During my last stay in Burkina Faso, in the city of Nouna near of the Malian border, I visited someone I already knew from my previous travel there. His name is Pathé Alaï, a goat farmer in Nouna. He’s around 60 years of age, and he belongs to the Fulani people. He’s a very kind person and also full of wisdom about life, society and politics, even if he never went to school and can’t read neither write.
Back in 2013, we went to visit him at his house before we left Nouna and he invited us to drink fresh and delicious goat milk and we talked about a lot of subjects. I remember one conversation when he talked about his childhood and explained how he learned everything from the nature while being with the goat herd outside all day long, how he learned to know this countryside where it seems so difficult for us Europeans to recognize anything if we don’t have a map or a GPS device. He learned to look at the trees, to listen to the wind and the birds, to look at the sun and soon knew the whole area as his pocket.
And before we finally left, as a sign of friendship and good relation, thanking us for the visit, he gave us a chicken (alive of course, it would make no sense to them to offer you the corpse of a dead animal) as this is the tradition there.
This year, we made a new visit to Pathé, pleased to see him again, to have a little moment to talk together and to share a tea. I talked him about my portrait project and showed him my Rolleiflex camera, which he already saw when I shot a picture of him 3 years ago, along with the medium format film I use. Talking about these old cameras and analogue film and the memorial power a photo can have, something came suddenly to his mind: he told us about his beloved brother who died some years ago and who is still present in his memory. He then went to his room, came back with a folded paper and showed me the one and only « souvenir » he has from his brother: an old medium format negative, size of 6×6, from the 1970’s from him and his brother. He said that almost nobody remembers this picture, as the only print he had was lost a very long time ago. He tried to make a new print out of this negative for some time know but it was impossible in this area of Burkina faso, nobody does prints from negatives anymore…
So he kept this negative like a precious treasure for years, remembering this moment he shared with his brother as a unique visual memory of the one who left some years ago. And then he asked me if I could, in any way, get a print out of this negative. I said yes, of course I’ll get a print that I could bring back on my next travel or maybe I’ll find a way to send him the print with the negative. He didn’t hesitate and gave me the negative: I was kind of impressed by this mission, and honored by the trust he had in me; Giving me this little piece of celluloid represented something very strong and emotional for him, but also for me as I was now responsible for the safety of this piece of memory!
I told him that I didn’t know when exactly I could do this work and when he could have his print, but that was not a problem for him: he trusted me and knew I’ll take care of the negative, make a print and bring both back to him.
So this negative was carefully packed, directly with my most important papers like my passport and I always brought it with me. I checked very often if the negative was still there, I really didn’t want to lose it!
Back at home, I decided to clean the negative as it was covered with dust and dirt. I used a film cleaner I had from my lab to remove finger prints and processing marks from my negatives and cleaned carefully this piece of memory.
Once the negative itself was clean, I scanned it in high resolution and had a quite good picture, better than expected, but of course with a lot of little marks and black holes on it. So, as I always clean my scanned pictures from all the dust and particles the scanning processing involves, I made the same with this one to get a fully restored picture, so that I can get a good print out of it.
And finally, my lab printed it from the digital file in 20×20 format on baryte paper and I could send it back to Pathé along with the negative. Yesterday, I received a phone call from the friend I sent it to (and who brought it to Pathé): he was really very happy to see this negative printed on paper again and said he was very thankful for this.