Award-winning photographer Gilles Nicolet has been working almost exclusively in Africa for the past 35 years, spending a great deal of time in Somalia, Tanzania and West Africa. Completely self-taught, his work has graced the pages of major magazines around the world, including Smithsonian, National Geographic, GEO and Paris-Match. GivePhotos, with the help of Fujifilm provided him with an Instax wide camera and film to share his photography. Gilles chose to travel to the Neema Crafts Centre in Iringa, Tanzania which was founded in 2003 by the Diocese of Ruaha to provide training and job opportunities for people with disabilities. Disabled people are often stigmatized and overlooked in Tanzanian society, and Gilles felt it important to give back to this community. You can learn more about Neema Crafts by visiting their website. You can follow Gilles on Instagram @gillesnicolet or learn more about his incredible photography here.
Joseph went to a school for the deaf. He started making paper from elephant dung in a workshop at Neema Crafts in Tanzania. As one of its oldest members, he now teaches other differently abled people to do the same. Neema Crafts has helped him acquire and build a disability friendly home. His special sign name was once a gesture which meant “hunchback”. His new sign-name translates as “strength”. (Photo and text by Gilles Nicolet)
You are a professional photographer, was your experience of giving photos different from your experience as a professional photographer? What motivated you to do it?
As a professional photojournalist, I was always running from moment to moment, so that the perfect combination of light, event and essence wouldn’t escape me. To use an Instant Camera is a different photographic experience. I was not taking pictures of events, rather of people. It allowed me to talk to the subjects, ask them where they wanted to be photographed, why and gave me a little insight into who they were.
My motivation was the slower pace of the GivePhotos project, having the chance to chat with my subjects and reflect on choices – place, subject, person.
Shukuru (32) and Godfrey (30) work as waiters at Neema crafts. They are thick friends who are both mute and deaf. They each met their wives at Neema. They have been to special schools and have participated in several crafts manufacturing sessions before serving customers at the Neema Crafts coffee shop. They decided to put the Instax photo on the kitchen wall where they work. (Photo and text by Gilles Nicolet)
Can you share some memorable stories with us of your experience giving photos?
A group of school girls were walking by when I was photographing someone in Southern Tanzania. They were amazed at how “instantly”these pictures were produced. It gave rise to giggles and whispers. I approached them and asked if they would like a group photo —- an opportunity they quickly embraced. I’m not sure who will keep the picture but they now have a memory to cherish from the day when they saw this weird machine produce instant photos!
Lillian and her friends look at the photo. (Photo by Gilles Nicolet)
What photography equipment do you usually use?
In the days of film, I used a Nikon F5 with a combination of lenses. It was easily one of the best cameras ever made. Today, my photography is less cumbersome and I use a Sony A7Rii with a 35mm and a 85mm. It has an amazing captor, making a world of a difference in the digital renditions. I shoot only black and white now and the Sony allows me to get pretty close to film.
Mariam Mgimwa is a shopkeeper and cashier at Neema Crafts, in the town of Iringa in Southern Tanzania. She used to work at a stationery store where her salary depended on the state of business, which meant she always lived in uncertainty. Now, at Neema Crafts, not only has she found a deserving salary, but a new and inspiring work ethic is helping Mariam discover new skills and talents. (Photo and text by Gilles Nicolet)
Do you have any suggestions for people who would like to give photos?
Know the stories, talk to your subject, let them tell you where they want to be photographed. If the moment touches them, not only will they keep the picture; they will have a memory, a story to behold for along time.
Sererti Sinyagwa is 30 years old. She was born in a Maasai family and lost her legs in a fire at the tender age of two weeks. Her parents never told her what really happened that day. She received a wheelchair at the age of 9, from the Salvation Army. She completed her education and is today an accountant for Neema Crafts, an organisation making laudable efforts and changes to assist people with disabilities in Southern Tanzania. (Photo and text by Gilles Nicolet)