Walking through the streets of Dakar, one may get a sense of where the city is heading and what it is missing from the cacophony of cranes and bulldozers as well as the profusion of concrete and pipelines. The environment is somewhat disorderly but not quite chaotic. However, there is a calm disorder present.
As a result of its recent growth and development, the capital city of Senegal, Dakar, has become a major hub for fashion in sub-Saharan Africa. The three-day Dakar Fashion Week took place in December, only a few days before Chanel hosted her Métiers d’Art show in the city. The event was a presentation of collections from twenty different designers.
It is not as simple in Dakar as it is in New York or Paris to take candid photographs of trendy individuals going about their day, despite the fact that Dakar’s status as a fashionable destination has increased in recent years.
Although the Senegalese are recognised for their warmth and kindness, which I found to be present in almost every person I encountered on my trip to Dakar a month ago, their relationship with Western photographers is, at best, restrained.
On most mornings, we began walking before daybreak and continued until sunset, stopping only to eat in the middle of the hottest part of the day. I used film, which provided another difficulty: there was a limit to the amount of pictures I could take, so I had to make some tough choices about whether or not to click the shutter button on my Leica M4.
I wandered the beaches of Ngor, which is located along Dakar’s northern coast, and the streets of Plataeu, which is the city’s lively centre, taking photographs of people of all ages dressed in attire that varied from traditional to eclectic. A sophisticated student from out of town who was to Cheikh Anta Diop University to see some buddies. An artist taking a walk in the morning toward Plage de Virage, which is another another beach. A lady sitting at the bus stop waiting area. A guy may be seen standing on the corner of a street with his pastel striped shirt merging in with the fading hues of the buildings that surround him.
An evening at Yoff Beach, during which I watched young guys play soccer barefoot as the sun sank over the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the most cherished memories I have of my life. There wasn’t just one game going on, but rather dozens of them all at the same time. The guys who were playing, who I counted to be over one hundred, wore jerseys representing various soccer clubs from across the globe, creating a brilliant mosaic that could be seen stretching as far as the eye could reach.
After I got back to New York and looked at my images from Dakar, I couldn’t shake the critical impression that I got from those pictures. I really ought to have brought more film with me.