Renowned Danish photo space, Gallery Image, currently features the work of Danish-Mozambican photographer Ditte Haarløv Johnsen, Maputo Diary. The series is based on personal stories, relations and experiences Ditte had as a child, teenager and later grown woman in Mozambique during times of war, conflicts and transitions.
Ditte grew up in Maputo and moved back to Denmark to attend high school. That was when the rootlessness ticked in. Torn between her Danish roots and Mozambican upbringing and life, Ditte constantly fought to bridge the gap between the two worlds she considered home. An identity crisis, that in many ways laid the foundation for her future photography career and the Maputo Diary.
Maputo Diary has developed throughout the last ten years, on visits back to the family that stayed behind.
A personal Diary
People write diaries to remember, to get thoughts down on paper, preserve the ups and downs of life, to write a personal story. The Maputo Diaries are timelapses of Ditte’s Maputo life, and each page contains the stories of people close to her; family and friends. Some of the portrayed people live at the edge of Mozambican society, like the Sisters, a group of stigmatized homosexual men. The viewer is dragged into the reality of each subject as they pose in their own environments that bare deep traces of identity. Common for each page of Ditte’s diary is that it reflect a sensitivity and sympathy for every story, subject and life it contains; an understanding and deep engagement with Mozambique and its people. Maputo Diaries is Ditte’s personal story as well as the story of a country and it’s people, their ups and downs, trials and tribulations.
We asked Ditte a few questions about how the Maputo Diaries came about and got her reflections on how the country has changed during the years. Read her accounts below.
Part of the Maputo Diaries depict groups of people on the margin of Mozambican society. How did you get access and to these marginalized communities and their people, and not the least gain their trust?
It’s about breaking down borders; it’s about not seeing the people as “marginalized” but as human beings. Some of the people portrayed are closer friends than others; a few I barely know; but common to all is that it’s people I respect and admire.
What is the story you wish to tell viewers of Maputo Diaries?
I lived in Maputo from I was five to fifteen. We arrived just after independence. My mom is still there. Rather than conveying a story, I try to convey a feeling; my feeling; of belonging and yet always being on the margin. It’s about innermost hopes, longings, dreams; and fears. It’s about being close to death and yet so alive. It’s about not giving up and being free.
There is a certain raw aesthetic in your photographs that resemble that of trash realism. Was this a conscious take on the project from your side?
The project has evolved over the last ten years. I’ve changed my way of seeing and photographing over time. However it’s always been about the “meeting” and less about the aesthetics. When I photograph I work intuitively. Thinking comes after.
Maputo Diaries stretches over a period of ten years where you travelled back and forth. How has the city changed over time, and what effect did it have on the subjects in your series?
Everything has changed and nothing will ever be the same. So many friends have died. Some have left. My mother is leaving. Corruption is going deeper and deeper, a few are getting rich and most are getting poor; like; really poor. Reality is brutal and so much deeper and more crazy than a few pictures can convey. And yet the beauty of it all is the strength and will of the human being to survive. When death is around the corner, the light of life becomes so much sharper.
Your photographs have been on display in Maputo in 2003, how was it received?
In 2003 I showed the series “Sisters” at the Photographers Gallery. The series is about a group young gay men; some of the pictures became part of Maputo Diary. The responses were many and extreme in either direction. I still have the guest book from the exhibition. One day I’ll publish it. Four years ago when I was back in Maputo, I met the director of the newly established LGBT organization; Lambda. He said “Ditte; it was you that started it all.” It still gives me goose bumps to think of those words.
Ditte Haarløv Johnsen (f.1977) lives and works in Copenhagen. She studied photography in Mozambique, Denmark and Canada and later graduated as a documentary film director (2007). Her films and photographs evolves around themes of identity, life on the edge of society and the fight to exist. She has received numerous prizes for her work, and her works has been on display worldwide – from Syria to Canada, from Finland to Johannesburg. Last year Ditte was invited to participate at the prestigious exhibition ARS 11 at KIASMA, Helsinki.
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