My name is Christian Hounsounou and I’m from Benin, a small country of West Africa. I work as a medical doctor and I live between Dakar where I am studying and Paris where I am currently working. Three years ago I started to devote an important part of my spare time to the mobile photography and I just fell in love with it.
How was your interest in photography sparked? How does photography influence the way you see the world around you?
I can’t exactly say. Sincerely, I’ve never tried to totally express my creative side and in Africa, the realities are different. Between my long studies and too many daily concerns, we almost forget that letting ourselves blossom is at least as important as the rest. What I like the most about photography is that powerful, almost magical feeling that certain shots have. Sometimes all it takes is a simple smile, landscape, light or even some colours to inspire people to travel. Thanks to photography, I have travelled and met a lot of talented and extremely devoted persons who constantly inspire me.
Have you always lived in Dakar, Senegal? If no, where else and what brought you back?
I’ve lived in Dakar for almost five years, and I hope to never leave it again. I really like it. Before, I grew up in Benin my childhood country. I’ve also studied and visited Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana and Mali. At the moment, I travel a bit more and it’s the entire world I would like to visit.
How would you describe the various cultures that exist within Senegal as a whole?
What always comes to my mind when I talk about Senegal is its wise mixture between traditional and modernity. Everywhere in the country, the Muslim brotherhood is present and absolutely inevitable in the daily cultural, economic and socio-political life. According to me, they constitute a real base for the development and the dynamism of the young dynamic class. The balance is not necessarily constant but that is what makes the beauty of Senegal. This is one more thing I haven’t found anywhere else and which makes me feel so good. Otherwise, everything is not yet perfect but it moves in all fields: roads, education, and above all the new technologies. To have travelled in a lot of countries within the region, I can clearly say that the numeric economy in Senegal is without any doubt among the most dynamic in West Africa.
Where do you go to enjoy Dakar and socialize? Where would you recommend travellers hoping to connect with locals go?
It’s difficult to answer this question directly because there are many in Dakar. The chic and cosy Dakar which contrasts with the rural Dakar more peripherally. Anyone like me could find his/her happiness. The town is full of chic and nice restaurants, pastries, coffee shops and fast foods. Between the commercial area and the market called Sandaga, the downtown is always bustling during day time and it is easy to meet people. In the evening, the district that moves is “Almadies”: night clubs, restaurants, hotels, surf…
If you are not afraid to go off the beaten tracks, visit the suburbs of Dakar. The nose, the colours, and the children here and there…the scenery is guaranteed. Regardless of the daily difficulties, it is impossible not to cross people happy and uninhibited to sympathize over a cup of Attaya, a locally made tea. Also, don’t forget to take a trip to Ngor and Goree Islands and the Sarpant small island. Crossings are secured and people always spend good times when they escape from Dakar for few hours.
I will finish on a note a little less rosy: the beaches. For me who spends a lot of time there for my photography, I have to say that I’ve seen a lot of the beach deteriorate over the years for lack of maintenance and cleaning. It’s quite unfortunate but if you are not a regular, you will need to find a local to show you where the clean areas are where you can still enjoy yourself and have a good time peacefully. As a last resort, there are always the private beaches owned by the big hotels in oceanfront that offer a secured frame and splendid views on the ocean during sunset.
What are 3 of your favourite places to photograph throughout the Senegal? Why?
Without any hesitation I will say:
-Yoff beach: for unique landscapes, the sea mist, the shimmering colours of the fishing boats and for the beautiful black and white contrasted pictures you can take during the sunset.
-Kayar beach on the Western Coast: this place is unique. Something happens when you are there. I cannot tell you what. The fishing boats are huge, the sand is hot and fine and the sea offers impressive waves to surfers.
-The inescapable Goree island.
If you can, do not hesitate to discover St Louis, Joal, Saloum Islands or Saly that also offer many possibilities of unforgettable experiences.
Description and recommendations of the best areas for the Senegal visitors.
Activities to do and cities/areas to explore:
Jogging at the beach in the afternoon, shopping in Sandaga, experiment with public transportation, surfing on Almadies or on the West Corniche, visit Goree, Ngor islands and the small Sarpant island, Joal-Fadiot, St. Louis, Kayar, Saly, Casamance, or the Saloum Islands.
Restaurants, best foods to try coffee shops/local restaurants:
To eat local, forget the restaurants. Each Senegalese home is a “restaurant”. Invite yourself to your neighbour’s house…you will leave conquered. Otherwise, there is a wide range of choices for restaurants, coffee shops and fast foods. There is something for all prices. I have a particular affection for the French baguette of the baker Eric Kayser installed on the Republic Avenue next to the Presidential House. Or for the ”Press Café” and its couch soft (free Wi-Fi and air conditioning bonus). The city is so cosmopolitan and you can easily find food or restaurants with very diverse influences: French, Asian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Ivorian, Cameroonian…to name a few. Dakar, good addresses book, you won’t be disappointed.
The best markets and neighbourhoods to do local shopping:
Sandaga market, HLM market or the shopping center Sea Plaza and its many European franchises.
What would surprise most people about Senegal? What would you like people to know about Senegal that the media rarely shows?
The vitality and the dynamism of the local economic sector…The life quality of the emerging middle class and so many business opportunities in every area of activities. This is not only true for the Senegal but also for other numerous African countries.
What advice would you give for those who are interested in visiting Senegal?
Come as you are. You will find hospitality and generosity in every house here.
What’s next for you?
For the past three years, I’ve mostly created mobile pictures. I learned everything from my smartphones, but now have a DSLR because my appetite for photography continues to grow. I will take the time to find my bearings with this new device then soon start to conquer the rest of the continent. Then, why not the world…
To see more of Christian's incredible photography, be sure to follow him @chrishouns on Instagram.
Images Courtesy of Christian Hounsounou
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