This image, part of a series called Imaginary Trip, was taken in an abandoned train outside Kinshasa station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was looking for a site to evoke an imaginary voyage to convey the idea of memory, the passage of time and the reappropriation of old places. A lot of young men hang around this area, which is a poor neighbourhood, and they squat in the trains during the day while doing various jobs such as helping people at the station. Sometimes they have something to do, other times nothing.
The two people in this photograph are both me. I took several digital images and then superimposed them to represent two young men playing a traditional game of draughts with bottle tops – as they do. When I started out on this project, I did not intend to put myself in the photographs – it was almost accidental. I did not have the money to pay for models, so it was partly a question of budget, but also of time. I spend ages in these places creating my photographs, too long for most people to hang around, so in the end I found myself in front of and behind the camera. I often work alone with a camera, a tripod and a remote trigger.
In the picture, you see a bag from the local market in Kinshasa that gives the scene a more global context – “See the north” is written on it. You cannot see anything out of the windows of the train, so this voyage could be taking place anywhere in the world. The picture is complete in itself, but fits in with the rest of the series to tell a bigger story: the series shows a trip that begins somewhere, but doesn’t end, and the destination is a mystery.
Some figures in the other photographs in the series are transparent. They represent people who have passed through this abandoned place in the past, and those who may pass through it in the future. Many see them as ghosts, but I see them as representing people who have been here and will come here.
Setting pictures in abandoned places evokes the duality of the personal and the collective memory, as well as the history of the DRC: the train carriage here is from the era of colonisation. The idea is to use a figurative voyage to evoke the passing of time, in a real and imaginary sense.
My father is a professional photographer and I began as a teenager helping him out at weddings and other events. Un día, I just took one of his cameras and didn’t give it back. When I decided, at around 17 años, that I wanted to make this my career, también, he didn’t exactly try to discourage me, but he was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make a success of it.
It is complicated in the DRC – and in many other African countries – because being a photographer was not considered a job for a woman and it still isn’t, largely. I would go to take pictures at an event and people would refer to me as the “Sunday photographer” meaning an amateur, someone who takes family snaps, asi que, while nobody actually told me to stop, it was very discouraging. When I tell people that I am a photographer they are surprised, even though there are more female photographers in the DRC today, our number is still small, and it remains a macho society.
En 2013, I decided I was going to stop doing marriages and commercial work and focus on personal photography projects. It was a difficult time because I had no money, no resources and it took three years to sell my first photo. I had finished my studies and people would say: “When are you going to find some real work?” But for me, working on Imaginary Trip was my real work. I believe it is important, especially in this age, to detach oneself from what is fashionable and from so-called rules about what works or does not work. I tell myself, voila! I will do this photograph because it pleases me. Whether it works or not is not important.
Born: Kinshasa, República Democrática del Congo, 1993.
Trained: Learned with father then studied communication and visual arts at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Kinshasa.
Influences: “The workshops of EZA Possibles collective, the Kin ArtStudio, photographers Sammy Baloji, Cindy Sherman y James Barnor."
High point: "Los 2018 residence at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris – Jacques Chirac (Imaginary Trip II). Then in 2019 I had an exhibition at a girls’ school in Lubumbashi, República Democrática del Congo, and the interaction with the young pupils was wonderful.”
Low point: “The three years between starting doing my own projects and selling my first photo.”
Top tip: “Stay true to yourself and what you want to do.”