NEW HOPE DANCE PROJECT UGANDA
This journey began back in October 2018 at home in Plymouth, sitting on exactly the same chair where you find me writing this story. A WhatsApp exchange with my Ugandan friend and facilitator in Kampala, George, positively spiraled into a world of ideas, connections, opportunities and new relationships.
Fast forwarding to January in Africa...
The idea we were bringing to life was to meet and spend time with a community dance project based in Acholi Quarters, a slum area on the edge Kampala. Using my passion for photography and video to document their passion for community and dance we hoped to create something special together.
The New Hope Dance Project was started in 2016 by a small group of passionate boys from the slum who had already been dancing for many years but decided to create an open project to all the people as a way to make a positive impact and inspire the community.
**swipe for more images
After a 20 minute ride through Kampala, we arrived at one of many entrances to the slum, a long straight, but very uneven dirt path made its way into the distance before us as we walked through the daily life of the people who lived here. George led us along the train line which cut right through the slums towards our destination, greeting people as we moved I was not surprised to be met by the smiles of beautiful people.
Soon enough some children led Adam, David, George and I to the project and our first-hand shakes with Ambrose, Morris and the rest of the crew. We shared some time talking about the work they do and both our ideas for photography and filming, it was obvious that our visit this day would not cover the ideas we shared, but I was excited to get to it.
Every evening around 5 pm they crew head down to the large concrete court, as the hot African sun slowly descends from the sky, a huge old billboard matt is laid on the ground and a long yellow extension cord is plugged into someones home to power up the single large and very loud speaker with some street beats and then the concrete comes to life.
The slum is not a safe place for children to grow up, many children get lost, this is another term for kidnapped, they just simply disappear sometimes. With no school and so much spare time, they can mix in the wrong groups and find themselves getting into trouble, stealing to make a little money for their family rather than just being children. Fitness and health issues also have a huge impact on the youngsters leading to worsening conditions as they grow up.
** watch and listen to Ambrose explaining a little more about the project.
The project provides a safe place for the children to come together each evening, with dance and music at the heart of the sessions the project offers the children a routine and focus they may otherwise not find. A social atmosphere for building relationships, encouraging and supporting others with the side effect of getting their bodies moving with positive energy is inspiring to be around.
I found myself searching out some interesting angles, the light was beautiful, warm but not around for as long as I’d have liked, using it to my advantage I focused in on a few children that were really enjoying the session led by the boys. Laying on my tummy gave me the best shots of the dancing and also a bunch of smaller children clambering on top to see what I was doing!
Switching between stills and video, I also used my iPhone to film a few short interviews with the boys and throughout David filmed behind the scenes action.
The evening session came to a close when the light faded, we said our goodbyes and Ambrose guided us out of the slum, along the way we discussed some further ideas and set a plan for me to return on my second to last day in 3 weeks time. We hopped into a packed out matatu public taxi and made our way back to Kampala.
**Enjoy this short Video of the evening sessions held at New Hope.
3 weeks of African adventures had passed and I find myself walking a more familiar road through Acholi quarters, this time heading towards friends. Today was about getting into the community, capturing a raw freestyle dance story on the move.
I wanted to create images of the crew showcasing the best they could throw down in the dirt. We settled on a location right in the middle of a busy roadway surrounded by small wooden shack shops, a crowd began to gather as we worked out where the crew would dance then David and I could figure out our camera position. Passing a smaller camera to members of the crew to record behind the scenes video, this shoot would be more focused on stills and Davids main role would be the lighting.
With no power for the big speaker, the crew worked with a small battery powered one, it wasn’t long before they were kicking up dust and getting underway. A 'cypher', is when a crowd creates a circle and individuals enter the middle and begin to dance, no set rules just freestyle breakdance expression. This wasn’t your typical cypher as motorcycles and people still needed to pass through along the road, but you get the idea.
On location I use one light, a Profoto B2, this is both portable and powerful, In this scenario, it was used to add a touch of light to the dancers yet maintain a balance with the ambient light, basically, I didn’t want to overly flood the scene with flash creating an unrealistic image. This is actually quite tricky when such a balance is required as it is not that obvious on the screen of the camera. David was hand holding the flash fitted with the Profoto medium silver umbrella deep, the flash would fire into the umbrella and bounce back onto the subject so it wasn’t so direct and harsh but still gave a crisp light that covered the area the dancer would perform.
Once this was all set up I moved around to create the most dynamic shots I could find in the moment, the atmosphere was great, music, dance and plenty of support along with a healthy amount of confusion from some of the crowd. Dance moves came thick and fast, no sooner had Agabayaya thrown a backflip to huge support then Morris is balancing on his head, I was crouching down and David would have the light right in behind me in the direction of the dancers, this worked well and we could move fast, so important when capturing such a physical demanding sport, there's a limitation to the amount of times someone can and indeed wants to balance on their head in the dirt so best to get it the first time.
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The dancers would keep cyphering, I was now switching between stills and video, although the crew was also videoing I knew how important more considered shots would be to the final outcomes, when I wanted to switch back to stills I’d simply give David the nod, reconnect my flash trigger and away we went. David and I have worked for a number of trips and hundreds of shoots together, he is essential to creating a lot of my location shots, as I can move freely as he works the light.
Soon it was time to give the road back to the community, The crew shouldered the bags so I had no worries about the safety of the kit, we had become a team on a mission, in the flow with the same goal, I really had found an amazing group to work alongside and I was grateful to be so welcome into their world.
** Enjoy behind the scenes video with real-time audio shot by many hands.
As we moved I was keen to explore some of the small avenues between the homes, these would create great angles, depth and framing options for dynamic poses. Tucking David inside the shots, he would be able to aim and bounce the flash off the buildings to create the light I wanted. Agabayaya cut loose with some strength and flexibility as he negotiated a staircase upside down and backward, and Ambrose took a trip to ‘Sun City’.
Yes, We did briefly take over another road, this time shooting with a long lens the crew performed some ‘Freezes’ using more flash I loved the colours in the image at the top of this section, the wider shot tells a better story, and David also makes an appearance.
Next, the crew took us towards a stone quarry, a pivotal location in their journey, as all of them used to work here crushing stones with hammers before they set up their project and found hope and passion in dance.
The light was fading, so I quickly figured out a plan and shared it with David and the Crew, Individual portraits and then a group portrait.
Nicholas - Ambrose + Promise - AgabaYaYa - Morris - Ibrahim - Ambrose
My vision was a large, long group image, against the graffiti black wall of the playground. The evening had come in a little more than I’d have liked so balancing the light was not really an option. Again I shot an empty scene panorama of the width of the playground, perhaps around 15 shots. I did this as an ambient only image and also David walked along and used the flash for the second panorama to give me options.
The crew had gathered as many people as we could fit across the width of the image and the one instruction was looking into the darkness towards the camera and look cool. I manually focused to get my distance and then David walked the line, we lit and shot each person individually, 24 images later that was a wrap!
Ambrose - Agabayaya - Ambrose - Morris
I'm excited to continue working with the New Hope Dance Project both remotely and when I return to Uganda, should anyone wish to support the project please get in touch with me and I'd be happy to talk further with you.
FOLLOW NHDPU ON SOCIAL MEDIA - @NEWHOPEDANCEPROJECT
** Enjoy the New Hope Dance Project Film.