Marta Moreiras and the subjects of her portraits – fathers carrying babies on their backs – were surprised by the attention they attracted as she took their photographs on the streets of Senegal’s capital Dakar.

Mouhammed, a photographer, and his son Zakaria. PHOTO: MARTA MOREIRAS

“People were clapping – sometimes it was a bit hard to take the picture because we were having such a large audience,” the Spanish photographer told the BBC.

“All the women were like: ‘Hey, give me five, I’m going to call my husband – we don’t see this every day.”

And that is exactly why Moreiras started her project, which has been shortlisted for the portraiture category of this year’s Sony World Photography Awards Professional competition.

Moulaye, a music producer, and his children Hassan and Malick. PHOTO: MARTA MOREIRAS

The idea came to her when she was looking through her photo archive, which for Senegal goes back to 2008.

“I realised that I had tonnes of pictures of mummies with babies on their back, but I just wondered why I didn’t have any of men.”
When she began phoning up some of her male Senegalese friends who had babies, most said that they would carry children on their backs if they were at home – but never outside.

Jules, a computer specialist, and his baby Jade. PHOTO: MARTA MOREIRAS

“There’s a big division here between public spaces and private spaces… and it’s very important what others think of you,” says Moreiras.

Yet her research and interviews revealed that men do play a significant child-caring role, not least because Dakar is expensive and couples often both have to work.

Cheikh, a freelance videographer, and his baby Zoe. PHOTO: MARTA MOREIRAS

“That will force them to start dividing tasks.

“And when I asked the men if they actually participated in the education of their children and if they helped at home they were like: ‘Well, yes I’m forced to, my wife, she works as well – she can’t just take on all the different tasks.’

“But whenever you see a picture of a baby you never see a dad with them or playing with them or taking them to school or washing them,” she said.

Demba, a financial consultant, with his baby Ely. PHOTO: MARTA MOREIRAS

This is how she first coaxed her interviewees into having their portraits taken.

“I’d say: ‘All right, so to make it more visible – this role of the dad – I want to take a photo of you with your child.'”

When they agreed to that, she’d say she would like the baby to be on their backs instead of in their arms – this too they happily agreed to, hesitation only setting in when she asked them to move outside to give the portrait “a more interesting setting”.

Birama, a civil engineer, and his baby Ndeye. PHOTO: MARTA MOREIRAS

“We don’t do that, we don’t take children to the street on our backs,” was the general response – but Moreiras’s persistence paid off.

“The whole reaction on streets was very cool, so the guy I was photographing began to feel more comfortable about it.”

The portraits she shot over a two- to three-month period were exhibited last May at Dak’Art, the African Contemporary Art Biennale, when the whole of Dakar becomes an art gallery.

And they certainly became a subject of debate – given the inspired decision to stage her exhibition at les parcours sportifs – a big open space on the main seafront thronged by those in pursuit of the body beautiful as it is full of gym equipment.


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