I would like to introduce you to Nina Carrington. I initially met her at a networking event. She is an award winning photographer based in Kent. Her photography is meticulously planned and very beautiful. I thought she would be perfect to capture the personalities of our staff and students at Our Moon.

Nina very kindly offered to visit us with her husband on a pro bono basis. You can see some of her photos here and how they reflect our students’ emotions, our stunning vistas and our staff’s passion and dedication. I recently caught up with her after she returned home, when she reflected on her time at Our Moon.

Helen: Before your visit to Zambia, what was it about Our Moon that resonated with you?

Nina: I had to fight my way into higher education and I know coming from comparative poverty makes it not only more difficult, but much scarier. You have no one to fall back on if things go wrong and you don’t know how terrifying that is until you live it. When you’re young you haven’t learnt there is almost always a way to fix things.

Helen: How did you find Zambia when you got here?

Nina: Zambia fascinated me from the moment I landed. The people have such warmth which, after quite a delayed journey, was wonderful.

This was my first time in any African country. We all have images of places before visiting them and I imagined Zambia to be an arid, mountainous landscape, but it was so much lusher and flatter than I’d imagined.

As we drove away from the airport the mixture of gated compounds and ramshackle huts made the disparity between rich and poor immediately evident.

Helen: Were there any things that shocked you or that were so different from life in the UK?

Nina: Going through the main city of Lusaka, you can see who’s poor in a way you don’t in the UK. It was not just that some people were in obvious need of sustenance and clothes were full of holes, but rather in their expressions. Desperate, sustained poverty leaves a haunted look – eyes either plead or are shadowed by a furrowed brow.

I’ve seen it in other countries, but every time I’m faced with it, I feel a deep sadness.

Helen: Our Moon’s students come from homes that experience huge levels of poverty, unlike poverty that we witness in the UK – even those with regular working parents. Do you think your own upbringing made it easier to empathise with them?

Nina: Yes. I was not poor in the way these people are, but I had to constantly deny myself all the things that would have growing up feel good. Every luxury – nice and nutritious foods, clothes, clubs and later pubs were simply things I could not afford – but they were necessary to be a part of friendship groups.

Helen: Tell us about how you approached photographing our students and surroundings?

Nina: We talked about how you wanted to photograph the staff and students in advance, and you wanted to see them in their surroundings and for them not to look posed. A lot of the time, those images are posed, but I took on board the fact that these students may not have been photographed a lot given that very few of them have smart phones.

Together we planned out some essential images you wanted and I went away and found some inspiration.

It was really, really nice having a few days for the photographs because it allowed me time to familiarise myself with the environment (which is something I always do in the UK where possible) as well as people’s faces. I chose a few spots I thought would make good settings. I then tried to engineer people into those spots.

At other times, I simply photographed what was there – watching and waiting for an expression to change. I’m always conscious of how the subject is framed because it adds so much to the narrative.

Helen: Which is your favourite photograph that you took and why? Mine is the photo you took of Lina, our maid, when she was washing clothes. It tells such a story about her, about her job, about the harshness of life in Zambia while showing such beautiful scenery.

Nina: I love that image too! Sometimes the best images aren’t planned. I was walking by and saw her framed between the sheet and the tree, with the view behind her and knew I had to get that shot before Lina became self-conscious.

I have a few favourite images, but my absolute favourite is of Mapalo looking out over the land. She feels as though she has the inner strength to overcome all the obstacles that might lie in her way. I photographed her below her eye level to give power and authority. Her expression is relaxed though because she’ll do best by being herself.

Helen: Do you have a favourite moment of your time at Our Moon?

Nina: It was photographing the students in the early morning while they were gardening. The golden light was beautiful. The exercise and connection with the land relaxed them and you see something different in these images.

Helen – and now for some quick fire questions:

Nina: Best things about Zambia: The amazing thunder storms!

Best things about Our Moon: The students – they’re exceptional, beautiful people.

Favourite books that you would recommend to our students to read before they leave Our Moon: The novel you chose for the students, Americana by Chimimanda Ngoze Adiche, seems a really good choice to prepare them for the differences they’ll encounter if they go to places like America.

Favourite films that you would recommend to our students to watch before they leave Our Moon: Educating Rita (although it’s very dated now) to give them a sense that even if they don’t achieve everything on their personal schedules, there is time and there is always, always value in educating themselves and those around them.

Helen: Thank you, Nina, for giving your time for the interviews and for these (and more) beautiful photographs of Our Moon and our students.

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