Madagascar in the Frame!
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”
– Peter Adams
Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to the private view and book launch at the wonderful new exhibition ‘Madagascar in the Frame’ a collaboration between Fujifilm UK and their charity partner Wateraid.
Having returned from Madagascar late last year, my work in the country left me with a real insight to the importance of images and in particular the printed image.
I have been a photographer and specifically a portrait photographer for the last 20 years, I have always believed in the importance of the record of the family portrait and how images are wonderful mementoes of our lives and precious times to pass down through the generations. I have made a living from this.
They ground us, make us remember where we belong and help us celebrate what wonderful lives we lead , the connections and memories we have made with each other.
Recently however with the emergence of social media I find images are even more contrived and controlled, less meaningful and emotionally disconnected as they have ever been.
My latest commission could not have taken this idea of photography further from what we in the Internet world use it for.
My brief for Fujifilm and Wateraid was to document the work of an amazing photographer named Ernest.
“I see little kids in these villages with no access to clean water and it reminds me of my own childhood. I used to be sick all the time, just like these kids. For me this is not just a job, it’s a personal fight – to make sure that everyone, everywhere gets safe, clean water.”
Based in central Madagascar Ernest is a Water aid Voice from the field. His goal not to take family portraits or precious moments. His brief is to document and tell stories of the reality of the people living without access to safe water and sanitary hygiene.
Ernest’s work involves, educating the communities that Water aid are involved in and to integrate and encourage the community to become engaged with what is changing in their communities and encourage them to make changes in their everyday lives with the knowledge that the impact that Water aid can make immeasurable changes to their health, wellbeing and lives as a whole.
To achieve this Earnest runs photography workshops using Fujifilm instax cameras with the children, the aim to spread awareness and knowledge at base level.
Watching the way Ernest works was truly magical, it really was a privileged to see him engage and inspire.
Portrait photography for me is all about communication and how we relate to our clients. Ernest is a master at this! His energy, enthusiasm and the way he draws people to him is infectious.
We all need to be more Ernest in our approach to portrait photography.
The children were hanging off of his every word and were engaged implicitly for hours, it was beautiful to see.
One of the most wonderful things I witnessed was when Ernest handed out the cameras to the “students” and how they treated them as if they were a new born baby, with such care and attention they looked after these pieces like they were so precious!
Something again I feel our children have lost with the western advances in technology. Our children are used to gadgets and the magic they may bring every day and as such it has become the norm, we really have become a throw away society, with phone and tablet upgrades every few months.
The Malagasy children are not used to such technology, however basic, here you can quite often see a queue for the TV at the local Barbour’s, with the children waiting patiently in line for their chance to see a snippet of some cartoon that may be airing at that time.
These cameras were a chance for them to experience something new and beyond their means, and they treasured the chance like you wouldn’t believe.
To see their reactions when the print came out of the camera was something so magical I could never honestly put it into words. Quite often they looked worried when it first came out as I think they were expecting to see the image immediately, and they would turn it over to see a blank side and almost wondered if they had done something wrong! However over time they saw the images develop and their smiles began to widen at the emerging pictures.
It was just pure heart rending beauty how proud they were of their creations. They took images of themselves to begin with as this was quite often the first time that they had seen a printed image of themselves. they then turned the lenses to their friends and gifted them those images. This act of kindness gives you an idea of the generosity and honesty of the Malagasy culture.
They treasured the prints like precious objects and proudly mounted them on windowsills and bedside tables.
When did we lose this? Are we are so wrapped up in Face Book or Instagramme likes that we have lost this pure raw appreciation of the image and the print?
Watching the way the children proudly showed their parents at the end of the day what they had captured was heartwarming. And a few of them at the end of the sessions would say that rather than the expectation of their normal lives wanted to be photographers.
For me this was the trip of my year, so inspiring and invigorating! To see photography and prints again affect people at the rawest level was the reason why I became a photographer.
I know I am certainly inspired to be more ‘Ernest’! In my endeavours.
And here is a small film of the man himself and his amazing work 🙂
If you would like a copy of the book visit The House of Photography store in Covent Garden, London copies are £25 each with proceeds going to Wateraid.