Mauritius-based photographer Beata Albert has been documenting life in the island nation for the past eight years. From the pristine beaches, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, lagoons, waterfalls, reefs and the little joys of daily living. But it is her coverage of the 25 July, Mauritius Oil spill that gave her a higher feeling of love and admiration for her country than ever before.
“So, I get to Mahébourg, from where MV Wakashio, the ship that ran aground, was clearly visible, and I see action on every side.” Beata recounts her first experience as she went down to the coastal village of Mahébourg to begin her coverage of the oil spill tragedy, everything seemingly still in the present for her.
“At the waterfront, there were people everywhere; all of them too busy: making booms, others carrying away finished booms into the water and the atmosphere, while it was that of distress, was still a beautiful sight to behold,” she adds.
How communities in Mauritius mobilized and led efforts to contain the spread of the spillage has been a subject of praise and admiration. Describing the scene at Mahébourg as locals crafted booms, environmental activist David Sauvage told NBC news that it was a “a people’s factory, a mobilization zone for Mauritians.”
Locals make a difference
Beata was touched by the concern of ordinary people pushing beyond their means to make a difference, and could easily connect with their underlying fears “for the villagers this is their life and livelihood; they fish there and they spend their time there,” she said.
Her photos from day one, show the work of a people running out of time to stop an ecological tragedy from getting any worse, her subjects seem so lost in their activity they do not seem aware of any photography. It is this passion that she was lost in, so much so that in her work she depicts more of the community response than the extent of the spillage.
We asked if she had any heartbreaks or concerns of her own as she covered this story. “I saw people get into the water to help, without any protective clothing, and I also felt very worried about the mangroves because these are rather difficult to clean up,” she said.
Even more intriguing in Beata’s photos, are people seated, seemingly comfortably, getting haircuts; quite a contrast to the hive of activity on the waterfront. She says she was pretty shocked at their sight as well and inquired, “only after getting the photos of course,” and learnt a beautiful fact.
“I learnt that one kilogramme of hair can absorb almost eight litres of oil. So, they amazingly were playing a part and these were put in some type of booms like the others which were made with sugarcane stalks.” She explains adding that people in other parts of the world were cutting their hair in solidarity with Mauritius and that those would be sent over at some point. If it works, it definitely is worth trying.”
But photography in Mauritius can be challenging, especially if the action is unplanned. We asked Beata if an open sea and a possibly clear sky posed a challenge and how she produced very evenly lit photos in such an environment.
“In this time of the year we are blessed with favourable lighting,” she says, adding that being the Mauritian ‘winter’ all it took to get a good picture any time of the day was an understanding of composition depending on the situation of the subject otherwise “you can jump into action whenever you see it.”
Her word to photographers documenting life in different communities? “Never look at the restrictions first or ask questions like – will someone stop me? – No, go for it and then if someone tells you off, it will be after you have the photo.” She says.
Watch Beata’s interview here: