Sunday, May 30, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Standing on the bumper of our truck, this portrait is made. This is the most distant of the villages we visit during our time near the national park. Once again, according to all accounts our work will be difficult.
Contrary to the best intentions of our advisors however, we are met with smiles and body adornments for sale. Sure we need to negotiate our photography; then again all of the tribes in this region of Ethiopia ask for the same courtesy.
Since we are limited with time and with funding, we decide to select the ones most interested in the photography. We begin with the children and work our way to the adults. On this day, the market nearby is closed and so only the people from this village are present. Yesterday, many more were present due to the fact that tourists were sure to visit before and after the market.
On this day, everyone decides to take a seat behind us to the left and wait for their turn. They are very patient, knowing that we are limited in what we can do. Every now and then, a woman will walk up with a small child; but for the most part the hour or so on this late afternoon is calm and orderly.
This is most important because the clouds are moving in and we still need time to set up our tents. Every few minutes or so, we look behind us at the sun and continue with the photography.
Every few portraits, a small cloud appears and we wait until it passes. Now and then, a few men decide to cut in line. These are men with rifles and other weapons and, even though everyone around me tells me that the rifles are rarely used, it makes sense to allow them their minute in front of the camera.
We then return to the girls and then the women. There is one girl missing though. Yesterday she was there, when the market was open. She followed me everywhere, asked for nothing and just wanted to satisfy her curiosity. My friend kept smiling, telling me that we have found the star of this village. She never once spoke a word, only smiled. In a land and among people very different on the surface from me, here was this little girl that treated me like her big brother.
Today she is missing. We look for her without success. We acknowledge our loss and finish our afternoon, hoping that she'll be present next year. Like all previous times in different nations, there are faces that keep me coming back. Her face is etched in my mind.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
We have been waiting since the morning session under the hot sun, under the shade of some short trees on the side of the road. The men of the village have been waiting beside us as well. They have been playing a game, talking and just enjoying each other's company.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Even more surreal is their reaction to my direction. This man for instance poses as directed: turn to the left, turn to the right, point the gun at the camera. He responds calmly, like a man being photographed with his prized possession, all the while with his finger behind the trigger.
It is such moments that give my connection to strangers even more significance. Over and over again, people that have never met me show me a respect and dignity perhaps only earned over a lifetime between the closest of friends.
This confluence never ceases to surprise me. One such convergence happens tonight, when a sweet soul from the West Coast named Jessica decides to send a note. After seeing an image from Ethiopia, she shares her thoughts with me as naturally as she might with a dear friend.
She reaffirms my trust in the everday and in the power of the image: 'It seems that the people closest to you know you the least until they look and try to understand what it is you love to do.'
This happens on location in Ethiopia and happens between two people meeting through the photographic medium. By seeing the portraits, Jessica sees the subjects as well as the photographer. By reading their stories, she remembers her past.
In her words: 'I visited Togo, Africa for two weeks around a year ago to help build a school in a small village and since then my idea of beauty has extended past American ideals. In addition to the way that you evoke emotion throughout your portfolio, a large part of why I am so inspired by your work is because I have heard the stories of people from many places and you capture their stories in your art.'
When requesting her permission to include the above words, Jessica responds with trust, with kindness. The people in my images will one day be proud to know her, to have their portraits next to one of her in my portfolio.
As for the man above, it seems that the expense of the bullets keeps him and his friends from using the gun very much. This helps put me at ease as he points the gun at the camera. The Mursi Community, as noted in an earlier post, shows us only respect and kindness, coupled with a sense of humor as seen above in the man's smile.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Five days are spent in this area, five days spent driving over mountains to reach these villages. On many days, the clouds appear just in time for the photography. During the middle of the day, the sun rules. Then in the afternoon, the clouds appear, lasting until the evening when the skies become clear once again.
This ritual remains constant during our stay here. Just when we think the sun will remain, it is covered by the clouds. One day we decide to take our chances and stay overnight in the park. We arrive in the afternoon for a day of photography with the sun intact until the early evening. We then set up the tents, get some water boiling for the corn purchased the previous day and have our short dinner.
Seated next to us is a Mursi guide with his AK-47. Even though darkness prevails, the men from the nearby tribes have very little trouble finding us. They join their fellow Mursi man and decide to hang out with us until the morning. Most of them are also armed with the same hardware. Contrary to my presumptions regarding the presence of guns, sleep is easy to come by this night, especially after a little corn.
We wake up in the morning to a glorious, blue sky. The feeling is hard to explain. We decide to hurry to the first village and begin. Upon arrival, negotiations are initiated and we quickly start. We are able to make portraits for about one hour before the clouds hide the sun.
The aggravation is easy to see on my face and the tribe wonders why we have stopped. We point to the sun hiding behind the clouds. The guide insists that the sun will reappear and, to my surprise, it does so one hour later. The angle of the sun is still more than acceptable and we continue with our portraits until all are photographed.
Almost everyone prior to our arrival warns us with respect to the Mursi Community: they are most difficult, they are forceful, they attack tourists and their trucks.
Contrary to all this talk, the Mursi Community accepts us with open arms. We sit alongside them under the trees, the continue their conversations without noticing our presence. We spent days with them. Sure, they approach me and put their lip plates in my hands, walk away and then speak prices to me with a smile. However, they also smile back when I walk over to them and place the lip plates back in their hands. At times, we speak directly with them, sharing with them our limitations. They accept them, they allow us to stay.
In the end, this is a tribe that I will visit for the rest of my life.