Roger Anis – “A visual idea is making a big difference”
Roger Anis is an Egyptian photojournalist, involved in documenting water stories in the Nile Basin. Although he speaks humbly about the impact of his work, he is hopeful about the effect that visual images can have on the cross-cultural understanding of water issues. Here he shares some of these ideas along with some of the pictures he took for his project ‘Exchanging the Nile’, for which he travelled to the upstream country Ethiopia to capture life along the Nile there.
As a photojournalist, Roger found himself moving more and more into documentary photo stories of social and cultural issues, motivated by the idea that his work could make a difference. “This is what I really like, and this is what I really believe in, that my work can make a difference,” he says. “It doesn’t have to make a change, because change is a big word, and very clichéd, and also change doesn’t happen in one step but it is a lot of steps. So what I am doing, I consider to be one of the steps towards change, which is informing people, offering them the knowledge, or exposing an issue that is not well spoken about.”
Roger believes that when it comes to trying to solve a problem faced by local communities, photographic images can help people to form a visual idea and better understand the situation. Added to that, pictures can also serve as evidence. One of the examples he gives is about people in Ethiopia who drink water directly from Lake Tana, taking it to their homes in jerry cans. He explains: “When I tell the story that in the source of the Nile or Lake Tana people don’t have access to water, and the only way to drink water is directly from the lake though jerry cans, they might not believe me. But if I show this through pictures, then they might.” Lake Tana is Ethiopia’s biggest lake and the main source of the Blue Nile. The ecosystem of the lake is deteriorating, however, and threatened by the spread of the invasive weed, water hyacinth.
Visualising people’s relationship with water can also foster a better understanding between the different populations who share this vital water source, the photojournalist hopes. For his project ‘#EverydayNile’, Roger visited Ethiopia where he spent 10 days travelling along the Nile to take pictures conveying people’s relation to the water in their daily lives. He is now helping is colleagues from Sudan and Ethiopia to visit each other and cross their gazes on the river. As there is a fierce dispute between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, it is currently very difficult for journalists and photographers of one of the three riparian countries to travel and report from another country.
Picture 1: Women carrying water from lake Tana to their homes.
“These ladies… with the jerry cans told me they were walking for one hour every day to get water. One hour! Can you imagine, just imagine this… one hour of your life is wasted to get your daily usage of water. And it’s not only one hour, but it’s also a lot of effort. Physical effort, right?”
Picture 2: Colours of water
“I had the theme of the different colours of the water. Because you can see the water along the whole Nile Basin; it’s the same water, but the colour is different. This is as we are. We are all living in the same continent, which is Africa, but we are different. Ethiopians are different to Egyptians and Sudanese. Everyone has their religions cultures, traditions, mentality, language. But we are all one, and we are sharing the same Nile. This brings me to the idea that we have to come together, because we are all the same in the same basket.”
PICTURE 3: Lake Tana
“In one picture you can see the wedding, you can see people washing their hands, you can see people getting water from the lake, even for holy purposes, like baptism.”
PICTURE 4: Ethiopian girl, Debra Maryam Island in Lake Tana
“Ethiopian girls are very, very, beautiful. I saw this girl and I wanted to take a portrait of her, just a normal portrait. I was on this island visiting, small island. Later on, I went to search, because I wanted to know her name, because I wanted to write it in the caption, in case I was going to use the picture. And I found her by the lake. Just taking a break, washing her face and hands and drinking water. When you think about it, water is everywhere in our life. So, for example, if you want to take a break, you use the water, not only for washing and drinking, but also to relax.”
Interview and story by Emilie Buist