Since graduating from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth with a degree in photography, Tina has been shooting for editorial publications such as The Guardian, Intersection, Day Four, Observer Escape and The Sunday Times Magazine and continues to work on personal projects both home and abroad.
While on assignment for Greenwood Guides in Southern Africa in 2006, Tina began working on the series entitled Grappling with the contents of Southern Africa. Referencing the elements of earth, water, wind and fire, this series evokes a powerful and compelling picture of the continent and tells the tale of a personal and startling journey of discovery. From the shanty towns of Kyalitsha to the dusty tracks of Kwazulu Natal there is a delicate lyricism to the documentary narrative and a constant and tangible connection with the red earth of Southern Africa.
First days in Africa, Kalk Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, August 2006
Dark storm clouds were assembling with razor sharp edges. We walked along the beach, the ocean’s graveyard, where the sea deposits the skins and the bones of the dead and the broken. At night the black sea crashes around in the darkness below my window, gathering up its forces, rolling rhythmically, violently over the rocks. I don’t sleep, unfamiliar with its nocturnal powers. Great white sharks patrol the bay where the icy arctic waters mingle with the balmy streams of the Indian Ocean, enticing a feast of mysterious creatures that gather to eat, and to be eaten. I stand under the hot shower and wonder for the first time what I’m doing here, and I notice the water spiralling the wrong way down the plughole.
It’s not until summer in October that we start to surf in the golden haze of the ocean, the sun sinking into the mountain behind us and in our delight we remain ever watchful for the sign of a fin breaking the water even when the shark flag is down.
KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, October 2006
Heading slowly, jerkily into the bush in the open landover, we are wrapped suddenly in the smells and the grasses, the silence and the great hum of animals, hiding and parading. Old trees grow out of dried-up riverbeds like wizards’ hands pointing their bony fingers to the skies. Their burnt-out branches form squiggling signatures tailing off into the white air and the older ones crumple into heaps, dried out and dusty as bones. The vegetation is probably similar to how it would have looked to a dinosaur.
When we finally arrive, God is hosting a disco with strobe lights on the adjacent mountain. The sky is filled with white flashes illuminating the raucous river that is greedily swallowing the water-filled sky. Tent zips dance in the rain.
For a time I am marooned in my canvas shelter. The rugs are drenched and the toilet looks hysterical, filling up with water under the trees. My belongings are piled onto my camp bed under which water rushes past, down the mountain, undeterred by human obstacles. Thunder cracks the sky open and I wander if my bed might take off down the river. Before long a young ranger rescues me with orders from Mark that we should all be in the main tent together. Relieved, we run-slip down the banks to join the others.
Mark calls me to the fireplace and tells me to follow him quietly to the kitchen, an extended awning from the main tent. Stacks of shelves are lined with Tupperware containers, cake tins and crockery. I lower my head to see onto the chest-height shelf and there, casually lying across the sugar tub, is a fat section of the largest python I have ever seen. The rest of it including its head is behind the cupboard housing the microwave. I feel an extraordinary urge to stroke it but Mark says I’ll frighten it away. I’m not sure the rest of us want it to stay and when he mentions the visiting black mamba who likes to sunbathe on the terrace, I quietly add him to my list of people gone mad in Africa.
Limpopo, South Africa, November 2006
The lioness marches cross-country. Striding with beautiful purpose, her black bobbing tale skims the grasses. A bewitching killing machine. The night fills with flying things, low swooping silent bats and moths the size of your hand that gather over the lanterns, entrenching themselves forever in melting candle wax like flies in amber. And I dream, almost every night, of leopards and lions. Their shadows flickering over the walls, their liquid eyes seeing straight through me. Rigid as a board, gripped by instinctive primeval fear, I listen to the hyenas whooping, the buffalo scratching his horns against my door and my raging heartbeat echoing around the roofless bamboo hut. Leopards climb trees, could climb into my room, could eat me alive. You hear many stories of people being eaten alive in the bush. Especially refugees crossing borders through National Parks, sleeping in trees, hunted by lionesses; on the run from bloody wars or poverty and starvation only to come face to face with the impassionate cycle of life and death in the wild, the rules of which are unchanged since the dawn of man.
Mozambique, January 2007
The air was hot like dragon’s breath and the red flame trees spat their petals into the cracks of the bulging pavements. The once grand colonial streets, resembling those in Portugal, are ruins now. Defiant trees wriggle their roots and branches beneath abandoned buildings reclaiming the land once more. Bewildering East German apartment blocks loom overhead and incongruous street names like Vladimir Lenin Avenue and Mao Tse Tong take their names from the communist era after the Portuguese left.
We asked where to go walking and the hotelier cocked his head and pointed his massive stubby fingers over our map saying ‘banditos here, banditos here, hmm… banditos here… all in here is ok.’ Exhausted after our bandit-fear walk we use the pool at The Holiday Inn and guiltily spend a dreamy afternoon chomping peanuts and sipping beers by a lagoon-shaped pool. I buy a wooden painted piranha from a man on the beach.
Everyone glows with sticky heat and in the blasting fans of the dorm, our pink and blue mosquito nets sway like jellyfish in the breeze. We lie every night in these stretched taught nets like shrouds and in the hottest hour one must decide between malaria and heat exhaustion. We share our dorm with Jimmy, a Mormon from Alabama who came to visit his girlfriend working for the African Peace Corps. They met in Utah while he was motorcycling across the States. They hadn’t seen each other for two years but 2 days after he arrived they broke up. He said he was just glad that she’d brought him to Africa.
