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Mirelle Thijsen (MT)

Because it is such a historical subject, the introductions to my questions are more substantial than usual. In that manner I – and the readers – may get to know Mozambique. This all based on your recently self-published book: Looking for M. Looking for M. is a beautiful small book, in an illustrated sleeve, a detachable outer cover that catches the eye. We see a pitch-black silhouette of a black young woman, a schoolgirl from Mozambique, freestanding against a white background. That silhouette is also printed on the cover of the cardboard packaging in which the photobook is shipped. All these aspects are small design matters, which are very pleasing. The moment you pull out the booklet her personal identity shows up on the front cover. That in itself is a striking motion and revelation. On the back cover is printed, what looks like, an emblem of the combative ‘Republica de Moçambique’. What is the relationship between both images on front and back cover?

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Ben Krewinkel (BK)

My initial idea was to use the picture of the schoolgirl for the front cover, but the photograph turned out technically imperfect, blurry. Only later the same picture came out to be quite usable. I adored the picture. While I was shooting pictures, this girl was distracted by a number of other college girls she was gathering with. She seems very quiet, but also a bit tense. That is indicative of how I’ve made these pictures in Mozambique in a relatively short period of time. In the previous book I’ve issued, A Possible Life (2012), I had ample time to pay attention to someone I encountered, while during my last trip I met people for ten minutes at the most.

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MT:

How long did you stay in Mozambique, in 2013?

 

BK:

Three-and-a-half weeks. In a relatively short period of time we have traversed the entire country, we were pretty naive: the distances were misjudged…

 

MT:

WHO are ‘we’?

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BK:

I travelled together with an old college friend of mine from South Africa, his name is Jan Bezuidenhout. He has accompanied me and spoke Portuguese. To get back to the cover photograph: when I found out that the picture was actually appropriate for the front cover, it symbolizes, although in a somewhat clichéd expression, the new Mozambique. And subsequently the relationship with the symbol on the back cover is created: the emblem of the State of Mozambique. The logo, which was a variation on the original flag of Mozambique, (including the red star) has subtly changed regularly over the past few years. In 1983 the Marxist flag became more prominent. The gun is a symbol of the struggle and the defence of the country; the heel stands for agriculture and the book for education. The star on the back of the book and in the logo stands for Marxism. Voting took place whether the illustration of a rifle, an AK-47, had to be removed from the flag. A variant of this logo is included in the national flag. The opposition claims that this emblem as well as the flag has direct links with FRELIMO, (for discussion of FRELIMO, see text later in the interview) and therefore this flag is not representative for all residents of Mozambique.

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This is a country where civil war has raged for a long time, so a lot of reconstruction works take place. At the same time, I think it’s a very striking emblem, and using it on the back cover is an ode to a book I bought some time ago, which is included in The Photobook: A History (Volume III) by Gerry Badger and Martin Parr: a propaganda book of the MPLA from Angola Resistencia Popular Generalizada [1977]. The book is also fitting into a sleeve, and on the back cover the logo of Angola is printed, which is similar to this one. That Marxist symbolism is echoing in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In the propaganda machine of FRELIMO, use is often made of silhouettes; even on murals you recognize abstracted human shapes. I considered it interesting to draw together these two notions. Because the photobook is about photographs made in 1974-1975, at the start of a new phase of independency and reflecting the country’s political future. There was hope. And forty years later, in 2013, I returned and made photographs. That era is bridged, and merged.

 

That girl is a schoolgirl. In the logo on the verso an illustration of a book is included: a symbol of education, at the time national education reform finally became accessible for Mozambicans. As in many other colonies the population had little right to education; restrictions were imposed and people had to assimilate, as e.g. in the Belgian Congo. The girl is wearing a school uniform and partly under her arm, just barely visible, is a schoolbook. If I create a silhouette, I pondered, it tends to go along with the FRELIMO imagery.

 

I visited Mozambique three times. The first time was in 1997, when I was graduate student History in South Africa, in Pretoria. I went on a trip with the same fellow student: Jan Bezuidenhout. He then was gaining work experience as an intern at the South African Embassy. From Pretoria I went by train to Mozambique and visited him there.

 

MT:

How far away is that?

 

BK:

A one day trip by train: 12 hours…16 hours, maybe. It depends how frequently you are stopped for questioning and inspection at the border. That first trip was an introduction to Mozambique. I discovered a very different country than South Africa. South Africa stands for a pleasant gateway to idyllic ‘Africa’. What a lot of people expect from the continent. South Africa was already very modern, comparable to Europe or the United States.

 

MT:

And why the title: Looking for M.?

BK:

That ‘M.’ stands for the return to the Mozambique that I encountered in 1997 and hasn’t been recorded at the time. In the meantime I learned a lot about the country Mozambique. That ‘M.’ is perhaps partly mirroring the ‘memories’ that I have of my visit to the country. Even more so, the capital letter ‘M’ represents a search for Mondlane, the founder of FRELIMO, … his successor Machel perhaps …For that ‘M.’…, you can fill in a lot of things.

 

Practically without any structure and orchestration I went to Mozambique. The visit was also a search for what I considered attractive about that country and a quest for the history and how it relates to the present.

 

MT:

I was all the while assuming that the title was linked to the silhouette of this girl, but it is now very clear that the ‘M.’ is representing the country Mozambique and the revolutionary fighters in that period.

 

BK:

 

Indeed, I encountered her, and a group of school girls, at the end of the trip, on Ilha de Mozambique – an island, the former capital in fact, in the North of the country. At that time I was alone and because of the language barrier I could not converse with them. This in itself was fascinating.

 

MT:

At first glance you make the connection between the title and images on the cover, but eventually there is an option of going deeper into certain layers, another kind of affiliation.

