My First Photography Assignment - Mosango Hospital
I’m writing this from my parents’ house. We’ve been back in Belgium now for a few weeks and I’ve been writing a lot. Also, I should be preparing for the next stage of our journey. We’ve decided to go to Mexico and South America: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile are on the list for now…
I’m also going over a lot of old photos. Old assignments and travels. One of my first assignments ever was a trip to Africa. I spent three weeks photographing life in a hospital in the middle of nowhere. That’s where my love for traveling and exploring started. That trip changed me and ever since, I wanted to explore more and show people what the world is like through my photos. Good or bad. Beautiful or ugly…
Related read • Exploring Will Inspire You Not Only to Take Better Photos
Before I go on, let’s go back to 2013. Here’s a short story from my three weeks in the hospital of Mosango, Democratic Republic of Congo…
Photographing life in an African hospital
I wake up abruptly. There you go, the first night I’m on watch and something happens. I try to get out of bed as fast as I can without hanging myself in the damn mosquito net. Still dazed I grab my clothes and glasses. I don’t even try to put in my contact lenses. I get my flip-flops and grab my camera bag and then I sprint to the pick-up truck. The chauffeur has been waiting with the engine running. I climb into the trunk and before I realise what’s happening, we’re racing over the sandy roads to the hospital grounds.
Somebody tells me we’re on our way to a delivery... or maybe two, it’s not clear. I manage to dodge some low hanging branches and then we arrive at the maternity. It’s pitch black and I only see a dim light in the delivery room. I jump out of the back of the pick-up truck. You know, like in the movies only I almost trip over the edge. It’s a stupid idea to try a stunt like that with flip-flops.
I enter the delivery room and I see two women lying there. Apparently, one of them already gave birth. The baby is on a table against the wall, cosily wrapped in a blanket. The mother is still lying on the table, catching her breath. The other woman is waiting for her baby to come. I can see she’s in pain but it’s not her first time. No one knows when it’s going to happen, so I wait too.
I walk around and take some photos. It all feels a bit surreal but then again, I’m still dazed and confused from being woken up so abruptly. I experience everything like a robot until someone tells me to be careful around blood. HIV, you know. OK, now I’m awake! I carry on with my job but more careful and reluctant.
It takes a while but then it happens, and quickly… The baby comes out easily but something’s wrong. It’s not breathing. They bring the baby to another table and a doctor starts to resuscitate it. He’s doing it fairly rough considering it’s such a tiny body but I also notice it’s not the first time he’s done this. Seconds pass...
After half a minute... or maybe a few minutes, I don’t know, the baby starts to breath again. The mother had been lying there with seemingly no emotion but now she’s happy her baby is fine. Everybody here knows it can go either way with a delivery. Some women travel dozens of miles to get here. Often by motorcycle—when they’re already in labor.
The next day, I go and visit the mother and her baby. It’s still weak but getting stronger they say. Later that day, someone tells me it didn’t make it after all. But… maybe it’s better that way? No one knows what kind of brain damage it had suffered and you don’t want that for your baby when you have to struggle to survive everyday. The other baby made it without any problems…
That trip changed me. Ever since, I knew I wanted to be a travel photographer, or traveling photographer as I like to call it. I want to explore the world with my camera and in a way, open up people’s minds and inspire them to get out there themselves. Traveling—and I don’t mean staying in an all-inclusive hotel for weeks—really makes you a better person. Well, let’s say it makes you a different person but I think it’s something a lot of people miss these days.
Unless you’ve seen it for yourself, you don’t really know what’s out there. How beautiful, bad or interesting it really is. We see the world on tv and our phones and then we turn them off and go to sleep. That’s it. The next day, all is forgotten.
But once you’ve been somewhere, once you’ve smelled and felt it, it becomes real.
Some people say they don’t want to travel because they can just look at photos of everything there is to see in the world. That’s true, but you miss about 99.9% of the experience. That’s why I want to inspire people with my photos. Inspire them to get out there and explore or photograph the world themselves.
Can photography change the world?
No, I don’t think photography can change the world. But it can change people. It can inspire them to act. If just a few of those people who look at my photos think: “Hm, I want to go there and see it for myself.” Now, that’s a great achievement. Sure, people will always have reactions and emotions when they look at photography but making them act on it, that’s something else.
Most people want to be safe. They want to stay in their comfort zone and don’t like change. Maybe, in a way, they don’t want to know what’s going on in the world. It’s easier that way, right?
Well, I’d like you to act and do something. Now. For me, photography is what helped me to make changes in my life. Photography is about getting out there and exploring. The world will only change if people change and if everyone gets to know the world —and not just the 5 square kilometres around their house—something might change... right?
Start saying “Yes”
‘No’ is easy. ‘No’ is safe and doesn’t take a lot of effort. When I got that e-mail where they asked me to go to Africa, just for a second I thought: “Maybe it’s not for me after all.” I was used to saying ‘no’ too. But I needed a change and I was done saying ‘no’. It changed my life.
If you’re thinking about a destination or doing something different and you have been thinking about it for many years, it’s time to do it. Why not? What’s keeping you from doing it? Let me know. It might be easier than you think…
P.S. You can join me on Patreon to get access to behind-the-scenes information about my work and travels. Ask me anything you want to know about photography and show me your work...