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.
Here are a few more medical portraits. I took hardly any in June because it was mainly VVF patients and for obvious reasons they are not photographed. So I was back on call taking pre and post operation photos this week. These are a mix of post-op photos from the PT (Physical Therapy – these are predominantly fixed bow-legs or club feet) tent and pre-ops of various sorts including maxillofacial tumours and cleft lips. I haven’t included information with them – I think we these sorts of photographs it’s best to see what aspects of their personality you can learn from them – though of course it’s more evident in some than others (you can try and figure out what the person is feeling from their feet if you like). If you would like to know specifics about their condition do email me the link to the photo and I’ll get back to you with details of the condition.
Essentially my job with the Mercy Ships is photographer in their PR department. I take the sort of photographs that show what we do to encourage donors. As I’ve said before the donors are key in keeping the charity alive and generally the sort of photographs and stories needed are of the successful surgery that completely transforms someone’s life. I’m not saying we swing towards that in a bias way. That happens with 99% of the patients that come through. I don’t feel that is in any way an exaggeration. But as always with photography I’m attracted to the subjects and stories that stray away from the norm.
The Mercy Ships have a palliative care unit to look after terminally ill patients that surgery would not have worked on. There’s a humanity in these actions that I’m desperate to capture, and I had my first attempt last week.
Ayabavi Fiodegbekou is a tiny grandmother in her 50’s or 60’s. She has had a tumour growing on her face for 18 years, and came out of hiding to attend the screening at the beginning of the the Togo field service. A biopsy and CT scan showed the tumour to be malignant and inoperable. Harriet Molyneux, Alex Williams and their translator Sylvie are part of the Palliative Care Program. There aren’t as many terminally ill patients on the Togo field service than there were last year in Benin, so the team can afford to venture out further affield to patients houses that they normally wouldn’t because of time constraints. So every Wednesday they visit Ayabavi in her home town of Vogan, an hour or so outside of Lomé and have been doing so for three months now.
“Our goal with this program is to meet weekly with the patients and be a bright spot in their week. We pray with them, talk to them, and help ease their pain by giving them medication and dietary advice” Harriet says. “She seems to be a lot more peaceful about [her situation] now. We also give her pain relief and talk through any issues she might be having”.
The team takes advantage of as many local resources as she can because at the end of the Togo field service Ayabavi will be on her own without a source for pain medication. The Morenga tree is a natural dietary supplement that is packed with vitamins, protein and carbohydrates. Ayabavi crushes the leaves and drinks the liquid to provide essential nutrients which are lacking in her diet.
When asked how her life has changed as a result of the palliative care program Ayabavi states “Without it I would be already dead. I get excited every Wednesday. It helps make my life better. Before they started coming I was ashamed and those around me would hold their nose because I smelled bad. Now, their treatment has helped make the smell go away.”
Ayabavi’s daughter, Tante (behind her mother above), has seen a visible change in her mother since Palliative Care started coming to see her. Tante says, “I can tell that she feels more comfortable being around others. Before, she never had the confidence to sit among a group of people. Look at her now, sitting with a group of 10 people talking freely. They have truly transformed my mother’s life.”
The interview didn’t go without tears. A mixture of gratefulness to Harriet, Alex and Sylvie and the inevitable situation meant that obvious but necessary questions with obvious answers tugged at everyone’s heart and Sylvie the translator had to stop for a moment after Ayabavi expressed her sadness that Mercy Ships cannot be there until the end.
Mercy Ships is a Christian organisation, and though in no way forces it’s patients to become Christian, or choose not to treat them due to religious grounds (quite rightly of course) it encourages evangelising and telling those it looks after about God and the reasons that so many of its volunteers believe in Christianity. My witness of ‘quick conversions’ to Christianity back home has not always been a positive one in my opinion, but Ayabavi has begun studying the bible as a result of Mercy Ships, read to her once a week by a friend from church.
Ayabavi asked Silvie to read Phillipians 4:6:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” The words clearly touched and comforted her, and she smiled for the first time. Noone can deny that in this case the bible has only done good and helped preserve dignity at the end of this woman’s life.
The relief Ayabavi has received has transformed her and helped her cope with her inevitable death. Though the day will come when Harriet won’t be making weekly visits, Ayabavi chooses to focus on the assistance she’s been lucky to have.
“I do not think that any hospital, anybody, any other person could do the help that they can do. They have helped me so much.”
Ayabavi is surrounded by friends, family and grandchildren, the latter of which are often kept entertained by Alex (link included because you can’t see his face – sorry Alex) during the Wednesday visits.
Before leaving, the group pray with and for Ayabavi. Claire and I will return at some point before the end of the field service, meanwhile Harriet, Alex and Silvie will return each week to make sure Ayabavi is getting the most out of life.
Much of the interview and some of this writing was done by my colleague, Claire Bufe.
Ok so this blog has been a mixture of things so far – thoughts about photography and its ethics, updates on what I’ve been doing or am going to do and general photos that I’ve taken in the past and wanted to display. Well now I’m using it to advertise my services as well. Specifically in family portraiture and weddings. I’ve been giving a lot of thought and I don’t reckon I’ll be able to earn a living (even poor living) doing photojournalism and documentary photography. So I think I’ll be spending most of my time doing private portraits and weddings. My first excursion into family portraiture was last Saturday and I had some very positive responses. So here’s a selection from the seven sittings with families/individuals.
If you are interested in getting some done or know and family that is then please get in touch. That goes for weddings as well – my first is in three weeks and I’ll be putting photos up then. Currently prices are starting at £70 for a sitting and prints. 07828864409 firstname.lastname@example.org www.tom-bradley.com
These boys above were absolute mischief. I can honestly say it’s the hardest photo shoot I’ve ever done, but the family were pleased with the shots of them. I couldn’t get them to sit still for long, so we went for the ‘character shots’. Hopefully that comes across!
This little one-year-old was a good deal of trouble too. He was pretty miserable and I kept having to lure him back in front of the lights with a biscuit. Luckily his sister (one above) was very good at cheering him up.
Annie, above is an excellent singer and was looking for some portfolio shots. She hasn’t yet chosen what she wants but I think this one is my favourite of her.
I’m more than happy to do any in colour as well and I can come round to people’s houses to do these portraits. I may be doing another day with a studio backdrop soon (last Saturday of April possibly) so if you’re interested in that then let me know again. Thanks, Tom
You may have seen Anthony Strong, one of the guys in these portraits in one of my blogs before. He’s a brilliant jazz pianist/singer/crooner, and well worth looking up if you like that sort of thing. The other photo is of his girlfriend Amy, who was kindly posing while I set up the shots…
Well, here’s a few more – there were a load of others I wanted to put up, but don’t want to overdo it. I’m going to try and get to Oxford street this Saturday before Christmas and see how many stressed out last minute shoppers I can capture. Bit of mix here – a drunk behind some road works trying to open his whiskey bottle, bored people on the tube, a man peeping through a window, and for pretty much the first time in my life street fashions starting to grab my eye… anyway, comments more than welcome as usual.