Why I got on the Roids

Instant Family Polaroid in Mauritania

Instant Family Polaroid in Mauritania

January 16th 2013

Off the corner of a dark laneway in Melbourne’s CBD my hands tremble with a tightly rolled stack of pineapples.* Sweat lines my brow as I check and double-check if anyone’s watching. The dealer looks me in the eye and my stomach drops. I hand over the cash. She passes me an innocent looking 12 X 15 centimetre box and hurries away inconspicuously – why was she wearing a nametag? It’s my first time, but I have no idea yet that it won’t be my last.

February 15th 2013

Just a month after my first hit the addiction has taken over. I’m stuck in a Mad Max-esque desert city capital in the middle of the Sahara. I’m a changed man, sharing my addiction, dolling out fixes to kids, grandmothers and anything in between. To keep under the radar I start hanging out in the fishing district of town and keep the company of Senegalese immigrants. I call them my friends but as the days go by I gradually share my habit with them too – even with their mothers. I’ll do anything for that sweet smile, that smell, that click, that instant gift. I’m addicted and it’s an expensive drug: Roids, Instant Polaroids. Guffaw.


Getting on the Roids – wink wink- (i.e. giving instant Polaroid photos to the people I meet and photograph while travelling) is something I wish I started doing long ago. I usually offer to email digital copies to people I photograph along the way – and sometimes prints too – but there is a simple charm to an instant Polaroid that can’t be posted or emailed when you get back to civilisation. It makes the act of photography a tangible exchange that involves giving, not just clicking the shutter and pointing at the results on an LCD screen. Some people I meet have never had their photo taken and many don’t even have an address I could send them prints to, let alone an email to send JPEGs. So in many cases even a humble credit-card sized Polaroid can become a powerful gift, and as a bonus it’s a great way to make friends too.

In February I spent several weeks in Mauritania holed up waiting for a visa in the capital city of Nouakchott. In my spare time between hassling admin staff at the Senegalese embassy, I started making trips to the local beach/fish market. I became fascinated with the fishermen (most of whom are originally from Senegal) and decided to do a small project. After scouring the beach with a guide I met Mohammed, who let me photograph his day’s work 25 kilometres out at sea on a decorative, ten-metre, five-man fishing pirogue. We became good friends and he later invited me home to visit his family in a humble suburb called Five-M, where I returned on several occasions to hang out, watch Spanish soccer matches, eat ‘tiep bou djen’ (a Senegalese specialty mixing fish, tamarind, lime, chilli and vegetables on a bed of fried rice) and photograph his family. In this photograph Mahommed’s mother is nursing her granddaughter in one arm and in the other a fresh Polaroid family portrait. It’s a small memento, but one that smiles and – I hope – shows why I’ll be back at that dodgy camera store in Melbourne’s CBD picking up a fix of more Polaroid cartridges… or maybe not, it’s way cheaper off eBay!

Till next post,


* ‘Pineapples’ is Aussie slang for $50 notes, which are yellow in colour.


5 thoughts on “Why I got on the Roids

  1. Pingback: When your house is burning, what do you save? | CAM COPE Photography Blog

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