Some people’s instagram accounts are full of cat pictures or fashion selfies or cupcakes. And then there’s the instagram account of photographer Michael Christopher Brown, who hangs out with Congolese kids in airplane graveyards. From the looks of his instagram photos, Michael hasn’t been back home to Brooklyn in years. His profile is a continuously stunning feed of raw and intimate glimpses into a world where most photojournalists won’t venture. Young, brave and curious, Michael has a knack for finding the beauty in the most unfortunate of places. Congo’s airport playground where the landing gear of a rusting aircraft doubles as a kids’ jungle gym, is one of those places his curiosity led him…
Abandoned planes are a common site at airports in Africa. At Goma Airport, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, planes left due to wars and volcanic eruptions over the past two decades have become a playground for street children, some of whom sell the parts which are made into stoves and other items to be sold on the streets of Goma.
One is generally prohibited from photographing this airport but in mid-December, 2012, after the M23 rebel force which occupied Goma left and before the FARDC (military of the D.R.C.) returned to the city, a security vacuum meant that nobody was guarding this section of the airport.
Children guided me through the planes, which were later discussed by my Congolese fixer, Horeb:
“In January of 2002, the volcano (Nyiragongo, just outside Goma) exploded and the lava blocked the planes. I helped move this plane after I and many of my friends living near the airport lost our homes to lava, on the first day of the eruption. On the second day, we saw the lava moving towards the planes. I and others were just watching the lava flow getting closer to the planes and we decided to move one of them, this newer one. There were at least a hundred people there pushing the plane for about 300 meters. A friend mine, who was there and whose house was also destroyed, had a childhood dream to be a pilot. But his parents were too poor and all the schools were expensive, so he could not hold onto that dream. He forgot about it, but then on that day, when we needed to move the plane, he told me to help him inside so he might steer it! We all pushed the plane as my friend waved his arm out the window, in the cockpit. We then climbed in the plane and saw the lava flowing down the volcano and into town.”
In 2011, Michael took also took a road trip through a war zone and documented the Libyan revolution using his camera phone. His photographs from Libya also appear in his forthcoming book Libyan Sugar, a record of Michael Christopher Brown’s life both inside and outside Libya during that year. It’s his own story of a young man going to war for the first time, experiencing of that age-old desire to get as close as possible to a conflict in order to discover something about war and something about himself.
“Stripping an engine of small metal parts to sell on the street”
Make your instagram feed a little more eye-opening and follow Michael Christopher Brown.
His website is here.