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World famous photographer speaks to animals in French

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By SUSAN MUUMBI
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Frenchman Alain Ernoult is a world famous photographer and reporter. On a recent trip to Rwanda, I met and interviewed him extensively on his work and life in the field.

I started by asking him how he ended up being a professional photographer and what inspired him. Below is the interview in his own words:

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‘‘I left formal schooling at the age of 14 and started working in a factory. At 17, in the mid 1980s, I read about a tribe in Mali that needed help and I decided to take medicines to them. I hitchhiked from Normandy in northern France, through Spain, Algeria and across the desert to Mali. I almost died on the journey.

“When I returned to France, no one believed me. So I decided to buy a camera, make a return trip and capture my travels so that people could see for themselves. I’m a self-taught photographer.

‘‘Soon after, I left the factory job and to support myself, I started taking photographs of Parisians, weddings, dogs, people — clothed and naked. That’s how I honed my skills.

‘‘Two years later, I hitchhiked back to Mali, with a clunky Zenith SLR camera. Half of my luggage contained medicines. I lost 15kg on that trip; I was sleeping on the ground, keeping away hyenas at night.

‘‘A Paris museum heard about my travels and organised an exhibition for my work. I was 20 years old. I decided I could become a successful photographer by taking pictures that no one had taken before. At that time, photographers kept their distance when taking pictures. I wanted to be part of the action.

‘‘In the first year of my newfound career, I went to take pictures of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gangs in the US. It was dangerous but groundbreaking work, and I still have a scar from that time.

‘‘The Hell’s Angels pictures were printed in Stern, a German magazine. I got 12 pages in one issue.
I then approached the French air force, to fly with their top aerobatic team — the Patrouille de France. They refused. After eight months of persistence, they agreed. It was the first time they had allowed a photographer to fly with them.

‘‘The pilots were reluctant and it was difficult to take pictures while wearing goggles and to change the camera film during the flight.

‘‘In 2004, the Minister for Defence presented me a medal of merit from the French government, the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Merite National for my work.

‘‘But the crowning glory came in 1986 when I won the World Press Photo Award in the sports category. It is the most prestigious award in the profession. I took the winning picture at the Boomerang World Championships in Paris. An apple was placed on a man’s head and then another threw a razor-tipped Boomerang that cut through the apple. I caught the moment when the apple was cut into two and the man was screaming.

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The 1984 World Press Photo

The 1984 World Press Photo winning picture by Alain Ernoult. PHOTO | COURTESY

“Soon after, Time magazine called. They flew me by Concord to New York where I signed contracts with Time and Life magazines. I have also worked with National Geographic and the French magazines Paris Match and Le Figaro.

“During my career, I have had more than 5,000 pages of photographs published, and I have written 26 books. The last one was titled Fou d’Ailes (Mad about Wings) in 2016.

“I have a connection with animals so they allow me to photograph them. I make eye contact, and speak to them in French. I show no fear. At my house near Paris, birds come to sit on my hand.

“I’ve held several exhibitions all over the world, including at the UN on biodiversity projects. I support children’s NGOs, like Toutes a l’ecole, which helps pay for poor children to go to school.
I also support non-governmental wildlife organisations by using my pictures to create awareness about endangered species. That’s what has brought me to Rwanda: To take pictures of the mountain gorillas. I would love to visit Kenya to photograph animals, especially endangered species.

“I started a photography agency in Paris called Arnault pictures, and I had 400 photographers working for me. One day, Kodak US contacted me, seeking to buy me out but I hesitated. However, I later gave in. This was beyond my wildest dreams. I was amazed by how far I had come with my limited formal education. My life has been my education.

“My intuition has saved me several times, especially when I was reporting on the wars in Afghanistan and Bosnia. I refused to photograph death and misery. Instead I took pictures of the positive side, wherever that was possible.

“I have a daughter, Clara, who is 24 years old and she accompanies me on some of my trips. I’m very proud of her.

“My motto in life is that you have to keep moving and questioning. The more I see, the less I know. Once my job is done, I focus on the next one.

“I’m always looking for ways to improve myself. Now I want to dedicate my time to environmental causes, to protect nature and endangered animals.

“I don’t like to edit or airbrush pictures after shooting, so I try to get the best shot right at the beginning.

Best destination
“Africa is my favourite place to visit. The people are sincere, and there is an abundance of wildlife. I saw plenty of wildlife in South Africa, and I would love to visit Kenya one day.

“I have travelled widely around the world. I went diving with whales in Polynesia, I have seen the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) at the North Pole. I have met Amazonian tribes and several presidents. I have been to the North Pole to photograph polar bears.

Best experience in Rwanda?

“Seeing the strength and intelligence of gorillas. I came face to face with a silverback and I told him that we’re friends, in French of course. And he allowed me to take his photograph.”

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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