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ON THAT DAY - “Senegalese Magic” by Denis Rouvre

ON THAT DAY – “Senegalese Magic” by Denis Rouvre

With our series On that Day, photographers are invited to go behind the scenes of one of their photographs. Today, photographer Denis Rouvre tells us about this long-awaited moment, on a beach in Senegal…

“It was in 2009; I had decided to do a series on Senegalese wrestling. Since I had already been to Senegal several times, I knew it was going to be a very difficult job and so I had planned to make at least three trips to be sure I could do it.

I took off for Dakar the first time and stayed two weeks without taking a single photo, because each time there was always a last minute problem. I was upset and very frustrated because I was able to attend all these wrestling matches but without being able to shoot anything. My idea was to set up a studio and shoot them face-to-face, but that wasn’t at all possible.

On that first trip, I did meet one of the people in the picture: Bombardier, that’s his stage name. He’s the big guy in the center of the picture. I had already shown him my work, which had resonated with him, but he told me it would be complicated. Anyway, nobody there wanted to help me, nobody wanted to pose. I didn’t take a single shot, but it only made me realize all the more that this was the subject matter I wanted to do.

From the series Lamb, lutteurs du Sénégal (Senegalese wrestlers) © Denis Rouvre

I went back to Senegal a month later. I established contacts with as many locals as possible, but again, to no avail. The day before I left for Paris, I decided to call Bombardier one last time. He said to me: “Listen, come to Mbour beach tomorrow, where we train.” So I went there with a photographer friend in his small car and, once there, we find ourselves staring at forty wrestlers training on the sand and two hundred children gathered around. Bombardier says to me: “Set up your studio.” It was 5 pm, I had one half-hour of daylight left. I quickly set up my emergency studio behind the car on the beach; I set up my black screen and I set up my flash. I was very careful with my equipment because there were a lot of people there. I was in a suburb of Dakar, with people swarming everywhere.

When Bombardier sees that I’m ready, he walks over with his team and they hang out, right there, in the studio. Sweating, in a total state of trance, I start to photograph them. When I take a step forward, there are two hundred children behind me who move forward too; when I step backwards, there are two hundred children who move backwards too. There was an incredible vibe, but at the same time, it was a moment of intense stress. That’s the day I took this photo.

Then he puts his whole team behind the studio and I start to do individual portraits of Bombardier and his best fighters. I worked until 6 p.m. and managed to do exactly a third of what would later make up my book Lamb, lutteurs du Sénégal [Lamb, Wrestlers of Senegal]. I waited for a month for the right moment, and just when I had lost hope, it all happened the day before I was going home after my second visit, and in that one half-hour was concentrated everything I had missed over the course of a month. When Bombardier said to me “Come,” he was prepared to pose exactly the way I wanted, and in that fraction of a second, it was as if everything aligned for it to work out.”

By Denis Rouvre

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