Mud, Glorious Mud


I was crouching in mud up to my knees trying to get a good angle of a farmer planting seedlings. Each time I tried to move, dollops of mud splashed over my camera and clothes. Already I had lost my shoes in the mud, so I had to abandon them and fish them out later when I finished photographing the planting. In fact, for most of the 10 days that I was on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines I was in mud — on a good day it only came up to my ankles.

The narrow mountain tracks were so slippery that I once fell and slid down a hill and into a stream, the whole the time with my arm pointing straight up in the air holding the camera. My guides decided that the only way we were going to get through this area was to ride a caribou, which fortunately was a lot more sure-footed than I was.

On another occasion I was photographing children who were working as gold miners in tunnels 300 feet under the ground. The children, who were covered in clay, came out of the tunnel into the twilight after their eight-hour working day. I stepped forward to photograph them and slithered in the mud down toward the entrance of the mine. Luckily for me there was a tree in the way of the entrance and that stopped me falling 300 feet. Again, I instinctively held my camera above my head and managed to avoid any damage.

The mud got into everything, clothes, bags, camera gear and every part of the body. Bathing was often rare because not every place we stayed had the necessary facilities. Throwing cold buckets of water over myself got rid of a major part of the mud, but certainly not everything. In fact, I got just as clean riding through the rain and wind as a passenger on a motorbike, along with three other people.

Expecting the Unexpected

Photographing villages in the Philippines was an interesting experience because I never knew quite what to expect. I went to a local jail to take some pictures and was surprised to hear the sound of singing. I set off to find the source and to my considerable surprise discovered a prison guard with a gun in one hand and a microphone in the other, performing karaoke through a loudspeaker for the entertainment of the prisoners.

On the morning I headed out to photograph in the Muslim-controlled region, I listened to a government report detailing the extent and viciousness of the battles and attacks occurring in that area. I photographed what I saw — Islamic guards sleeping with their guns at their lookout posts.

To get to one village, we had to cross the sea by boat and then walk through a jungle. After a strenuous day’s traveling we finally arrived, but the village elder refused to see us. She was busy making ballroom-dancing gowns for an event in a neighboring village.

To leave the area where I was working, we had to drive for an hour along part of a road that was used by rebels for kidnapping people. They held the victims for ransom and killed those who were unable to pay the price.

We were lucky. It was a wet day and apparently the rebels don’t attack when it is raining — because they can’t escape quickly enough through the mud.