The sands and the sacred texts

It’s deeply saddening to discover that in Mali, militants seem to have systematically destroyed much of West Africa’s Islamic heritage by ransacking and torching the libraries that hold priceless Korans and Hadiths.

Some years ago I made a story in nearby Mauritania about the wind destroying the desert cities of Chinguetti and Oudane, both significant repositories of similar ancient manuscripts. I wrote:

“Once upon a time, the Wind grew jealous of the prosperous cities and resolved to bury them beneath the sands so that the only traces were old men and dusty books. So it was that the wind crashed against the purple stone mass of the Adrar, the mountain range that crosses Mauritania in West Africa. It blew until the rocks were carved into sculptures of fearful complexity. It blew until the dunes advanced and Chinguetti and Ouadane, two once mighty cities of scholars and traders of the Sahara, began to choke under the ocean of sand. Today they are almost gone…”


Mauritania - Chinguetti - A librarian reads a traditional Koran outside the Chinguetti Mosque
Mauritania – Chinguetti – A librarian reads an ancient Koran outside the Chinguetti Mosque


Mauritania - Chinguetti -
Mauritania – Chinguetti – Ancient books, Korans and lahs inside a traditional library


Mauritania - Chinguetti - A man hold a wooden lah covered in Koranic inscriptions
Mauritania – Chinguetti – A man hold a wooden lah covered in Koranic inscriptions


Mauritania - Chinguetti - A pile of priceless manuscripts in a desert library
Mauritania – Chinguetti – A pile of priceless manuscripts in a desert library


Mauritania - Chinguetti - A priceless Koran
Mauritania – Chinguetti – A priceless Koran



Tearsheet – Laverbread – eating seaweed


Here is a recent tearsheet from the wonderful Effilee Magazine for whom I  wrote and photographed a really interesting story about seaweeds – an important and potentially significant food source across the world. I focused on the Welsh tradition of Laverbread and had the most wonderful time experiencing Welsh hospitality and a delicious new food.

I’ll be posting (as usual) the 5000 word text on my website in due course.















The Art of Getting By – an exhibition


I’m delighted to announce that my exhibition – The Art of Getting By – will open the 8th Jersey Amnesty International Human Rights Festival where I’ll be doing some teaching and workshops.


India – Delhi – A mentally ill man kisses his wife who visits him in the secure ward at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences


The French, as always have a word for it. Débrouillardise. The art of getting by – resourcefulness – surviving and laughing. I heard it first in French Africa in the ‘90s and I realised that I have been trying over the last two decades (even before I really knew the word) to make it a motif in the reportage that I made in even the most difficult circumstances. It is no less than the human condition – why shouldn’t the poor, the maimed, the brutalised somehow steal a smile, fall in love? A determination to live. To be normal. To be just like us.

These images are not romantic – although I hope that some are beautiful – rather they reflect the everyday struggles of common people. They also aren’t meant as rosy depictions of poverty from an outsider and they aren’t meant to patronise. I have worked consistently in the Developing World for most of my career and that was a choice made from the low horizons of my own childhood and the desire to escape the grey landscape of a Hackney past.

I consciously sought difference but found similarity and common ground.

These images are taken from stories from many countries. They show people touched by war and poverty living as best they can. They are small stories from larger narratives and by and large show small lives but they are no less important for that.

For me, this is a kind of retrospective: photographs of what I have tried to see – sometimes forced myself to see – to remember that the world is not dark, dangerous and other, but that it is beautiful and full of life.

You just have to know where to look.


My enormous thanks to Stuart Smith for curating and Metro for printing