We recently returned from six weeks in Ethiopia and Kenya, where we were traveling for video and photographic work. It was exhilarating, other-worldly, challenging and beautiful all at the same time. But mostly, our trip reaffirmed our belief in the power of image.
We started in the Ethiopian country-side just south of Addis Ababa, where we were filming a USAID/MASHAV agricultural training project for a non-profit client. The setting was positively cinematic and the people photogenic. One early morning, we were filming the sun rising across the country-side and as usual, we had attracted a crowd. The children were especially intrigued by our Panasonic AF-100 camera, which we allowed them to play with, zooming in and out, focusing and changing the exposure. Then we showed them how it really worked by filming a little clip then playing it back for them. They were fascinated, wanting to watch the clip over and over and over. I realized at that moment that some of them had never seen a video or photo of themselves. And I saw the potential of the camera as a tool for locals to re-envision the world around them. It’s inspired us to return to Africa one day to conduct media training.
The next afternoon, we were setting up an interview in the nursery at the training center. The rows of plants in the background provided a visual draw while the natural light filtered beautifully through the mesh nursery roof. As we were setting up and waiting for our interview subject to arrive, we noticed a worker from the nursery watching us intently. He had a nice smile, so Ben asked if he could take a picture. The man agreed, so I quickly grabbed a reflector to bounce the sun on his face as Ben snapped. We displayed the image for him on the LCD screen of our new Olympus OM-D EM-5 and he smiled and laughed, squinting to the see the image closer. He called over the other nursery workers and upon seeing the image, they excitedly pointed to the camera and to themselves; they wanted their photo taken too. Eventually, it turned into a spontaneous fashion shoot of sorts in this little nursery in a little town across the world. Despite heavily worked hands and shabby clothing, each person looked stunning. In that small moment, we connected closely with people whose lives are so different than our own. We promised to mail the printed images, likely the only they will ever possess. And it’s an honor to be able to give this gift.
It continued this way throughout our travels in Ethiopia, with people connecting to the images produced by the camera. People would look evocatively into the lens as if they themselves had something they intended to communicate instead of just the other way around. When hiking through the mountains of Lalibela, we visited a family in the countryside, who invited us to coffee in their traditional mud hut. The light was streaming through one doorway, filtered only by the smoke of the fire. Ben asked to take photos of the family and they too reacted excitedly to viewing the images. The mother blushed and shyly placed her hands on her face as she looked at an image of her with her daughter. As a thank you for their gracious invitation, we promised to mail the photos to our English speaking guide to give to the family. Through translation, they said they would pin it to the wall of their hut and remember us always. I know we’ll never forget them, despite a brief encounter.