Photographer Linda Bertazza discovered a collection of African photographs which were made particularly beautiful by the sun’s rays. The beginning of a true adventure.
Two years ago, I found myself in Bordeaux, where I was visiting a friend. One Sunday afternoon, while walking through a flea market, I found three plastic albums, the same I used when I was a child, containing photos literally dissolved by the sun. I fell in love with them right away, even though I didn’t know where they came from. A few weeks later, I came back to Bordeaux with a scanner in my suitcase in order to crystallize an exact moment in their transformation process.
These photos belonged to Mbaye – though he prefers to be called Ali – with whom I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time. Ali sells African objects Place Saint-Michel and has lived in France for sixteen years. He worked for eight years as a mason. “I worked in construction for eight years,” he repeated to me like a mantra. However, today, his is one of the biggest stands, and he is very proud of it.
Ali uses these damaged albums as a catalogue for his objects, which is why they are not for sale. All the photographs were taken in the 1990s at Marché Kermel in Dakar, Senegal, where he worked before moving to France. All the photos were taken by a young French girl who later became his wife, simply wanting to preserve a moment. The language is void of all pretense. All that is left is the function: having a memory. These photos fulfill different roles. For Ali, they represent a catalogue, but also a family album and an album of small, personal archives for those, like me, who find themselves leafing through them for the first time.
A few months later, I began to ask myself about the origins of these images. For me, these photos represented an invitation to come in, to explore a distant yet familiar world. Out of curiosity, I began to look for Marché Kermel on Google Street View. The single building in Ali’s photos were my point of reference. It wasn’t difficult to find, but there was no trace of a stand. While virtually walking through the streets of Dakar, an idea became more and more clear, and what seemed only like fantasy in the beginning soon became reality.
I bought a ticket to Dakar, where I would spend one and a half months, but, before I left, I returned to Bordeaux to tell Ali. He was surprised, but happy nonetheless. His daughter Kenza taught me a few phrases in Wolof, the most spoken language in Senegal, and Ali gave me the address of his Senegalese family so that I could meet them.
These trips between Italy, France, and Senegal allowed me to become closer to Ali,of his reality, his family, to appreciate these flashes of color that had fascinated me from the first instant, even though many aspects of his life still remained a mystery to me. For me, these photos represented an invitation to come in, to cross the threshold of worlds far away from my daily life, in order to perceive the strength of the family ties, the fragility of the inexorable passage of time, and the subtle delicacy of the randomness of events.
Linda Bertazza is a photographer, an artistic director, and a professor. She lives in Bologna, Italy.