 

Let’s take a look at the back cover. The publisher is mentioned in a tiny letter font:

f 0.23. publishing. Is this a form of self-publishing? And how does this book compare to earlier editions such as Il m’a sauvé (2014) and A Possible Life?

 

BK:

‘f zero. Twenty three’ it is! It’s the name of a publishing house that I have been setting up myself and needed in order to barcode a book; to reserve ISBNs for the production of self-published photobooks. ‘010 Publishers’ inspired me to pick the name ‘0.23’. ‘023’ is the area code for Haarlem! I linked the phone area code to the f-stop scale on the camera body. I had to quickly come up with a name, in reference to a grant application. During the production of A Possible Life I picked the name for my publishing business. Likewise, I would love to publish other people’s books. It is, though, always a question of money.

 

MT:

How does this booklet relate to the publications Il m’a sauvé – a beautiful title by the way – and A Possible Life? I am not acquainted with either of these publications.

 

BK:

A Possible Life was nominated for the DutchDoc Award. The book is about a friend of mine from Niger. He has lived in the Netherlands for a period of ten years as an illegal immigrant. I have taken pictures of him, and combined them with family photographs and personal documents, as well as with letters from his children to him. It was a violent subject; the book is about illegality. And what it means to be separated from your wife and children.

 

I choose a nimble approach to Looking for M. Although I’ve been engaged for a long time in Mozambique, and it is a serious matter, I wanted to make this book project feel effortless: to travel around and see what happens. To approach Africa differently: to shed new light on the Dark Continent.

 

Il m’a sauvé is a sequel to A Possible Life. With the designer of the book, Annette Kouwenhoven, I went to Niger. By then Jean Gualbert had returned to Niger. He currently lives in the Netherlands, where he has been granted a temporary residence permit. In Niger, we have spoken with his family; therefore Il m’a sauvé is complementary to A Possible Life. We have interviewed his children and other family members: What is the impact of father absence on the family? It is usually about money, small lies are being told, and you name it. The sequel to Il m’a sauvé will discuss informal economy; how people are staying illegally in the Netherlands to maintain their families. We want to explore all these dimensions of the project. Looking for M. is between A Possible Life and Il m’a sauvé.

MT:

Then a pamphlet has been enclosed; I consider it is an elusive document: a rich text document. The front page of the attached brochure on grey paper is a reproduction of, what looks like, a letter of recommendation intended for your stay in Mozambique, in August 2013. What was the purpose of the document?

 

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BK:

The document is intended for photojournalists to be able to work straight-forwards without any restrictions in Mozambique. In principle it is possible to photograph in public without accreditation, which is issued by the Ministry of Information, but in fact there are a number of restrictions. Sometimes corrupt soldiers stop you and ask what you are doing. And in case you do not master the language…the letter of accreditation would help. You need to make a request for accreditation in Maputo. The procedure is slow.

 

Initially we thought: we don’t do it. The document was an obligatory requirement for photographing the ex-combatants of FRELIMO. Officially these people are still affiliated with FRELIMO and have been assigned a living accommodation. And I definitely wanted to photograph the Veterans. In order to do so an authorisation is granted from FRELIMO, the party that is still in power. For a day we have been awaiting the accreditation, which usually costs 30 euros. Finally a senior official showed up and signed the document for which we didn’t have to pay after all. Then I could get to work.

 

MT:

Yes, a beautiful start of the publication: this document will provide impetus to get to the subject matter. And then we come to that funny name: ‘Eisenloeffel’. Should there be an umlaut on the ‘o’? Doesn’t the surname mean ‘spoon’ in German?

 

BK:

No, Frits’ widow, Immeke Sixma, told me this; the association with the Germans is still a rather sensitive one!

 

 

MT:

And who is Frits Eisenloeffel (Frits E.), whom for the first time travelled to Mozambique in 1974? You immediately can take that information from the ‘timeline’, as I call it. In the pamphlet is an article reprinted that Frits E. wrote in Het Parool of 28 July 1975, the year that Mozambique was declared independent.

 

BK:

Frits studied political science at the University of Amsterdam. He graduated in international relations. In those days he became interested in the struggle for independence in African countries. During his studies he ran into radicalized Portuguese deserters in Paris. He became interested in and wrote journalistic pieces about Portugal, then still a fascist state. At the time the Carnation Revolution took place (25 April 1974) in Portugal – a rebellion of low officers who had had enough of the price that they paid for the colonial wars – a regime change occurred. That resulted in the dismantling of the fascist state. Together with professional photographer Han Singels, Frits E. made different trips to Portugal. During the Carnation Revolution he joined a military transport to Mozambique (in May 1974), Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands (in August 1974). It is here that he started writing stories about these countries in transition. Frits E. worked at the time as a freelance journalist for e.g. Groene Amsterdammer, Het Parool and Avenue.

 

MT:

This specific interest stemmed from…?

 

BK:

In 1965, after taking part in a study tour to Egypt, during the Nasser regime, Frits E. grew increasingly interested in resistance movements in Latin America and in the struggle for independence in Africa. Apparently, while he was a graduate student, he also had contacts with Portuguese conscientious objectors who dealt with the colonial wars. 

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MT:

Okay, this is a perfect backdrop to the following issue. ‘A brief history’ is a timeline in the pamphlet, based on the BBC website and FRELIMO Terceiro Congresso, published in 1978. What kind of sources are these?

 

BK:

Look, I brought the publication with me: this is a propaganda book published on the occasion of the third congress of the liberation movement. Here’s where you may find an extensive timeline. The political party FRELIMO has held several congresses. In 1977 the Marxist-Lenist doctrine was officially adopted. And as for the BBC, I have consulted a time line from a BBC website; the data records I copied integrally. Actually that is a form of plagiarism, of misconduct. I am well aware that I have invited criticism, but I start the timeline in 1891, the year in which the current border of Mozambique was drawn up.

 

MT:

Why?