We leave the next morning with two Danish filmmakers following the coast north. The earth is red, flanked by thick green foliage and people walking. Stoic women in vivid colours march majestically, balancing bowls of bananas on their heads and most are with bobbing bright bundles strapped to their backs with babies’ arms and legs sticking out of the sides, their curious eyes blinking around them.
Night falls suddenly as it always does in Africa and a whisper of a cloud drapes itself over the moon like a shawl. The tarmac unfolds before us, riddled with gaping potholes like bottomless empty puddles swerving us violently from side to side. People are still walking home in the moonlight and before us stretch hours of blackness, accompanied by swarms of white moths fluttering across the windscreen.
Harare, Zimbabwe, February 2007
We are staying in a highly recommended hostel, although when we arrive it has clearly become a refuge centre for locals and lunatics. The place is filthy and a mad man with wild darting eyes and missing teeth, whom they call Tarzan, lives in a tree house in the garden. John, a big gruff white man in his sixties, paces around in checked shorts with his photo album under his arm ready to dictate his life story to anybody who sits down. He is a mechanical engineer with $20,000 Zimbabwe dollars to his name, now worth about £2. He hasn’t had work for months and lives on squashes a local farmer gives him. With 80% of the population unemployed, jobs are scarce even for highly skilled workers. Tracey appears to run the roost. She has big plastic glasses, an enormous video collection amassed from the video shop she used to work in and three bright children under 12, vying for our attention. The red-haired boy looks after the cats and when they’re fat enough, John says they’ll eat them, although I’m not sure if he’s joking or not. Tracey is home-schooling the kids, although she works as a receptionist up the road, so mostly they are self-taught. The phone lines are down, electricity is patchy and petrol has become a rare luxury. Supermarkets’ shelves are often empty and food prices can change on a daily basis. When we asked if they had any cheese, customers and cashiers stared at us. In fact they did have some but it was so expensive we didn’t buy it. They say they just get used to doing without, seemingly succumbed to the reality of their collapsing country.
We leave Harare, driving past Mugabe’s estate, where several people have been shot for driving past at the wrong time of day. And head south to Great Zimbabwe, the greatest ruins found in Sub-Saharan Africa. We stay in the grounds, in concrete rooms designed for school parties for a whopping US$15 each for our mosquito-ridden cell with plastic mattresses and no sheets. The enormous, sprawling 5-star hotel lies gapingly dormant across the fields. The rotting rooms lie waiting for another era. We are the first tourists they’ve had in months, and still they don’t let us stay there, not for our $15. The bush surrounding our hut gives us the creeps. The atmosphere is menacingly deserted. We lock our cell at night, despite the sweaty airless heat. If we buy a beer at the bar we are allowed to use the hotel pool, which is miraculously still in use. I am lying in the sun on the lawn with giant yellow leaves falling around me and listening to the fluffy grey vervet monkeys bashing about in the palm trees. They appear to have taken over the hotel gardens and leap around us, sounding like miniature horses galloping over the springy grasses, their long black hands and feet tucked beneath them. I rescue a mouse, a lizard and a toad from the pool. I stare into the toad’s bulging eyes, he looks like a crocodile.
Later that evening we have to change money on the black market, a frightening affair that often leaves people in jail. The petite black waitress comes over with a silver teapot and asks us under her breath how much we want to change. I ask her if it’s safe, unsure of whether she is even safe. No, she replies and tells us we must go to her office but not together and with that she disappears into the darkness. M and I deliberate whether we should go or whether it is a set-up. We decide nothing can be proved until money changes hands so M decides to go and investigate and I stay at the table and look casual to brush off any suspicions. As M approaches the office she overhears the waitress talking to a man in some bushes. It is becoming horribly like a movie but M finally returns with Zimbabwe dollars. We leave the next morning for South Africa, a place that has become in our minds a land of milk and honey, just as it has for the 3000 Zimbabweans fleeing the country every day, totalling an estimated 3 million who have fled to South Africa, in search of work and hope for some kind of future.
Last Days in Africa
Muizenberg, South Africa, February 2007
The mountain behind our house is on fire. We lie awake in our beds listening to the cracking wrath of nature. In the dark it’s too dangerous to be extinguished, the flames feeding off the branches of the one-hundred-year-old milk wood trees. In my mind I see miles of red dusty villages, pierced by electric purple jacaranda trees and clusters of thatched Zulu rondavels. All along the roads there are school children walking, sometimes 3 or 5 hours to get to their classes and sometimes we give them lifts. Heading towards the coast, beehive huts lie in the dip of the dunes. Stubby green plants protect sugar-white sand up to the water’s edge, where it sinks like a carpet beneath glass-clear water. Memories of diving; our group like dancers of the sea, moving slowly, weightlessly through a city of fish. Giant morays like ancient dragons opening their massive mouths. Drifting with the current into a shoal of silver, a moment of shimmering delicate scales, fins and eyes. Soaring over the edge of a reef like flying off a mountain. The whale shark with white spots on its back hovers beneath me, huge and harmless. And the dolphins emitting their high-pitched sonar codes I can’t understand before their fragile white bodies glide away from me, disappearing into the depths of the turquoise fog.