Since information and ethnological research on African monarchs was rare, I started to investigate haphazardly, then went to meet the kings, beyond the cities often at the end of very bad roads.
In order to photograph them I had to submit almost always to complex protocols. I put in a lot of time and sometimes money. I was helped many times by intermediaries who were well known in the court. Without them, negotiations would have been impossible.
In three years, between 1988 and 1991, I undertook a dozen voyages which enabled me to spend almost twelve months in Africa. And yet I still didn’t have time to go see the king of the Shiluks, a descendant of the black dynasties who reigned over Egypt, civil war in Sudan made the trip too complicated. During the same period, I went five times to Oyo( Nigeria ), without meeting the Alafin, whose Yoruba Kingdom dominated the south of Nigeria during several centuries.
During these different voyages, I had to deal with telephones which rarely worked when needed, and local transports often slow and dangerous. But I always had trouble adapting myself to the African conception of time. In Zaire, between necessary authorizations, the trip and the ritual which preceeds wearing the royal costume, it took me three weeks to photograph the king of the Kuba. In Cameroun, the Baba of Rey-Bouba made me wait eight days in a cabana. In Nigeria, for fifteen days I followed the traces of the Oni of Ife, who was constantly traveling across the country. In South Africa, the king of the Ndebele made me spend half a day with his royal concil, and then sent me to get an authorization from the government of Kwa-Ndebele. From secretaries to various offices, I found myself before a white civil servant, who threatened to have me expulsed for having violated the state of emergency. Ten days of discussions and no photos.
On the other hand, there was also all the rest: the African voyage. The local transports and the unexpected meetings, the “good guys”, ambassadors or peasants, the “bad guys”, that I met more often in the ministeries than in the streets, impressive moments with their Majesties and their subjects, in the silence and self-communion of a ritual, the rythms, and this mad laugh of Africa that destiny interrupts so often.
Text by Daniel LainÃ©
Journey of a photographer
Born on the 29th of April 1949 in Auxerre( France ), Daniel very quickly took life in his hands. Fascinated by voyages and faraway lands, he was successively: labourer, messenger, office worker, French teacher in Peru, sailor in caraib sea, hotel manager in Martinique, agricultural worker in Canada, travel organizer in India and Afghanistan.
It is through these experiences that his first pictures were published in various french papers and magazines like: Liberation, Partir and Grands Reportages.
In 1980 he joined the team of the French photo agency, Gamma. From 1983 to 1993, he was the photographer for the French magazine Actuel. He is now a free lance photographer as well as a TV reporter.
His work on the Kings of Africa was rewarded by the prize of the Villa Medicis in 1988, and a 1st prize of World Press Photo in 1991.