My (late) Sunday Interview with…Sarah Neuenhaus

by Rebecca J Gerken

Sarah is a close friend and an influential peer of mine. In the last couple of months, she has been preparing and getting very excited about her imminent trip to The Gambia so I thought I would interview her about whether she intends to take her camera with her…

RG: What would you say is your current field of photography?

SN: I like photographing people but I don’t think I’m very good at it so at the moment I enjoy just taking photographs that people would hang on their walls. Sunsets, flowers and things I could sell as prints.

RG: You’re planning to visit The Gambia soon, after already spending a little over a week there in 2008. What lead you to want to go again?

SN: The people and last time we went we took money to build part of their school so I really want to go back and see what that looks like, the result of fund raising the money for them and to see what’s changed, if anything has changed, to see if the people’s lives have been made better by it and if there’s anything more we can do.

RG: Are you fund raising at all this time?

SN: I’m just fund raising for me to be out there this time, towards flights and the hotel for instance, but I’ve been asked by other people I’m going with to leave space in my suitcase for things like pencils, musical instruments so I guess they’re fund raising for, or donating things like that.

RG: That sounds like a good idea. How have you been raising the money?

SN: I have been giving people Smarties and asking them to fill up the tubes with small change, I’ve been saving my tips from work, I held a tea and cake sale for the ladies at church which went well and in a couple of weeks, I am hosting a Gambian evening where I am going to cook Gambian food and we’ll sit on the floor, eat with our hands and learn about Gambian life.

RG: How will you be involving photography and your creativity in your trip?

SN: I am taking my camera and I am going to buy a video camera to have with me too. Hopefully, I’ll be producing a promo video for the established group I’m going with to have on their website to encourage more people to go on future trips. I’m not sure if I will exhibit the images or put them out there at all, maybe just as still images in the film, but I will definitely be concentrating on sharing the film.

RG: Do you have a personal ultimate aim for travelling out there? Something you intend to see or bring back with you?

SN: Well, I hope I can make a difference to just one person at least. I would eventually like to become a sponsor, to make a difference to a child’s life, to go back and visit them to see how I am helping them have a better life but that depends on money and when I would be in a situation to do this.

RG: On a different note, who or what are you interested in and influenced by at the moment?

SN: Photographically? I don’t know if they inspire my work, but I like looking at the work of wedding videographer Joseph Young. His work is just phenomenal and beautiful, really emotional to watch. I suppose it doesn’t inform my work at all at the moment but it’s something that could have an impact on my future work. I guess if I’m going to make a film after Gambia, it’s someone to look at and it may have a surprising effect.

RG: My topical question for you was difficult to find. I wanted to ask you something about Gambia so had to do a little bit of research myself. So…What is your opinion on the controversial national Media Commission Act amended in 2003 by the Gambian Parliament that regulates the operations of journalists?

SN: Well, I don’t agree with it because..erm..I don’t want to offend anyone *we titter nervously, both hoping we actually understand the Act and haven’t got the wrong end of the stick and subsequently don’t embarrassingly offend anyone. We apologize in advance, just in case*…erm…because I think it’s biased. They obviously don’t want somebody to find something out, in my opinion, otherwise why would you not allow anyone to publish something in their own words?

So, the only news reports or journalists views they have come from the government, the state, but that’s very biased because if you ever wanted to say anything about the country or take photos out there or publish media, you can’t. It hasn’t come from state, and it’s difficult for people to have their own opinion. But doesn’t that just mean that the whole country is held under one opinion? Are they ever allowed to have their own opinions, to disagree? I think that’s what I worry about; the people who do disagree, and what could happen to them.

RG: Did you notice anything before relating to this when you were there?

SN: Not really, although when we went to the capital, we drove past what I think I remember to be the presidential palace and there was a long line of women in colourful clothing, there must have been about a hundred of them, and naturally, we took photos from the taxi as it was eye-catching. They seemed to get angry, a couple started after the taxi, shouting at the driver and walking towards us as if they didn’t want their pictures taken. We were thinking, “Why are they so annoyed that we’re taking their photo? It’s a free country.” But looking back maybe this was because, in essence it isn’t a liberally free country, they agreed with the state or the opposite and were protesting or something and didn’t want to be recognised.

We’ve been told this time that when we go to the embassy we can’t have our cameras in our bags, let alone out and in use, as they’ve had problems in the past which is going to be difficult seeing as I want to be filming and photographing…so, we’ll see. *laughs*

RG: It does seem to be quite a hot topic. Is there any way we can keep up to date with the progress of your trip?

SN: Yes I have a blog!

RG: Great! I will be checking that out later, for sure. I can’t wait to catch up with you after your trip to see how it all went and I hope you have a very rewarding experience while you’re there.

You can follow what Sarah is getting up to in preparation for her trip and how it all pans out at http://sarahneuenhausgambia.blogspot.co.uk/

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