 

 

 BK:

Because of the ‘resistance’ that existed even before that time; the history of Mozambique reaches much further back anyway.

 

MT:

Yes, 734 Anno Domino!

 

BK:

Yes, those are the very first historical sources, from oral tradition.

 

MT:

That is clear. Good to realize that scans from these rare documentary photobooks and magazines are available to visually enhance this post. Is your time line interwoven through it? And why did you make your first trip to Mozambique in 1997? In 2000, three years later, you made a second visit to that country; and in 2013, much later, you go back once again.

 

BK:

I’ll be very concrete: I needed the time line to provide me with a historical perspective on events that have taken place; not many people know the country’s history. The personal data of Frits E. are interwoven into the timeline, so it becomes clear that all situations, ideas and events are related to each other. In 1997 I studied in South Africa, as I explained earlier. I made my first visit to Mozambique, and was overwhelmed by the kindness of people throughout the country. The trip took place relatively shortly after the civil war had ended. At the time Mozambique was a more pleasant country than South Africa. Apartheid was just abolished, but still it was a fundamental part of daily life in college: I was visiting the history department of a real Afrikaans University. You had to watch your words. Europeans who came to tell the Africans about their own history were of no benefit to the population. This was, and still is, a sensitive issue. In 2000 I graduated from the VU University Amsterdam; my Master’s thesis was about the role of women in the struggle for independence in Mozambique. In the meantime I went to South Africa several times, and made a photographic series on HIV (my final project for the Royal Art Academie in the Hague (KABK) and another series on poor whites, as a continuation of my thesis for the Master’s degree program in Photographic Studies at KABK.

 

MT:

Why did you go to South Africa in the first place?

 

BK:

The trip was part of a first exchange between the VU University Amsterdam and the University of Pretoria. Despite the cultural boycott, the VU retained the existing ties. This helped me to enrol, and being the first student of the Faculty of History of the VU in the exchange program. After my study in 2000 I wanted to make a trip from Johannesburg to Nairobi, by land. I had written a thesis about Mozambique and now I wanted to see it all with my own eyes: to travel across the country.

 

When I got there, major and disastrous floods had just occurred, I had not realized how serious the situation was. The Internet wasn’t that big a deal yet… I wanted to hitchhike to Nairobi and joined a group of backpackers. I was forced to travel to the Northern part of the country, but reached no further than a spot where the road was washed away by the water. We spent a night between refugees, sleeping on the street, and then were sent back by state soldiers because of the danger of the natural disasters taking place. I did not know how to assess the circumstances at all; I was pretty naive. Subsequently I travelled back to the North of Mozambique, crossing Zimbabwe. I would like to have stayed longer, but due to the floods my stay was confined to Maputo and Tete, a city in the North.

 

After 2000 I started a photojournalistic project in South Africa, completed the Master Photographic Studies at Leiden University, determined and disclosed the provenance for the oeuvre of Eisenloeffel, and wanted to go back to Mozambique to photograph what I missed at that time. The memories, which I was not able to capture then, I wanted to capture now.

 

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MT:

Meaning you focussed mainly on your own photographic work, and the present?

 

BK:

My father died during my graduation year. He introduced me to medium of photography. My dad had, like a number of people during the 1970s and 1980s, a darkroom. As a child, I was already intrigued by analogue photography. Sahel (1982) by Willem Diepraam was the very first photobook that we had at home. We received the photobook from the development campaigning organization Novib, as well as a calendar every year. Maybe through those publications in my subconscious the connection was made with young black (school) children who stare at you, radiant with joy! It was a turbulent time, I had to get out there, get away from the straight jacket of university life. I wanted freedom.

 

The trip we took to Mozambique in 2013 was quite different: I went together with a friend, in a car. I was older, I had kids … more responsibility: a different experience altogether. When I investigated the archive of Frits E. and looked at his photographs of Mozambique again, I thought that I had to pick it up, this ‘story’, to close the loop. It was then, in search of the Mozambique that I had encountered myself, the Mozambique that Frits has seen with his own eyes, and that I had never documented.

 

MT:

Let’s get back to the historical context: Frits E. describes the establishment of the transitional government of FRELIMO. Could you explain what that name of this liberation movement means, what it represents? It sounds like a brand name of a soft drink!

 

BK:

FRELIMO is an abbreviation for Frente de Libertação de Moçambique: the liberation front of Mozambique, resulting from the merger of three political parties. And the movement is still in power.

 

MT:

Yes, that’s incredible…FRELIMO then worked illegally to facilitate the transition from intra-state of war to democratic peace, to solve material problems, and diaspora – maybe the concept did not exist yet, but that’s what it was all about – and famine. And what are the so-called ‘Dynamisation groups’? Frits E. talks about ‘autonomous units’, similar to committees within FRELIMO. (Frits describes it nicely: “the most decentralized expression of popular power”).

 

BK:

The rise of FRELIMO is complex. FRELIMO initially operated from the North of Tanzania, which was liberated area. The circumstances were less spectacular than one reads in the propaganda fliers and books of FRELIMO. They exerted influence on the population. FRELIMO wanted to create a socialist society, down from Tanzania. And the so-called ‘dynamisation’ groups are organizations that were set up in areas that were not yet released by FRELIMO. This has everything to do with the stage of transition. As for the dynamisation groups, members had the right to choose their own leaders. They were represented in factories, agricultural collectives, and villages. The population appoints its leaders.

 

MT:

A type of trade union?

 

BK:

Yes, similar to trade unions. And the dynamisation groups have long been tightly controlling parts of the country. The leaders usually had membership of the FRELIMO party. Officially they operated independently of the social doctrine of FRELIMO and they strived to create a new society. They operated mainly from areas where no battle was waged between Portugal and FRELIMO.

