Bastiaan on his visit to our clean drinking water project Mukono 2.0 in Uganda.


An impressive series of beautiful photos

Photographer Bastiaan Woudt traveled together with the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation to Mukono in Uganda. Here they visited one of the clean drinking water projects, which was implemented with the help of the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation. The project includes the realization of rainwater tanks, community wells, and toilet blocks for several elementary schools, improving access to clean drinking water and hygiene for the local community. We invited Bastiaan - with the theme of 'water' in mind, to travel with us and do what he does best; make beautiful images. In conversation with Bastiaan Woudt, he shares his personal story, why he went with us to Uganda, how he experienced the trip and what it brought him - besides an impressive series of beautiful pictures.

"The Queen of Mukono. She just walked there, with her dress flapping in the wind, a pearl necklace around her neck and hands; everything was right."

Interview with Bastiaan Woudt

Why did you accept the invitation from the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation?

I saw it right away for several reasons. I had been to Africa before, but never to Uganda. In 2015 I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for another charity but could see virtually nothing of the country there due to a tight schedule. Still, that short trip and the continent inspired me to continue the theme of Africa in my work once back in the Netherlands in various shoots and styling. Also, I already knew the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation through Linelle Deunk; she is at the same gallery as me. And Ernst Coppejans and Robin de Puy - familiar names to me- had also previously traveled with the Foundation. I had even mentioned before to Roy Kahmann (owner of GUP magazine) that I thought it would be too crazy to be able to do something like that.

Besides, because the trip is linked to a charity, it has more than just "me to Uganda. You have more of a story behind your photography and get to places you don't get to. Without the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation, I would never have gone here (points to his photo series).

What was your first impression of life in Mukono?

You adjust to the fact that there is nothing there. If water is already an issue, they will have nothing else, right? Even though they have much less than we do, they try to make something of it.

Like the girl "The Queen of Mukono,"; you would say she was styled entirely for the photo, but she just walked around there like that with a pearl necklace around her neck and hands, wearing a hat and a beautiful dress that was blowing in the wind. It was like she was from another time. What struck me is that the people there are not sad but radiate positivity and strength.

What does travel do to your inspiration for photography?

,p>When I start preparing and focusing too much on a trip, I get frustrated when I don't capture what I had in mind beforehand. Going into something completely blank and seeing what happens works best for me. In Uganda, I had shot forty portraits in one day and immediately felt, 'Yes, this is going to work!' We also had tremendous luck with the local partner, George, who drove around Mukono with us. He knew all the places and spoke the language. I have not had that on my previous trips, and you come back with fewer images. In Morocco, addressing people was super difficult, and I missed that a lot. It works out in the end, but this is the first time I've shot enough images in three days to make a book - and I did in Uganda!

What does photography mean to you?

For me, it is a way to express my vision and show what I find interesting. Photography is an easy and quick medium as far as I am concerned because you can create images on the spot.

I may not always photograph someone "as they are," but I like to give my interpretation of them. A story behind a series is nice, but I also believe it is good to do things because you like it and it suits you.

How would you describe your photography to a stranger?

I think there is always a timelessness in my images. Actually, with none of my images, you can tell what period it was made in; I'm always looking for that. When I photograph, I leave out time elements such as logos, brand names, and billboards as much as possible. My inspiration comes from old photography, and I always try to bring that into what I do now. I am also always looking for dynamics, some form of movement. And whether that is movement in a photograph or a suggestion of movement doesn't matter. That's why I also work a lot with a blur; to me, that gives a certain feeling. I wouldn't say I like razor-sharp photography. When I look, for example, at the photography of my great sources of inspiration Man Ray, Paolo Roversi, or Irving Penn,

there is often a certain atmosphere in them. I find it difficult to describe exactly what that is, but it has to do with the fact that something appeals to the imagination, creating a mystery so that people keep looking at it and wonder: what's going on? That's more important than making everything look like that; that gets boring

"I like to create a kind of mystery, so that people keep looking at it and wondering; what about that?"

'Water is Life' is at the heart of the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation. How did this apply to you in Uganda?

Before joining the trip, I was asked by the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation to focus on the theme of 'water.' This was a new way of working for me, but once in Uganda, I started to look for this very consciously. Initially, we visited the community wells with George, our local partner, and guide. Once there, I noticed that the water from a community well did not connect enough to water me. I preferred to go to a place where I could see the element of water, so it was clear what it was all about. We eventually ended up at a fishing community right on Lake Victoria.

How do you look back on the photo series?

First, it has never happened before that so much material came out of one project. It was incredibly unique that our local partner accompanied us throughout the trip. If I wanted to photograph someone, I could just ask him and that's how you end up in special situations. For example, when we arrived in the community to see the rainwater tanks, a whole family was waiting for us. They were super grateful to the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation for everything that has been made possible for them, and were happy to have their picture taken. Their lives have really changed because of the water project. In the end there were 107 images and it will be very difficult to make a selection from them. The goal is to create an exhibition of about 25 images. In addition, I plan to send the final selection to the local partner organization "Katosi Women Development Trust," and of course to George. I noticed that many people really enjoyed participating in my project and this way they can see what I have done.

"I think it's very nice and really an added value that a part of the proceeds from my sold prints goes back to the Foundation, to help even more people get clean drinking water."

Did the trip give you other insights regarding clean drinking water?

Before my trip, I was aware of the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation's work on clean drinking water, but I didn't overthink it. I also saw Linelle's photos about her trip in collaboration with the Foundation. Once in Uganda, seeing how water turns people's lives upside down was imposing. When you hear the stories of the local people, it makes a world of difference. Installing rainwater tanks ensures that people no longer have to walk so far with their jerry cans. Especially for the older generation, this is important. In particular, you are made to think when you hear what placing a rainwater tank costs on average. You can hardly imagine that with €200 to €300 you can change a family's life so much. That's why I think it's a great added value that part of the proceeds of the prints sold in this series will return to the Foundation to help even more people get clean drinking water.

What has stayed with you most when you reflect on your trip to Uganda?

The whole trip was a blast because it was so short, and you did so much. Every day you're busy, and before you know it, you're on the plane back. When I look back at my images, sometimes, I can't even remember exactly what happened at that moment. Even for me now, it remains a mystery, and I think there is something to that. Thinking back on my trip, I find it insane that my photo series was created in three days. Without collaboration with the Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation, I would never have been able to do this.

What is your biggest challenge at the moment?

I have an exhibition, and I'm going to publish a book. The book is a dream. I love books and have a closet full of photo books myself. This is an addiction of mine. A book about the Morocco series was published before, but that became more of a reference book. The text on Uganda is going to be an art book. We are currently busy compiling this book, which will contain 107 images. We are also working on a limited edition box with a selection of prints from this project. When I do something like this, I want it to have quality. Such a box should give the feeling of, "I like this! I would also love to make another trip. The Preferably to Mongolia or Nepal.