The Dam. Views on... While we could....

This week’s HIPUganda weekly addressed the attraction, and a possible use of aireal photographs. The photograph that was the inspiration for the post was, however, not an aerial photograph from just anything, but from, of all places, the Owen Falls dam. That in itself may, I imagine, have been the cause of the popularity of the post of the aerial, post-card view of the dam.

Those who tried, during the past decade and a half, know that it is no longer possible to freely photograph the dam. It has, as one commenter on a photograph we posted noted, become part of ‘national infrastructure’, and therefore a potential risk; ‘In 2002, I innocently took a photo of the dam looking south, while standing on the northeast bank of the river. I did look before taking the picture and didn’t see anyone around. No sooner did I finish the picture did an army officer come and tell me I couldn’t take pictures of national infrastructure!’

The dam that once was a source of pride, a symbol for progress and development, has over time become a source of fear. Something that, because of what it is, exposes how frail systems are, how they depend on places that are both in function and in representation vital for ‘what is.’

I imagine that this will become one of the blog posts that will need updating over time, as more photographs of the dam, while they could still be made, emerge. I collected here, from the top of my head, images posted in various collections, ranging from ‘state documentation’ in the Uganda Protectorate Public Relations Department, Photographic division, to images made on assignment for, for instance, Nile Breweries (by Elly Rwakoma), or photographs that are part of personal collections like Eng. Wambwa’s.

One thing that seems to have been appealing to photograph at the dam was the boy fishing on the river Nile side. He appears in The Kaddu Wasswa Archive first. And I thought it was a very special photograph.

Until he, or another version of him, appears again in a series of slides that is part of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington.

What are these photographs of, or about, one could wonder. They might be made in honour of the dam that is merely supported by the figurate of a boy who is fishing. Or the boy could be the main subject of the photograph. A small figure, who, just like Caspar David Friedrich’s wanderer, stands his grounds, thanks to or despite the power displayed by the water he is trying to harvest from.

We will, as time progresses, keep on adding photographs of the dam to this post. And we will if there is reason for it, add thoughts to it too. For now the last ‘dam photo’ is from the collection of the late Michael Kibwika Bagenda, posing with his friends. Here it is clear. This is about young men, holding the future in their hands. Or in what their shirts, their ties, their jackets stand for. Being there at the dam. Not about the dam showing how small they are.

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