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Ethiopia Lives
Jamais Cascio, 9 Aug 05

EthiopiaLives.jpgAs powerful as words can be, the human mind is often more easily moved by images. Reading stories of hope or despair can be gripping, but pales in comparison to witnessing the moments in a person's life leading to such emotions. When the images that bear witness to these moments are captured by the individuals themselves, "powerful" becomes "worldchanging." Zana Briski's Kids with Cameras project -- documented in the award-winning Born Into Brothels movie -- is one example of just how meaningful such efforts can be, but today I found another: Ethiopia Lives.

Nineteen Ethiopians turn their cameras onto their own lives and invite you to share their very personal perspectives. From diverse backgrounds and different parts of the country, their photographs give a rare insight into life in Ethiopia now.

The project was launched in Addis Ababa in late June, and will run through 2005. The pictures -- there are already dozens, probably hundreds, and eventually there will be thousands -- capture people, moments and places important to the photographers. Many have the kind of simple, haunting beauty that makes it hard to breathe. Some of the photographers provide notes explaining what they've photographed; others allow the images to speak for themselves. Visitors can page through the photos by theme and by photographer, and new entries are posted to an RSS feed, making it easy to follow how the pictures and subjects evolve.

This is why I love the Internet. Combine inexpensive digital cameras, basic web connections, and a blog site with an automatic RSS feed, and suddenly we have access to the thoughts and art of every day citizens from a part of the planet usually thought to be outside the reach of the digital world. This is a clear, powerful example of networks as a tool of democracy.

For many in the West, the image of Ethiopia is stalled on the bleached landscape and desperate faces of the famine and drought of the 1980s. But these pictures remind us that the country is far more diverse than many of us might know, both in environment and industry. The stories the photographers tell about their own lives bears little resemblance to the fixed narrative assigned to Ethiopia by much of the world.

And along those same lines, these photographs provide an absolutely necessary balance to the kinds of images most often seen coming from Africa as a whole: starving children; devastated environments; rampant disease; a people lacking even a meagre control over their own lives. Such pictures aren't lies by any means, but neither are they the whole truth. There is much, much more to Africa than poverty and misery; there is hope, there is community, and there is the promise of a better future.

(Via Random Acts of Reality)

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Comments

Well said, Jamais. For more interesting images from Ethiopia, check out photojournalist Andrew Heaven's blog and Flickr stream.


Posted by: Patrick Hall on 10 Aug 05

Ooh. This I like, a lot. It's nice too see a different perspective on africa. (ANd a positive one that is also very important.)

You said it well Jamais. The fixed poverty & famine outlook on africa does sadly remove a lot of it's inhabitants humanity. So this is definatly nessecary. :)

A project within this genre that would be very interesting too see realized would be one that documents the cultural side of life. (Rituals, Stories and other assorted folklore and traditions.) If only to preserve and document it so it is not lost for the coming generations.

-Tim


Posted by: Tim on 10 Aug 05

Here's another worthy example: The Binti Pamoja center, sponsored by Carolina for Kibera, has provided disposable cameras to teenage girls in sub-Saharan Africa's largest shantytown in Nairobi, Kenya (see: http://cfk.unc.edu/binti-pamoja/exhibition/).

What I like about Binti Pamoja is that the photo-taking doesn't function in a vaccuum. The group uses peer education to take on important issues, such as violence against women, rape, prostitution, and sexually transmitted diseases.

While I agree that it's important to understand and treasure the diversity of Africa, and to see it as more than an emblem of human misery, it's also crucial to face the difficult facts. I read last month in the Guardian that average life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 34 years. Also, the President of Niger has denied that people are hungry in his country and said the talk of starvation was cooked up by political opponents in league with the U.N.

Treasure the beautiful photos, yes. They are not lies. But don't let them simply be pixel-tourism.


Posted by: robert neuwirth on 10 Aug 05

It's a very nice project indeed.
Now we need to invite 19 Ethiopians to Europe to take pictures and "exoticize" our places. It would be interesting to see how they see us and our world.


Posted by: Lorenzo on 10 Aug 05



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