Elegant in her white church attire, Lindeka’s grandmother passes by her raucous grandsons as if they were comedic apparitions, ignoring their spirited antics.
She walks with grace and presence, turning her face to hide a rising smile. Lindeka mimics her grandmother, straightens her back with this same familial strength and follows behind her. They disappear into the doorway of their mud-and-thatch hut leaving the young boys to collapse into fits of laughter.
Lindeka’s love and respect for her grandmother is palpable, and it is no wonder she features largely in her photography. Of course, her high-spirited brothers also figure prominently.
Lindeka is part of a group of high school students who worked with Lisa Marino, a local Yukon photographer, on a project called Through an African Lens.
For three months, Marino lived in a tiny hut in this small, mountainous Swaziland village.
It’s a picturesque place. “A spectrum of greens only broken where people and animals have rubbed the earth raw, exposing the red soil that lies beneath, and with sand-coloured boulders surfacing from the Earth’s skin, some the size of houses – it makes me think giants once lived here,” wrote Marino in an e-mail from kaPhunga.
Through an African Lens is a participatory photography project first developed by myself and Robertson Bales to highlight the positive work of local grassroots organizations who respond to the challenges of HIV/AIDS and poverty so prevalent in many sub-Saharan African countries.
Through an African Lens attempts to invert the traditional documentary photography model by offering individuals the opportunity to be the “lens” by which to tell their own story. The subject becomes the photographer and the storyteller. It blurs the edges of traditional documentary photography and deepens the authenticity of a photographic story.
Visual imagery has long been a medium for anthropologists, researchers, and humanitarians to describe the human condition, to make known a societal wrong or to raise debate over long-held truths.
Placing the camera in the hands of the participants empowers those involved in the story to do the telling and to decide what “picture” is best to describe their own lives and circumstances.
Marino wanted to explore this concept for herself and set out to continue and expand on the Through an African Lens project with the same young Swazi women in the village of kaPhunga.
Marino worked extensively with the high school students, meeting twice a week.
Discussion of the students’ photos would reveal stories hidden within them – a group of women seemingly resting under the shade of a tree are meeting to discuss the challenges of HIV/AIDS and poverty in their community. What appears to be an ordinary pile of sticks is a critical aspect of school life as every morning each student brings one to school for their cooked school meal. Failure to bring a stick results in a scolding.
“I enjoyed watching the young women go from the excitement of simply using a camera to take posed pictures of their classmates to realizing there was no limit to their subjects or the messages they could communicate,” said Marino, who describes their images as developing into intricate stories of their family life their culture, their challenges and their dreams.
Each student developed unique ways of expressing their life stories through their imagery.
Lindeka’s assured manner and pride in her family stands out in her photos. She produced raw, natural images that aimed to document her life as only she could know it: from everyday tasks of her young sister hanging her washing to her young brothers preparing themselves for bathing.
Naturally, images of Lindeka’s grandmother take precedence and the image of her lifting into the air a clearly delighted grandson speaks volumes. It’s a seemingly innocent and everyday occurrence in the life of a young Swazi woman and her grandmother, but it speaks to the profound familial ties deeply rooted in Swazi culture. And, an image that transcends challenges of poverty and illness.
These images, along with photos of the other young, talented Swazi women and a selection of Marino’s images will be on display at Triple J’s Music Cafe from July 15th to August 14th.
The opening exhibition takes place on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Gallery 22, upstairs at Triple J’s Music Cafe, 308 Elliot St. Whitehorse.
All proceeds from the sale of all photos go directly to the education of the participants.
Tracey Wallace is a freelance
photographer and writer who
lives in Whitehorse.