 

MT:

Sounds a bit like missionary work…

 

BK:

Yes …These change groups were a type of buffers; people were prepped for the socialist ideology. One of the priorities of FRELIMO was the moral crusade against prostitution. When the liberation movement came to power prostitution was banned. In theatre plays opposition against prostitution, capitalism, etc. was propagated. To make sure that Portuguese citizens would not radicalize or start exhibiting reactionary behaviour. Furthermore, many Mozambicans did not want to be involved with FRELIMO whatsoever because they were not genuine socialists. in 1969, the head of FRELIMO, Mondlane was murdered, probably by dissidents within the movement, in collaboration with the secret service of Portugal (PIDE). Various forms of power play were conducted in the open; In short, this transitional period was quite turbulent. In 1977 the doctrine has been officially implemented in government policy. The ‘dynamisation’ groups were also deployed to run factories at the time the Portuguese had fled the country. The question is whether the dynamisation groups were in a position to take on such tasks. In fact, the groups were directed to prepare the country, also economically, for what is to come.

 

MT:

Some things one doesn’t really know… During the mid-1970s, some 200.000 whites lived and worked in the Portuguese colony. Since then, about half of the population has left, is what Frits wrote. We talk about people that were highly educated: European doctors, engineers, teachers, real estate agents, officials and public servants. This development was highly criticized. I read a revealing comment in the pamphlet: “An average departing Portuguese family has as many cubic metres or baggage as the total living space of an average (much larger) African family living in a slum”. (This is a statement from a young FRELIMO supporter Frits E. had encountered in the harbour area of the capital). Would you like to comment on that statement?

 

BK

The Portuguese were of course better off than the native people, just as was the case in other colonies. The power was unequally distributed. At the time the transition took place they were requested to leave; it was a politics of hate and envy. The statement refers to fleeing Portuguese citizens who were afraid of a ‘day of reckoning’. During the transitional period, there has been a lot of fear among the Portuguese population, which led to a mass exodus. The Portuguese had not been expelled, unlike media coverage announced. Especially many young Portuguese left; whole families had been torn apart, because children who were born in Mozambique remained.

 

We talked to a woman who as a girl fled from Mozambique, in 1975, and recently came back to open a hotel. In the hotel a kind of museum display on Samora Machel had been set up, but she suffers from all kinds of restrictions. In any case, because of the crisis in southern Europe (PIGS) many Portuguese returned to the former colony. That’s where there is more equality of opportunity for them. However, the government immigration policy is quite reluctant regarding Europeans. People are being stopped for questioning at the border. The most poignant photographs are those of fleeing Portuguese people. At the same time I sympathize with the statement by the African FRELIMO supporter He was incensed by it all. The Portuguese had better houses, more facilities, and much better opportunities than the Mozambicans.

 

When I was in Mozambique the former Minister of Home Affairs in the government Machel, Armando Guebuza, had presidential power. Guebuza had a decree pronounced: ‘24/20’. Every citizen was allowed to carry luggage weighing up to 20kg and had to be out of the country within 24 hours. That happened to be categorically incorrect: Portuguese citizens were welcome to stay, apart from reactionaries, landowners and capitalists; those groups of people were forced to leave. A lot of myths were circulating. Things like this: The Portuguese were supposed to have poured concrete in the elevator shafts of a large hotel in order to disable the escalator system.

 

The exodus had become catalytic by the fall of the fascist regime and the failed coupe attempt of September 1974 (a coupe by Portuguese reactionary military units). Eisenloeffel has written about this period, too.

 

MT:

Yes, you sense that this often led to friction. Samora Machel was the new president, who shortly after the declaration of independence travelled throughout the country and personally discussed the future of Mozambique with his citizens. Frits E. describes this media event as an “impressive circus”. What does he mean by that?

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BK:

Eduardo Mondlane was succeeded by Machel. He was the military leader of FRELIMO and president of the first Republic. Machel made a triumphal march throughout the country in the run-up to independence. That march was a kind of media circus; he delivered speeches and attended a place where a massacre had taken place. In addition, he visited the strategic Cahora Bassadam, a power plant that FRELIMO tried to destroy as it delivered power output demand for the Portuguese population. The triumph was of huge symbolic significance. Machel was a media-genic: a handsome man who was able to fire people’s imagination. During his regime the military struggle expanded enormously. As late as today he is still honoured. Eisenloeffel traveled along with the media circus, as a member of a film crew.

 

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MT:

Interesting, to realize how these things correlate. Let’s hold on to that image: Machel and his media circus. The small pamphlet – that is compact and offers much information – includes a numbered photo-index. What is striking is that Looking for M. opens with a newspaper photograph and copyright stamp of Frits Eisenloeffel, and as such demonstrating an act of modesty. Why?

 

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BK:

It is an excerpt from the weekly De Groene Amsterdammer. The copyright stamp is of Frits, the caption ‘photographs must be returned’, relates to a portrait, a press picture of Machel, showing him side by side with Mondlane. And that image: the double-portrait appears again in one of my photographs. From a historical and legal point of view, the procedure is not correct, but it corresponds with the people’s wish: not back to the photographer, but to the country. Curiously enough, a military soldier stopped us and started to rant, raving about the fact that photographers simply came taking pictures from the people in Mozambique and gave nothing in return.

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Only later I came up with the idea to combine photographs by both Frits and me. And at the same time the book project is a tribute to his work; a way to make his work more publicly known. He went to Mozambique in the first place, hence the story begins chronologically with photographs by Frits and it ends with a small document of mine: the entrance ticket to the Museum of the Revolution. Frits was engaged in African history and culture for a period of ten years. At the time his journalistic work has been frequently published in magazines and newspapers like Avenue, Het Parool and De Groene Amsterdammer. Thus, that part of his legacy fitted into a new context. My book concerns his earliest work.

