Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mursi Man, Hat, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, March, 2010

This portrait is made on a late afternoon while our truck idles behind me. He stands looking to his right where perhaps twenty women and girls sit. Earlier today they had their portraits made and even sold a few lip plates to me, all with different shapes, patterns and colors.

In between sessions, we wait under the hot sun, to the surprise of the driver and the translator. While most of their friends bring customers into the village for a few minutes only to drive back to the motel for the rest of the day, these two good men get to hang out with me all day and wait for the sun to begin its descent into the late afternoon.

We would rather go back and rest ourselves but know that to come back would be most difficult for the truck. So we have our lunch under a tree, share a can or two of sardines with a few tribesmen, sleep for a bit, talk to the older men and generally are the center of attention for the younger generation.

Today the sun exists without clouds and my only wish is that this remains so until the afternoon. We are granted this wish and arrange to make the men's portraits. One by one they walk from under the row of trees to stand in front of the camera. Some come as they are, some bring their rifles and some bring their swords.

While this tribe lives in a most inaccessible part of Ethiopia, they have been photographed beyond ability to count. Almost every single day a group of tourists stop by for their dose of a different world. They typically get out of their SUVs, walk around with their eyes wide open, stand behind their guide and wait for an opportunity to make some pictures then return to their air-conditioned vehicles twenty minutes later on their way to the next visual attraction.

So this tribe has seen it all, the world has come to them and continues to come to them on an hourly basis. For this very reason, their portraits amaze me this afternoon. While cameras are nothing new to them, their collective reaction to my camera is fresh. They usually negotiate a fee for a single image but are willing to stand in front of me for a few minutes and hear the continuous sound of the shutter without refusing me their portrait. According to our translator, our approach is quite unorthodox yet accepted.

These men honor me and my work, I am humbled by their worldliness.