Feit’s photographs of Darfur, Togo, Senegal, and Ivory Coast were exhibited during January at the Kingston Museum of Contemporary Arts (KMoCA), 105 Abeel St., Kingston.Portfolio: www.feitphoto.com.
On the other hand, I truly enjoy making pictures and it is something I take very seriously. So knowing how seriously to take the work has been a challenge too, as well as being self-taught. It took me a long time to realize—this is serious, what I am doing is important and I need to treat it that way in order to do my best work.
The best thing about photography is that it is usually accessible. Most people have the language to talk about it.
A shortsighted view of Africa
The conflict in Darfur is a good example, unfortunately, of many conflicts in Africa. It started as one thing—Arabs with the supposed support of the Sudanese government attacking black African tribes. Which in itself is in many ways very clear—one group of people as aggressors, the other as victims. Through the years it has gotten more complex and many of the groups who were fighting for independence or were working to protect themselves have now been fighting amongst themselves. I think that in talking with people about Africa and specifically about Darfur, it is very easy for people to sort of brush off the situation and say, “Oh, it’s tribal,” as if that gives some more information about what is actually happening. In some ways I think that is a very shortsighted way to look at problems in Africa—blowing them off by chalking everything up to these longstanding feuds. Yes, there are those, but like any situation in the world it requires some more effort to actually understand the conflict. What these people are fighting over is a more complicated story, and it often changes.
Following events in Darfur, but also around the continent in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic—there is so much that needs to be done in all of these situations. There has been so much “never again” talk after Rwanda, and I think people mean that when they say it. However, there are so many problems beyond Darfur which get even less attention—like malaria. Not very sexy, but it is the number one killer of children in Africa. This is something that is highly treatable as well as being very preventable (with a $7 bed net). The current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sierra Leone—how are those places going to ever recover from long drawn-out conflicts? These are all issues that I think we have an obligation to pay attention to.
What is safe?
The toxic waste dumping story is a good example of going into a situation that is so completely shocking and infuriating. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we went there—the first place we went was a trash dump where a lot of the waste had been dumped but was also a place where a lot of people went to make their living off of collecting things like aluminum and plastic bags and selling them to middlemen who melt them down and make various things and resell them. So there was a huge dump with men in white suits cleaning on one side, and a few hundred meters away, people foraging in the dump. It was very surreal, because in a sense it is like a lot of things that you see here in West Africa—where there are people in a dangerous situation, but they are so focused on the immediate need to subsist that they can’t really make a judgment about what is “safe” or not.
A human face
Keeping out of the story
I think to a certain degree photojournalism can be used as an activism tool. But I think that as a photojournalist working in the mainstream press, I don’t see myself as an activist—rather someone trying to use images to tell a story. My effort is to keep myself out of that story, though it is another challenge.