Arts, Culture & Media

Images: When you are gay (and afraid) in Uganda

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After being outed in a local paper, 32-year-old Daniel [name changed to protect identity] lost his job and had to go underground. His partner fled the country.

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Shane Thomas McMillan

I met Shane McMillan at the University of Montana eight years ago during my first year of grad school. Our friendship began in a photo darkroom with a conversation about Africa, which, looking back, makes total sense.

He was getting ready to study abroad in Ghana during his junior year. I'd done the same thing, but 10 years earlier. Neither of us knew at the time that we would stay connected for years to come, updating each other on our international travels, subjects we'd photographed and why we cared about them.  

Our paths crossed infrequently until last year, when Shane moved from Berlin to Portland, Maine, to teach documentary photography at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. I have been teaching multimedia storytelling at Salt since since 2012, and we combined to create “UNBOUND," an exhibit that explores some our journeys in photos.  

Queer in Kampala

For almost a decade, Shane had been following the legal and social conditions for queer people in Uganda. Last year, he finally traveled to Uganda to try to get beyond the international headlines about the issue.

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Simon [name changed to protect identity], a human rights activist working to stabilize the living situations of people being persecuted for their sexual identities in Uganda.

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Shane Thomas McMillan

“For me, shooting this series was about meeting the people affected by Uganda's laws and learning what it meant to them, how it affected the way they lived and how they imagined their futures,” he says.

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Months after being arrested and beaten, Muhammad was still on medication for the injuries he received from being kicked in the side by police officers in jail.

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Shane Thomas McMillan

In Kampala, Shane made connections with subjects through a few local nonprofits working to protect LGBT people, but the process wasn't easy. “We had to protect their identities, because most of them are not out as being LGBT," he explains. "Though some of them had been outed in their communities, they didn't feel comfortable having their faces shown in the press. So the challenge became trying to show them as people, but also not show their faces.”  

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Muhammad [name changed to protect identity]

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Shane Thomas McMillan

“It was much more like a series of portrait sessions in which the people I photographed had control over how much of themselves they showed the camera," he says. "This was very important to me, because I wanted them to create the image that they wanted the outside world to see, albeit filtered through my own approach as a photographer.”

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“This place here, it is hell,” said Anisha, 23 who lost her job with a major Ugandan company soon after her co-workers found out she was a lesbian.

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Shane Thomas McMillan

Maternal health in the Democratic Republic of Congo

I remember getting a text from the midwife at a small maternity clinic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo one afternoon in 2012. It said that a woman had arrived at the clinic in labor and that she was willing to let me photograph her delivery. I'd been spending time at the clinic documenting the challenges brought by a recent water shortage, which forced the government to shut down its only operating room for c-sections. I had asked the midwives to call me when any mother arrived in labor.

44-year-old Elali Bao labors with her sixth child at a maternity clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

44-year-old Elali Bao labors with her sixth child at a maternity clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

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Anne Bailey

When I slept at the clinic one night, I visited the maternity ward. Lanterns shed a ghostly light across the rows of mosquito nets draped over beds. In the corner, a new mother cried silently as an older mother sat next to her, trying to help her to get her milk to come in.

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Elali Bao paces during the early stages of labor at a maternity clinic in North Kivu province.

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Anne Bailey

The clinic, in war-torn North Kivu province, had one bed for deliveries. If another mother arrived in labor while the delivery bed was occupied, she lay on a thin mattress on the floor and waited.

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A midwife prepares the maternity ward's lone delivery bed.

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Anne Bailey

When I got the text that afternoon, I rushed to the clinic in time to photograph a 44-year-old mother of five — soon to be six — during the last hours of labor and birth. I had never witnessed a birth before, and I remember how relaxed the midwife seemed to be throughout. Then, quickly after her delivery, the mother and her newborn were shuffled to a nearby cot in order to free up the delivery bed.  

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Elali Bao's baby gets cleaned up moments after birth.

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Anne Bailey

Without a common language between us, I could only hope my face and body language conveyed the gratitude I felt toward this woman, who allowed a complete stranger to share such an intimate moment in her life.

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A nurse carries the placenta and afterbirth in buckets to a hole in the ground behind the clinic. 

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Anne Bailey

“UNBOUND” opens Friday, April 3, at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine and also features photography from Thailand, Germany, Ireland, Slovenia and the US.