It was sunny today and my workmen* were making me laugh and laugh and laugh. I was trying to learn the Arabic word for shadow–something that’s incredibly hard to mime/ask. I have to ask for shadow a lot. The desert sun throws features into incredible relief, leaving the bottoms of pits into deep shadow. To photograph these features we have to shade the entire pit, requiring a huddle of bodies with the cameraperson in the middle.
The proximity that a seamless shadow requires makes my workmen incredibly uncomfortable. My workmen are Muslims from Sudan and though I’m a white non-Muslim woman (and therefore supposed to be treated like a man) and we laugh and joke all day, taking the photograph has become a ritual that must be observed. We huddle together in a contorted mass, I frame the shot in close, our shadows coalesce around the small pit, shoot, then we break apart into our individual pieces again.
I was thinking of this as I moved in to take my very first photograph of a hedgehog. It is the first (live) hedgehog that I’ve ever seen, a fact that is astonishing to the English. I think I’ll show the photograph to my workmen tomorrow and learn what hedgehog is in Arabic.
*I call them “my workmen” with a full understanding of the colonialist possessive intonation. A lot of people treat the workmen as interchangeable hands, but I try to teach them as I’d teach students.