Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tareequa, Sky, Moon, Tsemay Tribe, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, February, 2010

After a few days with the Dorze Tribe and a day or so in the Konzo Community, we head out to the Lower Omorate Region of Ethiopia. The weather changes from cool and moist to dry and hot. A sign of bad things to come is the sight of a tourist being assisted to her truck after barely coming to her senses a few minutes earlier in the restaurant area of the motel.

After a small meal, we head down the road to find the Tsemey Tribe. Their homes incidentally happen to be on the side of the road, about twenty minutes or so from the small motel. We arrive and many are sitting by the side of the road waiting for tourists to arrive. We climb down from our vehicle and assess the community as they do the same with us.

It's a bit early and we decide to look for the right spot. The homes are a distance from each other, made from local materials. Many of the woman are dressed in traditional lower garments and contemporary blouses and shirts. We find a spot and then begin the negotiations for the photography. This takes about twenty minutes and the community allows us to photograph. We spend the afternoon making portraits and then return to the motel for some rest.

In the morning, we head back to the village in search of another set of faces. One of the men from yesterday takes us to a new area, about twenty minutes from the main road. It so happens that this village has never been photographed prior to our visit.

As the truck stops in front of a building, a girl greets us at a fence. Her name is Tareequa and her picture is posted above. Her name means 'history' in her language. She begins to walk away and my instinct tells me that she is going to have her hair done. A request to photograph her without any alterations is communicated to her and she accepts with some shyness and a smile.

She is the first to be photographed this morning. She stands tall, gives me about five or so minutes and all of this under a magnificent moon. She is photographed laughing, and at times with a serious expression. She is photographed from the left and from the right, from every angle.

She steps down and watches everyone else being photographed. At some time she slips away for a little bit and returns with her hair braided. My instinct serves me well today. After the photography, we walk to a set of buildings that serve as the local government school. I am told that the government has decided to construct schools and clinics near the traditional, tribal areas in a bid to provide education and access to medicine for people that would otherwise lack both.

Her school is beautiful, supplied with desks, books and teaching materials stacked high in the classrooms. The buildings are decorated beautifully with educational pictures, images of human anatomy and mathematics. Tareequa and the other children seem very happy to have this opportunity for an education and smile every time my eyes open wide at another revelation.

As we walk away, the elders have something to tell me: 'Teach people about our culture, share with them our story.'

We end up taking Tareequa back to the other village where her family actually lives. On the way back, a couple of pictures are given to Tareequa, pictures of girls from the States, pictures of African-American girls with their hair in natural states, before being braided. She smiles broadly as she is told by me that these are her sisters.

We drop her off and head back to the motel, with this memory in mind.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dorze Girl, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, February 1, 2010

As Esther's portrait is being made, she walks from our right and stands and watches, smiling as Esther smiles and laughing as Esther laughs. She is a natural.
The Dorze Community is open to our work, patient with the process. To our left, the adults sit around and watch the photography, waiting for us to select from them. Since there are so many, some are only meant to watch rather than be photographed. Regardless, they sit and watch.

So it is her turn to be photographed, the young Dorze girl with the natural smile. She is photographed twice, once as she arrives and once after switching shirts with her sister. The above portrait is a still from the video sequence, on her second portrait series.

She follows our instructions beautifully, stands tall and with her face to the sun. She is serious at times; she smiles at a whim, her laugh infectious. We make portraits until the sun goes down behind a tree; then move to a different spot, until the sun goes down for the last time on this beautiful afternoon.

Everyone follows us down the hill and into the village, exchanging their portraits for a small fee, helping their community to thrive by sharing their culture with us. With smiles we say goodnight to each other, until the morning when we make portraits once again before moving on, with her smile on my mind.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

First Day of Photography, Dorze Tribe, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, February 1, 2010

After two days of traveling, we arrive in Arba Minch, the beginning point of our photography. From this small town, we purchase food and water to last the next two weeks or so. Then we head to the mountains for our first afternoon of photography. Here we meet the Dorze Community, known for its marvelous weaving and fabulous bamboo homes. One man approaches us and invites us to his lodge complex, a series of bamboo homes arranged for tourists. After a few minutes of preparation, we find a place on top of a hill and arrange our equipment. 

The people begin to gather and we proceed to make portraits for the next couple of hours. As in other countries, the community is willing to give me their attention and show me their kindness, without any preparation in advance. One by one, they stand in front of my camera for their portraits, some for more than five minutes, even exchanging pieces of clothing with each other. Much is done in silence with body gestures or facial expressions. The video camera rolls as well, documenting the changes in moods and the sounds of the masses as they watch the individuals being photographed. The image above is a still from the first day of video work; her name is Esther and she is the first one photographed. 

 The next morning, we walk around and see the bamboo forests from which they acquire the building materials for their homes, for their furniture. We also see the banana trees, the apple groves. In these mountains, the people support themselves, grow their crops and find their water from springs. My companions tell me that few tribes over the next few weeks will have access to such materials, to such sources of food and water. Life is certainly hard here, but I am told that they have more than others. Over the next few weeks, this is revealed as the truth.