Looking for Surprises in Senegal

In July, Jake Michaels spent a week in Senegal, documenting contemporary and traditional styles. He was traveling with his girlfriend, Juliette Ballay, and Francine Awa Pipien, who helped them get to know people and places around Dakar, the capital.

As a photographer based in Los Angeles, Mr. Michaels knows the intricacies of his own city well, but he gets excited by the novelty of a new place. “One of the best things in life is being surprised, and this was one big surprise after another,” he said.

He met Milcos, above, a designer and the founder of the brand Nio Far, on a rainy day in the Grand Yoff neighborhood of Dakar.

Spontaneity is key for Mr. Michaels. When he took this photo, he wanted to capture the action in the background — the little girl peeking around the doorway. It helped give the photo context, he said, “and I think that that is just as valuable as the person in the photograph.”

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

Khadija Aisha Ba is a fashion designer and shop owner in Dakar. For her label, L’Artisane, she takes inspiration from the past, channeling her grandfather’s style.

“She puts a couple of new elements in fashion into her dress, but they’re not flashy things,” Mr. Michaels said. “It’s interesting seeing her blend the old and the new.”

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This photo was taken in St.-Louis, a port city on the Senegal River, north of Dakar. The city was once the French colonial capital. “You can see the skeleton of the colonization,” Mr. Michaels said.

This scene reminded him of a movie set, and he was attracted to the color palette. “The blue dress jumps off the page in comparison,” he said.

St.-Louis, which is on the border with Mauritania, is just south of the Sahara. “When you go north of there, it just becomes desert,” Mr. Michaels said.

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Saliou, above, is a member of the Baye Fall, followers of the Sufi Muslim brotherhood called the Mourid. They prize spirituality over material goods, Ms. Pipien said. Traditionally they have been known to wear clothing made from other pieces of fabric, creating “a patchwork we call ‘njaxass’ in Wolof,” she said.

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

Yoro sells gold jewelry at a market where people buy clothing and accessories in the Plateau neighborhood of Dakar. “The soccer jersey seemed to be a really present style of dress with a lot of the younger males in Senegal,” Mr. Michaels said.

Yoro was more than happy to pose. “He’s like, ‘Go right away, take my picture,’” Mr. Michaels said.

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

“We had gone down to the beach area over by the Mosque of the Divinity,” Mr. Michaels recalled, describing this scene. “It’s kind of off the road, and it’s a beautiful mosque on the beach.”

As he and his group watched, three children started walking out to the ocean to wash two baby goats. “What you can’t see in this image is the mother goat trying to bite one guy the whole time,” he said.

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“I wanted to see what a typical Senegalese photo shoot was like,” Mr. Michaels said. “It was interesting to see them going through the same process as the people I know who work with fashion labels.”

Here, Olivia Nd, a founder of the Instagram account @dakarlives, took a break between shots. She was modeling contemporary Senegalese designs.

Mr. Michaels was drawn to her fingertips, which are adorned with henna. Few young women in Senegal wear henna these days, Ms. Pipien said. “It’s her way of paying homage to this old tradition she used to see her grandmothers doing,” she said.

“Olivia is inspired by the old tradition,” she said, “and she really likes to rearrange it.”

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This man, “a friend of a friend of a friend,” showed up while Mr. Michaels was on the campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University.

The velvet hat, he said, seemed to represent his happy-go-lucky mood. “Through this heat, he’s like: ‘I’ve got to wear this crushed velvet hat. This is who I am.’”

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Toward the end of his trip, Mr. Michaels went to Sea Plaza, a mall in Dakar, after sunset. “These four skateboard kids came in and started skating,” he said.

The boys, who wore headphones, spoke English to one another. English, Mr. Michaels learned, is part of the skate culture in Dakar.

This young man worked at the mall and had taken a break to join his friends. “He was embarrassed because he’s not wearing skate shoes,” Mr. Michaels said.

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Mr. Michaels photographed Nafissatou Diop, a screenwriter, at an open-air nightclub near the beach in Dakar. When he took this photo, it was only the beginning of the night. “The party starts at midnight and goes till the sunrise,” he said.

He wanted to capture Ms. Diop in this quiet moment — “the calm before the storm.” But in the end, he said: “It was such a different experience than I’ve had in any nightclub anywhere. Everyone there is having fun, and nobody’s judging anybody.”

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

Paco, a painter, lives in St.-Louis. When Ms. Ballay asked Paco if they could take his photo, he took them to his home, where he showed them his work.

“You can tell that is a traditional colonial courtyard,” Mr. Michaels said. “I thought it was interesting to see the shell of the past with the bright red outfit.”

He considered Paco’s handmade wardrobe to be the most “relaxed” of all of the looks he saw in Senegal, sneakers included.

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

Fatou, a student, on Route de la Corniche, a seaside road in Dakar, was pleased when Mr. Michaels asked to photograph her.

“The smile on her face when we said that we liked her style — her whole day was worth it,” he said. “She said it was the best thing she’d hear all day.”

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

Mr. Michaels and his group were in a quiet part of the Yoff neighborhood of Dakar when they spotted Racine Doye, a shaman, above. They ended up following him into his home, the concrete skeleton of an unfinished development.

Inside, it was “about 120 degrees,” Mr. Michaels recalled. Mr. Doye, who is part of the Lébou ethnic group, showed them a tarp covering some rocks that he’d used in a ceremony.

“He told me, ‘We just did an exorcism,’” Mr. Michaels said.

They didn’t spend a long time together, but Mr. Doye seemed happy to tell his stories. “I feel the energy from that place,” Mr. Michaels said.

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

Mr. Michaels noticed this woman early one morning. He didn’t take many street photographs in Dakar — most of the photos are portraits of people he spoke to — but he couldn’t resist capturing this scene.

“She’s listening to people’s conversations when she’s washing the window before the store, Salsa, opens,” he said.

To him, the image feels timeless. “I like the idea of having photographs that don’t have to be in a certain place,” he said.

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

This is another photo Mr. Michaels took from afar, in this case while he was eating lunch in a cafe.

“The people shine” in images like this one, he said. “They’re who I’m here to photograph.”

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