"No Man's Job": Female Mechanics in Senegal

Staff Blog

Staff Blog | Sep 12, 2014

We knew we were looking at something special the moment we saw these photos of female mechanics from Senegal.

The photos come from Anthony Kurtz's award-winning portrait series, "No Man's Job," and we simply had to get the story behind them. Anthony was gracious enough to take time out of his schedule, to share his thinking behind the series and the remarkable women he portrays.

Here's what he had to say.

A mechanic at Femmes Auto in Dakar, Senegal. (Anthony Kurtz)

Car Talk: How did you get the idea for the series?

Anthony: I was in Senegal for a month volunteering with Walking Tree, in the small village of Dindefelo and wanted to work on a project afterwards. I stumbled upon a short clip from TV5, a French station, about a female-owned shop in Dakar. I asked myself: When was the last time I saw a female auto mechanic?…Even in the US! Or a female taxi driver or construction worker?

I started seeing the possibilities of this project: To find women in Dakar, and maybe across the globe, doing “dirty or tough jobs” performed primarily by men. A friend of mine, Virginie Baldeschi, works for a women's organization in Paris, and she introduced me to a Senegalese friend who had some contacts. It just went forward from there.

Car Talk: How did these mechanics get started?

Anthony: Their stories vary. I worked with three different shops, Fatou and Fatou Mercedes, Femmes Auto, and Chicory Mechanique. I was particularly inspired by the story of Fatou Sylla and Fatou Camara. After seven years of professional training at the Touba Mecanique training program, these ambitious women decided to open their own shop.

They faced many road blocks. They had no budget. They squatted locations, only to be chased away. Over time, they earned recognition locally, and then even nationally after a visit by then-President Abdoulaye Wade. Today, they enjoy a great following and are respected by customers and other mechanics in the neighborhood. To my surprise, Garage Fatou & Fatou didn't have any female employees. Although they get a lot of female applicants, the applicants must have a degree to be employed in the shop. Unfortunately, only about one woman a year finishes with a degree in Car Repair. On the other hand, Femmes Auto, another garage I worked with, had quite a few female mechanics. Perhaps it's because they aren’t a specialty Mercedes shop.

Fatou Sylla and Fatou Camara, of Fatou and Fatou Mercedes. (Anthony Kurtz)

Car Talk: What did you want to accomplish with these photos?

Anthony: My work often focuses on marginalization, and people living on the edges of society. I’m interested in those individuals or communities who see things differently. I never take "No" for an answer.

Their struggle and courage is what I admire, and it provides the inspiration for my work. What's more, the gritty visuals of the auto-repair shops appeal to me as an environmental portrait photographer, where the setting is just as important as the people I’m portraying. Perhaps this project can inspire others to take a non-conventional road towards their goals and also to never take "No" for an answer.

I’m very proud that "No Man's Job" has won several awards and has been shared by The Guardian and The Huffington Post, to name a few. And now Car Talk!

Taking a break at Chicory Mechanique. (Anthony Kurtz)

Car Talk: Yes, thanks for agreeing to tarnish your international reputation by associating with the likes of us!

Anthony: Actually, my brother-in-law in Australia loves listening to your podcasts. I really enjoy listening to you, too, though I’m more of a bicycle rider.

Car Talk: We understand. We have a long history of promoting bicycling -- albeit inadvertently -- and we’ll take any fans we can get.

Anthony, thanks for your time. In case it isn't obvious, we think this is just an amazingly great project. Good luck on your future endeavors!

Anthony: Thanks, Car Talk! It's been a pleasure talking with you.

To see more of Anthony’s work, or to find out what he’s up to next, follow him on Facebook or check out his website.

Under the hood. (Anthony Kurtz)
At Femmes Auto. (Anthony Kurtz)
A welder at Chicory Mechanique. (Anthony Kurtz) 

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