An African Village
FROM THIS MONTH’S EDITOR
Writing these few introductory notes is always the last part of the process of putting together a magazine. You might think I would be struggling to find something to add when I have already filled the whole issue with a report on my return to a village I first visited ten years ago. You would be wrong.
Doubtless that is partly because I like the sound of my own written voice too much. But it is also because there is so much you have to leave out of any report. There is, for example, the feel of being in this particular place, the scenes and sounds that colour every day. Scene one might be the hut in which I lived, more spacious than the normal village bedroom because it was built by a local woman who has made good in the capital. Scene two contains a wide and wonderful night sky such as we rarely encounter in a rich world blinded by neon: I saw behind the normal constellations dim multitudes of stars that I had never even suspected were there. The third scene is an aural one, full of the sounds of night: the extraordinarily anguished braying of donkeys in the small hours, the haunting call to prayer of a teenage girl, and the clicking of the colony of geckos nesting in the thatch above my head.
All but a few of the scenes of village life captured on camera in this issue were the work of an old friend of the NI, French photographer Claude Sauvageot. Normally we are able to illustrate our themes by choosing the most appropriate and striking images from photo libraries. But that was never going to be possible in an issue focused on a particular community far off the beaten track – and I would have found it impossible to do justice to the villagers in pictures as well as words. So I arranged for Claude to join me for the last few days of my stay (the photo on the bottom left of the page shows him taking the picture on Page 25).
It was a return to the village for Claude too since he co-directed the film we made there ten years ago. He has been a journalist – including war correspondence from Vietnam and the Congo – a photographer and filmmaker throughout four decades. And in the few idle moments I listened with relish to stories from the fascinating life of a true internationalist. He told me how he became a photographer. He was one of the first journalists into Nepal before it opened up to the world; on the way out overland he happened upon a terrible cholera epidemic in India and took a photo which was reproduced everywhere, striking a chord of sympathy all over the world. He said he realized then that a single photograph had got through to people in a way that a thousand of his articles could not have done.
This magazine has benefited from his photography consistently over the last two decades and probably our most memorable front-cover portraits have emerged from his camera. He has a rare ability to capture on film a moment, an expression, an individual gaze which has the ring of truth – rather than the feel of an image stolen from its subject. I can think of no photographer who could come closer to representing the ‘Heart and Soul’ of this issue’s title.
for the New Internationalist Co-operative