New Series Announced
I like my images to speak for themselves, but there are times I wish I could say more, and judging by the emails I get asking for details about this image or that, there’s a few nutters out there that are willingly asking me to give them my thoughts and opinions. So be it.
Introducing Without The Frame – The Story Behind the Image. It’s a chance for me to speak personally about some of my favourite images, to sound off on them, their impact on me, and the context in which the image was taken. It’s a grab-bag, really. So here we go.
Ethiopia, January 2006 with two friends. We were travelling this iconic country engaged in an exercise in irony: creating a cookbook in a nation known ostensibly for famine. But Ethiopia is much more than that, it is a mountainous, extraordinary country of rich culture, beautiful and diverse people, and an incredible history. In that one sentence I’ve used more modifiers then Hemingway in his entire career, but that’s beside the point.
This shot is taken high in the Simien Mountains, if I have my Ethiopian geography right. We’d just spent orthodox Christmas in the holy city of Lalibela, a day set in my memory as one of the most unexpected and unforgettable – a town filled to busting with pilgrims and beggars, priests and saints. Sometimes all 4 in one person. Everywhere, white robes contrasted with the red rock-hewn churches still in use after a thousand years, still infused with a sense of the sacred; mystery around every corner. And clinging to it all, and to us, the mingled scent of incense and feces, dust and diesel.
We’d left Lalibela reluctantly, our itinerary mercilessly tight with only myself to blame. As we clattered along the hairpin roads, the washboard surface beating our too-old Land Cruiser to pieces, we came upon this plateau – wide open and empty, dirt and golden chaff as far as you could see, until it dropped over the edge into the nothingness of the canyons and valleys. We stopped in the middle of the road to stretch our legs and pee, when out of nowhere this shepherd, (a goat-herd, technically) wandered with his little flock of bedraggled goats. He was young – perhaps 12, and wrapped in the green cloaks one sees on seemingly every shepherd from Addis to the border. He stopped to satisfy his curiousity, then blew his horn and wandered on.
I think of this boy often. He is typical of what one sees in Ethiopia. Typical of sub-saharan Africa too – most countries share a population that is 50% children – orphaned, many of them, by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other plagues – famine, drought, genocide, bad governance – or the too-common fatal mix of all of them. Around every bend you see children carrying firewood, fetching water, driving goats or cattle. Can’t help but wonder where the parents are, but if you think too long about it you realize they just simply aren’t. Or they’re buried beneath the fertile soil. You’d think it would yield a greater crop, so nurtured is African soil with the blood of it’s children and the bodies of their families.
Still, it remains a bright and hopeful place. Perhaps that’s the way dark places seem – the points of light always seem brighter therein. That horn you hear is calling the sheep to order, but I can’t help think it’s also a clarion, a call for something more from those of us who have it.