In my opinion it was a sip rather than a gulp, then again perhaps I was unready for the gulp. My health took a beating during this trip, and my guides were less than experienced with the necessities regarding such photography. I am still in contact with the wonderful person responsible for the previous arrangements and the next time we will get it right.
Rather than hoping to visit a dozen or so tribes, I will concentrate on four and spend much more time with each. Rather than my usual style, I will include the environment, go much closer physically and produce a body of work unlike my previous.
On this very day, perhaps less than thirty minutes after this portrait was made, the camera produced an almost inaudible snap. In my stomach butterflies started to give me the feeling that something was seriously wrong. The camera however continued to work properly and we went on to finish the afternoon and head back to the capital for my flight back home.
The boys were photographed first, on the bumper of the truck so as to elevate them. They were very surprised to see us for the second time, and we dropped by their small village as a change in plans was made. Instead of flying back to the capital while my guides drove back, I decided to go with them in the truck and experience the countryside on the way.
Flying was actually much more of a hassle, while the drive was much more comfortable and less prone to multiple security checks regarding my camera and film. This was worth the extra twenty hours or so of driving on its own.
After the boys were photographed it was time for the girls. This community is one of the few in Africa, outside of Islam, in which the girls and women wear a fabric over their heads. The color for most in this community also happened to be black, my favorite color when photographing in black and white. For our second session my aim was to accentuate the faces and remove the jewelry from view.
Everyone sat under the shade of a tree, and we called the girls one by one. Everyone was so patient, especially the youngest of the girls, since they waited hours for their turn. We arrived very early and had to wait for the sun to cool down a bit. Now it was their turn, but a feeling in my stomach told me something was wrong. We worked nonetheless and photographed all of them, leaving me with a thought also that these were the most perfect images thus far.
It was only upon my return to the States and another short photographic session at a local school that James from the local laboratory told me something was wrong with the local images. He had never seen it before but the exposures were damaged in a certain way. A streak of some sort ran down the entire film, on all of the rolls.
After taking this news in stride, I called the laboratory in charge of the film from Ethiopia to check and was advised that they had all of the film waiting to be processed yet. Being sensitive to their obligations I gave sufficient time for a few rolls to be processed in order to check for this issue.
A few days passed by and yet nothing was reported. My patience grew thin and a call was made advising of such. Rather than being upset at me, Dave took the time to listen to my worries and promised to process one roll from each day of the trip, and report to me by the end of the day. As it turned out he worked on my film after his official duties were over, well after his work day ended. His dedication to me and my work cannot be described here, I lack such words.
A few hours later he called me with great news... in light of the situation. All of the rolls processed were perfect, except for the last roll of the last day. The first roll from that last day was fine... so somewhere in between the first roll and the last roll of this day something went wrong. Those butterflies came rushing back and I knew that the sound I had heard was the sound of chaos.
The spring in the lens did snap, and all of the film of the girls was ruined. To this day the film sits uncut in my home, a testament to the delicacy of working with film, and to the idea that nothing is promised to me.
I need to get back there again, if just to make portraits of this most beautiful community and its girls. I owe this to them.
Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V System.