary, General comment, travel

I stayed in the remote village of Kingangi (in Kasai-Orientale province) in March this year, while photographing part of my Leprosy Eliminated? project. I woke up on the second morning to the sound of singing. The singing itself was uplifting, raw and organic. I went to see what it was all about. Sadly, it turned out that young child of 18 or so months had died unexpectedly the previous evening.

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A small crowd of women was gathered, looking inwards, all singing and dancing. But there were no smiles and no laughter. The men sat sombrely to the side. The young father, who was maybe my age came up to me. I asked if it would be ok to photograph. He had said it was no problem. I crouched down and squeezed gently through the crowd of women. The child, less than 12 hours dead was lying on the table.

The dances of the women were rocking up and down, almost like a theatrical wailing. Some of them were crying. The mother sat, clearly numb with disbelief. I took a few photos and put the camera down. I suppose it is tradition of some sort, though I never found out the details as I had a long trek that morning. The cause of the baby’s death was unknown.

A Culture of Giving

Burma, Documentary, Leprosy, Myanmar, portrait, travel

While I was on assignment photographing leprosy in Myanmar last year I visited the aforementioned Ma Yan Chaung Leprosy Resettlement Village near Yangon. Frustratingly, due to Myanmar still being a very carefully controlled state, I was only allowed to visit for a few hours, when I would have liked to have stayed there for a week or more.

The area was made up of a leprosy hospital, a church with houses for selected vulnerable former/current leprosy patients, a village made up predominantly of people affected by leprosy and their families, and two dormitories.

The dormitories had about 30 beds each, all of which were occupied, and in which lived individuals affected by leprosy. It wasn’t a hospital, but a community. They all had duties, some of them even had jobs. There was a strict routine each day, getting up early, eating together at specific times and going to bed early. There was little privacy as each dormitory was just one long room with beds facing each other. Some people had been there for many years, others quite recently.

On the face of it, it appeared to be a charitable situation; though there are several social enterprises in place to keep the dormitories going, it still relies on donations of various forms. I know this to be a very simplistic view, and though I wasn’t allowed much time to observe the complexities of this relationship I wanted to turn this view on it’s head somehow.

So I asked them each to think of when they last gave something to someone else – an intrinsic part of the Burmese Buddhist culture. Then I took just one or two shots of them on their bed. I didn’t direct them at all, I just wanted to show them, with their worldly possessions around them, and their quote that makes them the donor, and not the beneficiary. I’m going to try and expand this concept in my long-term project Leprosy Eliminated?.

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - Daw Lone Tin

“10 days ago I gave rice to a teacher in a remote village.” Daw Lone Tin

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - Daw Mya Sein

“Last week I donated some food to a monk living in the forest.” Daw Mya Sein

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - Daw Sun Tint

“Yesterday, on 2nd December I gave some noodles to a monk.” Daw Sun Tint

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - Daw Than Khin

“2 months ago I gave a longyi to one of the people affected by leprosy.” Daw Than Khin

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - Daw Tin Shwe

“On the 15th November I gave a longyi and some noodles and other food to a poor patient.” Daw Tin Shwe

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - U Thein Han

“10 days ago I was given an extra blanket which I felt I didn’t need, so I gave it to someone who needed it more.” U Thein Han

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - Ko Mya Oo

“15 days ago I gave some longyis to some local people.” U Ko Mya Oo

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - U Mg Mg Khin

“I donated a thermoplast to a monk on 19th November” U Mg Mg Khin

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“Last Saturday I donated packs of noodles to a monk.” U Tao

Ma Yan Chaung Resettlement Village - Dormitories - U Tin Khaing

“10 days ago I gave one shirt and one longyi to a person in the village here.” U Tin Khaing

A Puppy in Myanmar

Asia, Documentary, General comment, Leprosy, Myanmar, portrait

Last year a doctor specialising in leprosy told me that one aspect of the disease that people don’t necessarily think about is not the pain you can’t feel (as a result of paralysed nerves – which can lead to the damage, such as this woman has on her hands), but the pleasing touches you can no longer feel.

When this woman picked up this puppy it made think of what that doctor told me, and I wondered if she could feel the softness of the puppies hair, or it’s paws scratching her hands.

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Woman with puppy, Ma Yan Chaung Leprosy Resettlement Village. Myanmar 2013

“It’s most important… to see that those in Khokana can enjoy life too.”

Asia, Documentary, Leprosy

“It’s most important… people need to see that those in Khokana can enjoy life too.”

I am told this by a woman in her late 50s called Laxmi. She is one of the chiefs in Khokana leprosy colony, a state-run (of sorts) collection of houses and rooms just outside Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

I’ve been editing A LOT of photographs to do with my leprosy project recently. As well as staring at a computer screen all day, some of the images can get to you. Among my recent edits have been personal photos I took from a stay at Khokana leprosy colony. I have plenty of stories to tell from this place, but the words of Laxmi (at the top) rung with me recently, so for today’s post I thought I’d dig out a couple of the more joyous moments I experienced.

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An elderly, disabled resident of the colony who can’t walk is carried by his brother and Bikash (whose parents are both affected by leprosy and who was my translator and a good friend) in a tarpaulin out onto the grass where he sits quite happily for much of the day. Khokana, Nepal 2013

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Hari Maya, 73 almost wets herself laughing at how she’s dressed up a neighbours daughter in a bonnet and glasses. Khokana, Nepal 2013

The Stores of Nsumbula

Africa, Documentary, street photography, travel

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Nsumbula is a remote town in the province of Kasai-Occidentale, not too far from the Angolan border in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I was there in March for just a couple of nights photographing (for The Leprosy Mission Canada) those in the area suffering from leprosy. Walking through Nsumbula one afternoon I decided to take just one or two photos of each of the hand-painted stores and dealers that lined the main street. I didn’t think much of it at the time – often I like to just record things for the sake of looking back in 20 years time and saying, “oh right, that’s what it was like then.” But I’m just editing the several thousand photos I took in that month-long trip now, and I rather liked this small sequence of shop scenes. As with most of my favourite images these days, I think there’s significance in the details.

I think I took 26 shots in the 7 minutes it took me to walk down the street and here’s my quick edit of them.

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The New Chiefs of Kilangulangu

Africa, Documentary, Leprosy, travel

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In March I was working in Kasai-Occidentale province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is one of the most challenging places to work in terms of travel, and out of the 3 weeks I had in Kasai I spent only about 10 of those days shooting. The rest was travel by car, bike and foot.

On this particular day, near the Angolan border, we had to walk for about an hour and half from where the car could go no further to find a man affected by leprosy (well what else would I be photographing?). The long walk there and back under the midday sun was tiring, and we treaded silently, slowly through several small villages. Many of the children froze when they saw me. Foreigners don’t come out to these villages, and most of the children had never seen “Le Blanc“.

One of the villages we came across – I swear it was no more than about 6 houses – had a small gathering underneath a tree. The two men in the centre of the photo (can you tell they’re wearing face and body paint?) shouted over to me to take a picture. The two men stood still and for a second everything fell into place. Afterwards they told me they’d just been made chief of the village. One or both of them, I don’t know. It was a 30 second diversion from a walk where all I could think about was getting back to shade and my crate of water. I realised later it was a pretty unusual thing to witness. I blame the heat…