Wenn die Karawane weiterzieht
Der kleine Ort Tichitt am Fuße des Tagant-Plateaus im östlichen Mauretanien erinnert an eine Geisterstadt. Wo zwischen dem elften und neunzehnten Jahrhundert ein lebendiger Handel mit Gold, Salz und Stoffen florierte, finden sich heute verwitterte Steinhäuser. Vermutlich aufgrund der extremen Trockenheit wurde das Gebiet um 500 v. Chr. aufgegeben. An den ehemaligen Status Tichitts, eine bedeutende Station auf der trans-saharischen Karawanenroute zu sein, erinnert nichts mehr. Obwohl die Oasenstadt ein Krankenhaus sowie eine Grund- und Oberschule hat, zieht aufgrund ihrer isolierten Lage kaum jemand her. Selbst Touristen bleiben aus, da keine geteerte Straße nach Tichitt führt.
Der südafrikanische Fotograf John Wessels, Jahrgang 1987, hat für die Nachrichtenagentur AFP Ende Januar den Weg nach Tichitt auf sich genommen. An seiner Seite befanden sich ein Kollege und ein Archäologe. „Die Erfahrung war fantastisch“, sagt er, „etwas Vergleichbares haben wir noch nie erlebt.“ Einige der eindrucksvollsten Fotografien, die während Wessels’ Besuch entstanden sind, zeigen wir hier.
Unsere Fragen hinsichtlich seiner Motivation für diesen Essay, seiner Ausbildung und des beruflichen Werdegangs beantwortete Wessels wie folgt:
First of all we’d be interested to know what you experienced during your photo journey and what made you pick that particular theme?
The idea of going on a trip through the Sahara came after a colleague and friend of mine based in Bamako, Mali, met the archeologist we travelled with. It was the archeologist that planted the seed for the trip. We were planning on going to Mauritania in any case to do other stories concerning the border security situation with Mali. And so after months of planning we managed to get on the plane.
The experience was fantastic. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, all we knew is that we had to get a house in a small village in central Mauritania and meet the archeologist, hoping he would arrive. From there we followed signs through the desert until we arrived in the town of Tichitt. All three of us working on the story have travelled and lived as correspondence in many different places but had never seen anything like that and to think that the next day we would take camels for five days further into the desert from there was quite daunting. Five days walking through the desert is an amazing thing. Sleeping under the stars and learning about the ground around you.
When and where were you born, where have you been educated and what are stages of your professional career?
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on February 14, 1987. Grew up and did my schooling in Durban, South Africa. I studied and worked as a Survey Engineer for 5 or 6 years through out Africa before taking the step towards photojournalism in 2018. I did a years documentary and photojournalism course in Johannesburg at the Market Photo workshop, from there I did a months internship with Agency France Press Johannesburg office and started to freelance for AFP and other medias in Southern Africa. After around two years I got the opportunity to head to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was based there for two and a half years covering the DRC for AFP and working for NGO's, the UN and other mostly french media. Around nine months ago I decided to move from Kinshasa, DRC, it was getting a little tiering the context of the work there. I am now based on Dakar, Senegal, coverning West Africa for AFP and other media.
What is your standard camera equipment? Is there any special or favorite gear?
My standard equipment is a Canon mark4 with a 35mm lens but my favourite camera is my phone camera. Easy to use, very quick and you never know how the image will come out.
How do you process / edit your images? What particular darkroom technique, software or apps do you utilize?
Processing images is one of my favourite things to do, my image managing software is Photo Mechanic, it is a lifesaver that software, from there I do some global edits in Lightroom and if needed I finish off some specific localized lights and darks in Photoshop. The time I take on the edit depends on the job at hand. If I have to send ASAP etc I have a preset that I put on all the images I import into lightroom and it speeds things up nicely. If there isn´t much of a deadline I will take as much time as possible with each image.
Do you have photographic role models?
There are truly many photographers whose work I admire, but if I´m looking for inspiration I will often look at Lorenzo Meloni's work or the work of Paolo Pellegrin.
Is there a portfolio or photobook that inspired you?
One of my favourite books is by Guy Tillim's Departures.