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MT:

I would like to pose one more question about the text you wrote for this publication. You continue describing in the pamphlet contemporary Mozambique 40 years later. And you start by mentioning a paradox between, on the one hand, showy capitalism in the streets, and on the other hand, the signs of the armed revolution at the time and of the now abandoned Marxist-Lenist ideology, visualized in statues and murals. Can you please explain further this paradox?

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BK:

The murals: outdoor paintings directly applied onto a wall, are very much part of public life in Mozambique and of the history of the country. This is well explained by Paul Fauvet who I met in Maputo. In all major cities and towns you may find those big propagandistic murals. In a wonderful way these paintings agitated against the bourgeoisie and told the story of the revolution. As in a comic book, that history is elucidated. Maybe the visual stories are meant for illiterate people. Many of these wall paintings turn out to be based on journalistic photographs, allpictures that were circulating in the press. It’s really beautiful.

 

The previous leaders are still in power. That’s fascinating. Under president Chissano FRELIMO rid itself of the Marxism-Lenist doctrine, but many of the old gentlemen are still in power. Further, Samora Machel – he is still considered the father of the Nation – still captures the people’s imagination. He is charming, has sex appeal; He’s definitely the symbol of the country. This form of personality cult was not in vogue in the time Mondlane led the movement.

 

Now you see a huge influx of capital. The people of Mozambique are nowadays not necessarily interested in the history of the revolutionary struggle. Especially young people are interested in a career, earning money and in having a mobile phone. That is quite visible in the streets. People are walking along the wall paintings, without taking notice. For Frits E. these paintings meant the future, for me they rather represent the past. That is why I have deliberately selected the mural of R. Kelly for this book. That painting touches the Heart of Youth. I included an advertisement and billboards, also in the shape of murals.

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Around a statue of Machel in the city Beira, huge replicas of Coca Cola bottles are situated. This bizarre monument is not included in my book. And by now you may find more murals of the mobile phone providers mCel and Vodacom than of Samora Machel. These providers are more present than the revolutionaries. Thus, history seems to fade somewhat; you need to look for it. And where previously Mondlane came to the fore, it seems as if today you notice mainly new statues of Machel.

 

MT:

Would you please elaborate some more on the founder of FRELIMO, the prototype of the modern opposition leader, Eduardo Mondlane? He is now considered just a shadow, a vague historical figure, is what you write.

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BK:

Eduardo Mondlane was an intellectual; he achieved a doctorate degree in anthropology, he spoke fluent English. He was educated in South Africa, worked for the UN in the United States and married an American woman. Afterwards, he returned to Mozambique, in order to lead the liberation front from Tanzania. When FRELIMO originated in 1962 from the merger of three other political parties, Mondlane was nominated as future leader by president Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. Mondlane is the founder of the party, but at the time FRELIMO operated mainly out of Tanzania.

 

He was different from Machel, who was trained as a nurse. I was curious how the Portuguese Mozambicans experienced the difference in leadership between Mondlane and Machel. According to a Mozambican bartender, Mondlane was the academic who had to build a theoretical framework indicating how to make the first steps towards independence, and was the commander of the armed forces; Machel, the person who actually conducted the war.

 

When Mondlane was in power, constant internal power struggles were taking place. Mondlane is murdered in 1969 by a parcel bomb in Dar es Salaam – probably sent by the secret service of Portugal, and by FRELIMO dissidents. After his death a power struggle between Uria Simango, the Vice-President, and Samora Machel developed. The latter won. Simango was accused of betrayal and executed after a show trial. The unconventional event is somewhat reminiscent of the story of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky.

 

Mondlane turned out not to be a devotee of some politicians who came to power after him, and in his book The Struggle for Mozambique he stands side by side with Simango. In a later visual narrative, a cartoon version, Simango is out of sight. Yet, Simango belonged to another camp than Mondlane and Machel, who made attempts to reform the country towards a socialist state; however, Simango wanted to swap the white elite for a black elite.

 

I’ve always felt that Mondlane is a somewhat more moderate figure than Machel and I am wondering how he would have led the country after achieving independence, which direction FRELIMO would then have followed subsequently.

 

MT:

You mean…because of his sudden death?

 

 BK:

Yes …And as for the process of Mondlane fading gradually as a historical figure … Not only Machel has a statue, there is also a statue of Mondlane, donated by North Korea. In 2010 in all province capitals exact replicas of the original donated statue of Machel by North Korea were installed, and in Maputo itself, about a hundred metres from the original, a huge new copy has been erected. Machel has become an export product, a kind of Che Guevara. Mondlane does not have that status. He used to be the historical figure depicted on the Mozambique banknotes, but now that is Machel. Only occasionally, he emerges on a mural, or in a school building a portrait of Mondlane is hanging on the wall.

 

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MT:

When we started our conversation, you explained why you, at the time being a student in history, decided in 1997 to travel to Mozambique. Yet, I would like to refer back to that document that you inserted into the back of the book. It represents, it seems to me, a special moment for you. You were at that time the only visitor to the Museum of the Revolution in Maputo. The building was dilapidated, a former revolutionary fighter, dressed in rags, gave you a tour of the ‘history of the struggle for independence’.

 

BK:

I have visited the museum twice. In 2013 it was closed. In 1997, I studied, as I said before, in Pretoria and had by then completed the degree program. A study friend lived in Maputo and I was invited to visit. During the day he worked at the Embassy. With the travel guide Lonely Planet in hand I visited all kinds of places, including the run down Museum of the Revolution and the Museum of Natural History. The museum is such a typical artefact from the revolutionary war. I like museums that are not particularly attractive to most tourists. In El Salvador, I encountered those too. That’s where you find awkward signboards, strange objects (such as weapons, ID’s, photographs, flags, but also a jump rope and the running shorts that belonged to Machel). Some room texts were copied word-for-word from Mondlane’s publication. Only when I started to deal with Mozambique at the VU University Amsterdam, everything fell into place.

