HOW ONE MAN’S PIECE OF PARADISE IS ANOTHER MAN’S PEACE IN PARADISE
Zanzibar. If you look at a photograph of the Tanzanian archipelago, you can easily fall in love with the crystal clear turquoise waters, the white powdered beaches, and the lush green palm trees lining the sand. Some would say it’s idyllic, picturesque – an unspoilt piece of paradise – which explains why it is fast becoming Tanzania’s leading tourist destination, with over 100 000 foreigners visiting every year as of 2005 – that number now doubled in the span of twelve years.
But if you look beyond the crystalline coastlines, you’ll find some of the reasons why out of the hundreds of thousands that visit, some choose to stay.
Or in the case of Rahim, choose to come back.
Self-taught photographer, Rahim Saggaf, has been living in Zanzibar for almost eleven years now. Raised in Kenya, he found the pole pole (Swahili for slow) lifestyle and ease emanated from the island to be the stillness that he needed. “The thing is that Nairobi and Mombasa in kenya – for me – it was something that was not good for my soul. You can feel it sometimes, when you stay in a place and things are fast paced… I don’t mind the fast paced [environment] but the thing is the people are not very in touch with their, let’s say – humanity – like you live in a big city and everyone is in a rush and all that… Ultimately, it’s never about going through life… It’s about growing through life.”
This isn’t to say that Rahim wasn’t necessarily like that before. If you were to meet him today, you wouldn’t recognize the person that he once was. “When I came to Zanzibar the first time, I had the same mentality. I was very aggressive. People couldn’t talk to me. We couldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
But sometimes it takes something drastic to stir a change. “When I had an accident almost four years ago, it put things into perspective. I changed quite a bit. Every time I talk to people I’m more conscious of what I say.”
“It kinda brought things together. I slowed down. I took some time, went to Kenya, recovered, came back here. It’s kind of like shock therapy, sometimes you need something very blunt and abrupt to happen for you to completely change. That was my life. But then you make that drastic change, move to a place and you make it your space. Zanzibar is my home. There is a sense of roots but also there is a sense of – this island has a sense of peace.”
This is undeniable. Today, the semi-autonomous state of Zanzibar is a very peaceful place although it too once shared a darker past. Walk the streets of Zanzibar and you’ll find a mix of African, Arab, Indian, Asian and European people, cultures and influences interspersed and intermingled all over the islands. This is reflected in so many ways – from the more prominent features like the food and architecture, to the music played and sung at the local bars and the languages and colloquialisms spoken and exchanged between people.
Difference and interaction have always played an important part of Rahim’s photography and philosophy. “I’ve been creative since I can remember. I used to sketch, my dad thought it was a waste in time in a way,” he reminisced with a laugh. “I used to sketch all over my school books. But I always had this thing of looking at things differently. Just paying attention to small little details that people don’t look at.”
This attention to detail and different perspective have led to Saggaf being one of the most reputable and remarkable photographers on the island. His work has garnered recognition and praise for the expressions he captures and the stories told in his photographs. Every year, he shoots for some of Zanzibar’s biggest festivals and events, such as the Jahazi Literary & Jazz Festival and Sauti Za Busara. But when it comes down to it, it’s not the commercial events nor the weddings that really define his photography. It’s the people.
“One of my favourite pieces of photography that I’ve done is ‘Seaweed Mamas in Zanzibar.‘ That day I was in an element,” Rahim explained. “Those women, they let me be friends with them. They let me access that. I’m talking to these people, nobody’s posing. They’re just talking to each other, they’re having their normal day, and I’m just there blending into what’s happening.”
An exceptional series of intimate photographs exhibiting the women as heroines going about their daily work and lives.
See for yourself.
For Rahim, they are more than just photographs. “They’re very personal. When I was behind that lens I knew that this was not the same as what I usually do. That’s my real photography.”
In the end, it’s not about rejecting or confirming a master narrative; it is really about sharing his perspective of the world, of his world. “I’m just capturing people, I’m just capturing moments,” he explained. “this woman in the photo. She wasn’t posing. I turned, she was there and something about her eyes was in the right direction, something about her posture… It was a moment of serenity. You are completely disconnected from everything else and you focus on the subject and elements around you.”
“What’s fascinating about people is – unlike cars, mountains and everything else that’s inanimate – we feel. I try to get people’s raw emotions. That’s what happened, that’s the story that was written at that moment.”
“Everybody has a concept of their own, everybody develops things on their own, everybody has got their own style. Even if someone uses a phone, even if someone uses a pinhole camera, your lens and your equipment and your degrees matter nothing. It’s a moment, it happens. You capture it.
Everybody’s a photographer. Everybody. You know why? Because everybody has a pair of eyes, and that’s the best lens you can ever ask for.”
“You see things. I can see the same thing that you see. Then I represent it in a different perspective. We all see the same thing and in that small little moment, we’re all sharing the same sunset. We’re all photographers.”
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS SHOT BY RAHIM SAGGAF
WANT TO SEE MORE FROM RAHIM? YOU CAN CHECK OUT HIS GALLERY OR GET IN TOUCH WITH HIM HERE.
YOU CAN ALSO CHECK OUT HIS PHOTOS FEATURED IN NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC‘S YOUR SHOT HERE.