photographs of Africa by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher
May 18, 2011 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Stunning photographs of the cattle farmers of Sudan | African ceremonies | Faces of Africa | video: African Ceremonies | Thirty years ago American-born Carol Beckwith and Australian Angela Fisher met in Kenya and began a relationship with the African continent that would profoundly alter and shape their lives. Their journeys would take them over 270,000 miles, through remote corners of 40 countries, and to more than 150 African cultures. | About the photographers (opens with sound to the video) [all links slightly nsfw in a NatGeo kind of way] posted by nickyskye (27 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, these pictures are really fantastic. I could even see this one as part of a high fashion magazine shoot.

I must say, though, being around livestock with all your bits and pieces hanging out seems like a lot more liability than I'd be willing to take on.

I think something's wrong with your third link.
posted by phunniemee at 9:32 PM on May 18, 2011

What amazing pictures, and what even more amazing subjects. Thank you so much for this.
posted by angiep at 10:39 PM on May 18, 2011

AKA Dinka, ie. Lost Boys of Sudan
posted by stbalbach at 10:44 PM on May 18, 2011

Like the Lascaux Cave paintings come to life! Thanks for this post - I'll look at it over and over again.
posted by Euphorbia at 11:03 PM on May 18, 2011

amazing real humans. great link.
posted by serif at 12:40 AM on May 19, 2011

I was thinking "how stunning can pictures of cattle farmers be?" I guess they showed me.

Really beautiful.
posted by bongo_x at 12:46 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great post nickyskye. I am old enough to remember when these were first published. It's good to see them again.
Related Vanishing Africa and here is a bit more about the Dinka and a treasure trove of photos about Dinka culture from the Pitt Rivers museum.
posted by adamvasco at 1:21 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Incredible. Thanks!
posted by Rumpled at 1:33 AM on May 19, 2011

Cool, I am currently working in Sudan with UNMIS. While my pictures and writing are sucky in comparison I do have a few small notes I took. You can see them at
posted by tarvuz at 2:23 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

It should be noted that the Dinka (of which there are several sub groups) are only one of many cattle herding groups in South Sudan. The migrating herds of cattle are also competing with settled farmers for land use rights. This has become ever more complicated as the border between South Sudan and Sudan comes closer to permanence.
posted by tarvuz at 2:35 AM on May 19, 2011

Also many of the conflicts that happen in the 10 states are due to cattle looting. Such as the Murle and Lou Nuer issues that are causing huge problems in Jonglei state.

There is also hints that rebel militia groups are arming some of the groups.

Also noted is that a bride price might reach into the hundreds of cattle for dowry. Although this does not happen to be the case for all tribal groups in Sudan.
posted by tarvuz at 3:35 AM on May 19, 2011

The pictures are great -- and there's lots of naked Dinka dink for those who are into such things -- but the photography lends beauty to some things (such as getting married off at 12 or wearing a giant lip plate as part of the marriage process) that must not be all that beautiful to live with.
posted by pracowity at 4:32 AM on May 19, 2011

Stunning shots. The dust-blowing silhouettes almost seem more like film clips rather than still shots, so full of life they are. Maybe "Hitler's Film-maker" was onto something after all. (Oh lord, I can't believe I just Godwinned this thread! Sorry.)
posted by Mike D at 4:36 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Who are they raising those cows for? They're so skinny.
posted by Malice at 5:22 AM on May 19, 2011

While these pictures are pretty neat, they paint a really one-dimensional picture of the people on the continent. They create a single story - Africa as an Exotic Place where people paint their faces and participate in ritual and make girls get married at 12. They're the photographic equivalent of Writing About Africa. I think they contribute to the West's inability to engage with the continent on a level much higher than "Oh, those poor brave people."

What's awesome is that Africa has a diversity of people, lifestyles, cities, rural areas, forests, deserts, etc. And some really talented African photographers. I really like AfriqueInVisu - a site (in French) that gives some fantastic photographers a platform. Some of my favorite portfolios include Hip Hop Society in Libreville, Brazzaville news, and this portfolio.