 

The fact that the person at the museum, a veteran dressed in what looks like part of a uniform, went ahead to turn on the lights of the exhibition rooms, triggered certain feelings. Like going back in time, like an archaeologist making unique discoveries. The museum was founded in the 1970s. The museum collection includes cannons, and Korean paintings. Fascinating to see nothing had changed since its opening. It’s all past glory. I returned to Mozambique in 2000, after achieving more historical knowledge, so as to better appreciate everything on display. The museum was closed in 2013, because of a renovation. And as for the entrance ticket: inflation caused an increase of the admission fee; the prior fee is deleted on the entrance ticket.

 

MT:

Could you please elaborate a bit more on the publication that the veteran, I call him the ‘guard’, out of convenience, pointed out to you: The Struggle for Mozambique, that was written by Eduardo Mondlane himself. And please explain to what extent the publication is the foundation for your MA-thesis in History, in which you examine the role of women in the struggle for independence.

 

BK:

The Struggle for Mozambique is often referred to as an autobiography, but in fact it contains a clear statement about the history of the liberation struggle in Mozambique. To a large extent the Museum of the Revolution in Maputo is based on this publication. Entire sections are retrieved from the book and are on display in the museum. This is how I became interested in The Struggle for Mozambique. I was specializing in modern African History, in relation to the ANC in South Africa, but as a result of the museum visit and getting acquainted with the publication by Mondlane, I realized I wanted to publish on this topic.

 

Mondlane was in favour of improving empowerment and status of women. This is the subject and scope of my thesis. Contemporary propaganda magazines like Mozambique Revolution gave rise to concern with the women’s movement. I examined this more in depth. Initially in the liberated areas, women gained more rights. Also, women were included in the so-called ‘Destacamento Feminino’ led by Machel’s first wife: Josina Machel. In Looking for M. a portrait is included of a woman who has been a member of such a brigade.

 

MT:

This took place in 1999. Six years later, you discovered the archives of the Dutch journalist Frits Eisenhoeffel (1944-2001). It is not clear to me what his profession was. Was he a photojournalist or a journalist writing for newspapers and magazines?

 

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BK:

Frits Eisenhoeffel was a journalist, a reporter writing articles, and needed pictures to illustrate his pieces…

 

MT:

I ask you this, because you put Frits E. as a photojournalist in the foreground.

 

BK:

That’s right. Yes, I studied his photographic archive.

 

 

MT:

In the early 1960s Frits E. was interested in Portugal, then a fascist state and losing its grip on the colonies. Whence the particular interest of Frits E. in this country, and in these political issues?

 

BK:

As I explained earlier, Frits E. met some Portuguese soldiers, deserters. His oeuvre can be divided into two parts: Southern Africa on the one hand, and on the other hand, in the 1980s the wars in Africa, particularly the liberation of Eritrea. For ten years he documented the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

 

MT:

How did you get in touch with his legacy?

 

BK:

On the recommendation of Flip Bool (former chief curator collections/archives Netherlands Fotomuseum NFM, Rotterdam). I had an internship at the Netherlands Fotomuseum. I conducted research on Dutch photographers in Africa from the 1840s to the present. Flip Bool had already been in contact with Frits’ widow, Immeke Sixma, because of her request by the institute to purchase her husband’s photographic archive. At the time Flip Bool did not consider it suitable for acquisition, but recommended the estate to me in terms of thematic content. Subsequently, Sixma commissioned me to investigate the content of the archive, describing and making it available to the public. To that end, a foundation was created to highlight the photographic work of Frits E., which he made in Africa, and to bring the provenance to a wider audience.

 

From a total of 300.000 photographs a selection of 3.000 copies was made that have been scanned. Later I have described the selected photographs in a database, by means of book publications, magazines, newspapers and journals. ‘Mozambique’ constitutes a significant section of about 200 photographs. Part of this section is made available by the International Institute for Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam, in the framework of a digital exhibition. The IISH has acquired the integral collection of Frits Eisselloeffel.

 

MT:

You have prepared a database?

 

BK:

Yes! I made use of FotoStation, a software program that is actually used by photo agency Hollandse Hoogte.

 

MT:

How long did it take you to prepare the database?

 

BK:

One day a week, for about one-and-a-half years.

 

 

MT:

Later in this conversation, we will focus more on single images by Frits E., also in comparison to your work. Frits introduces yet another notion. What is meant by the term ‘Carnation Revolution’ that took place in April 1974? I understand it was a military coup d’état without bloodshed, organized by left wing parties.

 

BK:

Carnation Revolution is the aforementioned non-violent Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974. This revolution brought years of fascist rule to a conclusion. Lower ranking Portuguese officers revolted in Portugal out of frustration over the high price that was paid, especially by them, during the colonial wars. Frits E. had interest in the liberation struggle and he was in contact with its members. He decided to travel with a military transport to write a post-event report. First to West-African Guinea Bissau and then to Mozambique. Later he visited other Southern African countries.

 

MT:

Frits E. travels to Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau to report on the political upheavals for Het Parool and De Groene Amsterdammer. And where is Guinea-Bissau?

 

BK:

On the West coast, close to Ghana.

MT:

Photography was used for party political propaganda. You mentioned that in relation to the magazine Mozambique Revolution. How was photographic material put forth?

th

BK:

FRELIMO also needed assistance from abroad. Many foreign anti-imperialist action groups (such as the Eduardo Mondlane Foundation – later merging into the NIZA) distributed magazines (Mozambique Revolution is widely circulated), and posters. Mozambican photographers frequently published their journalistic pictures in this kind of propagandistic publications. Kok Nam, Ricardo Rangel and others represent a strong photo-journalistic tradition in Mozambique.

