In August 2008 I travelled to Bulembu, my second trip to this small town in Swaziland, Africa. I had been a few months previously, on a photography assignment (you can see some here and here). This time, I was directing a film of the Canadian Tenors as part of the Voices for Bulembu campaign. The eventual result was this promotional video, and a mini-documentary of the Tenor’s experiences (see it here). Both films were shown as part of a series of gala events to raise money for the work of the Bulembu Foundation. It was a great success, with almost one million dollars raised over a single weekend.
Through my involvement in Bulembu I’ve gained many lifelong friends, and become part of a significant effort to transform this struggling nation. It has been a great privilege.
Many thanks to those involved. Post-production on the videos was by Jon at EXE Productions. Cinematography was by the talented Jonny Beecher. Special thanks to Kelly Walker for producing both trips and to the team at the Bulembu Foundation for their transformative work.
To mark the launch of the Voices for Bulembu campaign, Craig, Jesse and I put together this trailer. It was made with footage from my trip to Bulembu, Swaziland with the Canadian Tenors in August. Click the pic above to view the trailer in web-size (or download from the links below) then go check out their site.
That’s how long it took to pack my bags & camera carry-on.
Incidentally, it took 23 minutes because that’s all I had before the taxi arrived.
A string of nights with 3 hours sleep then attempting an all nighter don’t lead to efficient work. Around 4AM I found myself nodding uncontrollably, so I settled in for a short “nap”.
But… I’ve done this a few times now. I only managed to forget a few Clif bars and my book to read. Everything else came out in a flurry, and habit landed most of what I need in my bags in a few minutes.
And with that we’re off to Bulembu. The equipment left yesterday with my DP, Jonny – 9 cases plus a carnet. So I’m travelling nice & light, just a carry-on and a backpack for clothes. It’s three days of transit to Bulembu… I hope to update with some pictures or video once we’re settled on the ground.
Bulembu went from a sleepy hollow of Swazi homesteads to a major mining operation – producing one-third of Swaziland’s GDP – to a near-ghost town in the space of several decades. Now it’s in the midst of another transformation. To tell the story, I’ve put together a photo essay from my recent assignment: “The Bulembu Story” (There are a few dozen photos, so it may take a minute or two to load).
My recent assignment in Swaziland was a 2009 calendar on Bulembu. The concept was to photograph people involved in transformation, telling their story in a single frame. I approached this primarily through wide-angle portraits of the characters in context, attempting to include hints of past, present, and future as much as possible. I made extensive use of my new lighting rig to control tone and contrast.
I took this photo a few nights ago, waiting for dinner out on the lodge porch. The clouds were billowing over a nearby hillside. When the crescent moon began to peek over the horizon, I grabbed my camera, tripod and telephoto and snapped this long exposure. I’ve created it as a wallpaper for you to enjoy (right-click to save): Bulembu Moonrise Wallpaper
7 days, 4000 photos, 8 more flights and many interesting stories later, I’m headed back to Vancouver. I think I’d call the trip to Bulembu, Swaziland a photographic success. I feel like I was able to get to know the story and the people, and capture them well.
The photographs are destined primarily for a calendar, which is a unique challenge. I was trying to capture multiple layers in each shot: the images need to be beautiful and truthful, and they need to be something people will hang on their wall. Bulembu is a broken community in the midst of redefining itself. There is extensive history as well as big ambitions for the future, with a lot of problems to overcome. The challenge is for each image to tell all that while being something you can look at for a month.
I’ve posted a wallpaper of one shot that I like. I’ve also got two galleries ready to go… at the moment I’m in Nairobi, where the bandwidth is minimal. I’ll upload them when I’m back in Vancouver.
Just two more long flights, and then a little R&R before diving into the todos that have been piling up for six weeks…
Just a few minutes to make a quick post… Kelly and I have arrived safely into Bulembu. I’ve been busy shooting since then… we’re now about to begin photography day 3. This place presents some unique photographic challenges – the usual transport and scheduling issues, the spread out nature of the town, and the high grade of image required for a calendar.
I’ll post more as I can, and perhaps a gallery of images shot so far. (Internet is faster here, but only available during the day when I’m working.) For now here’s a photo from the night we arrived.