 

The question is to what extent their photographs were reproduced in the propagandistic magazines of FRELIMO, which were sent to Anti-Apartheid organisations around the world. And in there, photography played an important role in showing the misdeeds of Portuguese colonial era and the way FRELIMO operated in liberated areas. Nevertheless, many international photographers took pictures in the area as well. To mention a few: the Swede Anders Johansson, the well-known Africanist Basil Davidson, the forgotten Japanese photographer Tadahiro Ogawa, as well as Koen Wessing and Frits Eisenloeffel. Some photographs by Frits appeared back then, if I recall well, on a political poster. However, the work by Frits, was not distributed or used by FRELIMO, nor by the MPLA.  

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MT:

Tell me about the nephew of Frits E., the professional photographer Koen Wessing. In 1974, De Bezige Bij in Amsterdam published his seminal photobook Chili September 1973. And, as I read in Wessing’s biography, he left the same year for Guinea-Bissau, Here this brings you both together and your perceptions of both periods of Mozambique, there is indeed forty years in between. You describe its value, in rather heavy terms. The approach is ‘personal’, ‘anachronistic’ and ‘substantial’ and ‘aesthetic’, commissioned by the Angola Committee. Who joined him?

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BK:

Actually, Frits E. and Koen Wessing were not present in Guinea-Bissau at the same time. Initially, Frits has arrived there with a crew to make a film, commissioned by the VPRO. Koen Wessing is a first cousin of Frits Eisenloeffel. Han Singel, Joost Guntenaar and Koen Wessing taught Frits how to take pictures. Following his distinctive publication about Chile, Wessing compiled Djarama PIAGC, commissioned by the Angola Committee, on the occasion of the one-year existence of the Republic.

 

The publication, in appearance very similar to a cahier, has the same size as Chili, September 1973, but the book design is of less quality. I consider the zeal present in Chili, September 1973, lacking in Djarama PIAGC. I read somewhere that at the time Wessing took these pictures, Angola was, like Mozambique, already a de facto state. Finally, Portugal recognized Mozambique’s independence in September 1974. At the launch of Djarama PIAGC Guinea-Bissau celebrated the declaration of independence of the republic, which officially took place in 1973.

 

MT:

I wondered to what extent a publication like Chile, September 1973 might affect someone like Frits E.?

 

BK:

I think they shared the same political and social commitment, although Frits never made photobooks. Frits had written a story about Guinea-Bissau in De Groene Amsterdammer on May 15, 1974, which has been illustrated with press images by Koen Wessing. All this took place before Djarama PIAGC was published.

 

MT:

They cross-pollinated so to speak!

Why was cataloguing the photo-journalistic work of Fritz E. a catalyst to return to Mozambique in 2013?

BK:

Archiving his work recalled all kinds of memories. While leafing through stacks of pictures I felt the need to go back again. The affiliation with the images, the memories that Frits’ images, texts or diaries stimulated, as well as reflecting on my MA thesis, enticed me to visit the country again and to capture what I had encountered during my previous trips, but had not been able to document at the time. In that sense, the ‘M.’ in the title of the book definitely refers to ‘Memories’ … but also to ‘Mondlane’, ‘Machel’, and ‘Mozambique’. Investigating and cataloguing Frits’ archive offered a variety of opportunities for me to close this chapter.

 

MT:

The following quote is appropriate at this point in the conversation. Could you please explain it further?

The concept of Looking for M. is a conscious departure from the traditional journalistic method, being rather a personal and almost anachronistic approach in which both substantive and aesthetic synergy arises between the artistry and perception of two Dutch photographers working in different areas.

In this quote you bring the two of you together, and you try to juxtapose both yours and Frits’ perception of Mozambique, despite an age gap of 40 years. You value it, in terms heavy with meaning. You access both yours and Frits’ approach as being: ‘personal’, ‘anachronistic’, ‘substantial’ and ‘aesthetic’.

 

BK:

I juxtapose journalistic images taken in the 1970s with my documentary photographs. Sometimes the pictures reinforce each other, such as in the case of pictures of people entering or leaving the ports of Maputo. Then again, there is similarity in terms of formal elements. So here on the left you see a portrait of a veteran, and it’s very plausible he has been fighting against this soldier, depicted on the right page.

 

In my first dummy I had not yet included pictures by Frits.

For subsequent dummies, I have made selections based on aesthetics (to be compared with the way Stephen Gill compiled Let’s sit down before we go by Bertien van Manen). There were some striking similarities between the scenes in the pictures of both Frits and mine; I absolutely had not thought of this beforehand.

 

MT:

Let’s discuss this further while looking at the spreads. How do you re-contextualize the work of Fritz E., in Looking for M.? And tell me, what is your work about; What are we looking at? To come naturally to speak about the portrait of the school girl, wearing a yellow button on her dress. Let’s look at a number of double page layouts. Unfortunately, the numbering of the pictures, related to the captions in the photo-index, is missing on the illustrated pages, which makes comparing both a bit troublesome.

 

BK:

Fritz worked as a journalist and his photographs were originally intended to inform people about the political situation in situ in those days. In this book context, in Looking for M., his pictures gain a different meaning, because his journalistic images are linked to my documentary photographs. The cultural historical context is changing and with it, perhaps, the interpretation of images in the documentary mode.

 

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Double page spread 002-003

The caption ‘return to sender’ is stamped on the back of a frequently used press photo made by an anonymous photographer, which I’ve bought at some point. The stamp refers to returning the photograph to the ‘source’, either the photographer or the archive. Frits himself very much wanted his pictures to be returned to the people who actually were the main actors in the pictures.

The press photo showing a double portrait of Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel, is made in Tanzania. And look, this is what I mean regarding the wall paintings: this shows again that Machel is indeed the logical successor of Mondlane. There are not so many pictures circulating in which they show up together.

 

 

 MT:

A master-apprentice relationship, so to speak. Ah, the mural is actually based on this picture!

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BK:

Yes. Many people, those who know the history of Mozambique, will recognize this picture. The South African specialist Albie Sachs has even released a publication about the Mozambican murals: Images de Mocambique (1983). Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas made the pictures in this book. In the colophon her surname is spelled incorrectly as: ‘Maiselas’.

 

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MT:

Nice that you mention this detail!

 

Double page spread 006-007

And… What number? I should have continued numbering the photo pages! I suspect this is a so-called ‘dynamizing group’. Construction workers are working on a road. Frits did not always write photo captions, short descriptions accompanying the illustrations. So it’s just the picture that speaks for itself. And this picture, I consider a beautiful landscape photograph. Crossing Mozambique, you’ll encounter road construction works everywhere, supervised by Chinese inspectors. Frits E. shot almost exclusively in black and white, as many of his contemporaries did. However, this particular image is in colour; and therefore, many people assume that I took that picture!

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Double page spread 010-011

Here you see society in stark contrast. This is a pool on the roof of an expensive hotel in Maputo. We look at a migrant maintaining the pool. And this picture was taken at the Grand Hotel in Beira, a Portuguese megalomaniac project from the 1950s. It’s a huge hotel that has never been successful and, therefore, immediately declared bankrupt. And later squatters moved into the building. The story is similar to Ponte City in South Africa! This is the first Olympic swimming pool in Mozambique. Today, people wash their dirty clothing here. During the transition period, FRELIMO resided here. Both pictures are mine.

 

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MT:

So the modus operandi is not always showing the difference between ‘then’ and ‘now’ on a double page?

 

BK:

No, not always.

 

Double photo spread 014-015

I suspect this is a performance related to these ‘dynamising groups’. Which were established to explain to people, for example, what was wrong with capitalism. It could just as well be a festive gathering. And here you see children playing in the streets in Beira.

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MT:

The playfulness, the liveliness is what both images have in common….

 

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Double photo spread 016 and 018-019

This is an old FRELIMO veteran, who is still considered the ‘boss’ and people stand in awe of him. He is still the commander in chief, and did the talking. He lives in a veteran’s village. And the woman depicted opposite the page with the schoolgirl is a former fighter, a veteran, from the women’s detachment. Yesterday I looked again at the Sahel book by Diepraam, and the backside shows a portrait from a blind woman. This picture reminds me of that image. Maybe a cliché reference which slipped in unconsciously.

 

MT:

This is one of the few examples showing a small black and white picture on the top half of the white page. The man on the right, in uniform, is a Che Chevara type.

 

 

BK:

It’s a panoramic image; you don’t need to make a quarter turn with the book in order to ‘read the image’. And the military men both look sad and act in a similar way.

 

MT:

They both use body language in a same way.

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Double page spread 028-029

Yes. This silhouette of the woman carrying a baby fades away against such a monumental background. I just stood there for a while with my camera. People pass along the mural without noticing it. On the opposite page you see a black and white photograph of Portuguese soldiers listening to a speech by Machel.

 

MT:

It is Machel depicted in the mural?

 

BK:

Yes, in that sense, the pictures match. And these men are criminals, right?

 

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Double page spread 032-033

Those guys are standing on top of a rubbish dump and are looking for processed materials to make toys. This picture was made on a tourist spot in the North, called Pemba. Mozambique has a beautiful coastline. And these kids, portrayed by Frits E., are posing the same way.

 

MT:

That doesn’t change over time….

 

BK:

No…

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Double page spread 034-035

On the left you see a photo store run by a Chinese. A portrait of the new president is hanging in in the window display, but not visible in the image frame. Here’s a portrait of Mondlane. I intended to buy it, but the shopkeeper asked 100 EUR for the picture. The influence of the People’s Republic of China in Mozambique is growing. The EU is Mozambique’s fourth economic partner in this regard after South Africa, China and India.

 

Double page spread 038-039

A cut-out from De Groene Amsterdammer. Anyway, I considered it relevant to print in the heart of the book an image similar to the very first picture, to demonstrate the layout of photographs by Frits E. on double-page spreads in newspapers. And from these two people, an older couple now, I’ve made individual portraits in Looking for M.

 

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Double page spread 041-042

These documents imply job employment … This kind of portraits of African people are often linked to genocide. So pictures like these initially have a negative connotation, but these are ID’s from workers in a bakery, which is run by a Moroccan from Fes.

 

 

MT:

Yes, I think it’s a wonderful double-page spread.

But why are these portraits of bakery employees exposed in this way? We’re looking at IDs you said?

 

BK:

Yes, similar to IDs, kind of health certificates from the employees hanging in the store. The picture on the opposite page was taken from a moving car and is therefore somewhat blurred. Mozambicans are burning coal. And the young woman in the picture is a coal saleswoman. A kind of market economy, a street trade, you could say. And the colours in both pictures coincide.

 

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Double page spread 055-056

These people are the shoemaker and his wife, who are depicted – when you open the book to the middle of the signature – on page 038-039) in the press photo by Frits E., that I just described.

 

MT:

parents mourning’ is the caption of that picture.

 

BK:

Machel referred in his speech to the anniversary of the massacres in which their only two sons were killed. And the juxtaposed image is an anachronistic advertising picture of R. Kelly, a contemporary R&B singer, meant, as opposed to the more propagandistic murals.

 

MT:

So this wall painting is much more contemporary than political in nature. And then finally the schoolgirl … It starts and ends with her!

 

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Photo page 059

She is one of the schoolgirls I photographed on Ilha de Mozambique, at the end of my trip. I don’t know her name. I wrote it down somewhere, but I lost that piece of paper. I’m pretty sure the yellow button she is wearing has a clip to hook on a cell phone. Everyone has cell phones in Mozambique. Everywhere you look you see mobile phone commercials, even the houses are painted in the colours of cell phone providers.

 

 *See for links the Dutch language version of this conversation on theloggingroad

 

 

 

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