Africa is a Country has a fantastic blog post on this subject, in response to a gallery show in London about "vanishing Africa." They suggest that photographers like Musa Nxumalo could act as an antidote to this one picture. And, my favorite set of pictures - Mali in the 1970s.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:26 AM on May 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

I was working on a project about fermentation and got The Indigenous Fermented Foods of Sudan from the library. Damn...there much be 800 different kinds there, including fermented caul fat. I'm very curious to try some of these foods someday and write more about them.
posted by melissam at 6:45 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Blocked. "Art/culture/nudity".

Because god damn it, you don't need to be cultured at work! What are you trying to do? Expand your mind or something? Baaaggggghhhh.
posted by stormpooper at 7:21 AM on May 19, 2011


Who is saying that one group of people in one part of Sudan represents all of Africa? You think that these photos are not valid representations of a way of life?
posted by tarvuz at 7:24 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not saying that these are not representations of a way of life (though this is only a very small piece of their lives) - I'm saying that when these are the only sorts of pictures of people in Africa that people off the continent see, it becomes representative of the entire continent.

I'd imagine that, working in Southern Sudan, you see a lot of nuance in people's lives. I don't think that those nuances come through here. Instead, what you see is skinny, naked little boys surrounded by skinny, dirty cows, and bare-breasted, exotic women. What editorializing there is isn't about the larger issues - why *is* Southern Sudan economically disenfranchised by the predominantly Arab north? How is climate change affecting the livelihood of these populations? The framing of these pictures is such that the only thing it's highlighting is the exotic. There are ways to be a photojournalist and talk about people who are different than you in a way that humanizes. I really think that all this does is reinforce the idea that Africans Are Poor and Different, and don't wear a whole lot of clothes.

(I came back from fieldwork in Northwestern Kenya and shared pictures of Lodwar with some coworkers at an engineering intermship. "Wow! There are paved roads there? And buildings!")
posted by ChuraChura at 7:47 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Great photos nicky :) And thanks for those Riefenstahl pics Mike D.

This infographic about the relative size of Africa always blows my mind. Africa is bigger than the US, China, India, Western Europe, and Argentina combined!
posted by puny human at 8:01 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

those people desperately need some iPods.
posted by thisisdrew at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2011

^ case in point.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:03 AM on May 19, 2011

ChuraChura, the photos and the blogs you link to are great and would make great posts about Africa. I hear your frustration about widespread ignorance about Africa, but ...

.... the two photographers whose work comprises the bulk of this post - Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith - have dedicated their lives to documenting indigenous African cultures before ancient ways, rituals, dress, and customs vanish entirely in the face of modernization. This is precisely the point of what they do, they've been doing it for more than 25 years. They are not photojournalists, nor would they say they are trying to represent all of Africa or modern Africa, but the ways of life that are vanishing in Africa.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:16 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

My point is that, while you can document "vanishing ways of life" all you want, when these become the dominant images related to Africa, that's all people will think of. These women have taken some impressive pictures, and I don't mean to discount their work. I just think that there needs to be balance in the portrayal of Africa in the Western media. By publishing only pictures of those "vanishing ways of life," you ignore the reality of the majority of Africans living in urban areas. It's much easier to deal with the continent when you can think of people as ancient and traditional. And when you open up National Geographic, you never see pictures of middle class suburbs in Nairobi, or daily life in Lagos, or marketplaces in Libreville.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:55 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

there needs to be balance in the portrayal of Africa in the Western media

Yes, there does.
posted by nickyskye at 12:03 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think of people as ancient that are not living in urban congestion with flat screen tvs.

Also you seem to be worried that people in the rest of the world are incapable of understanding that there is a variety to how people live in other parts of the world. That simply isn't true.

Also I have seen articles in National Geographic covering urbanized areas of Africa. I think you are overly concerned about this issue and are worried that white folks just won't see Africans as equal human beings unless we see them dressing in suits and driving BMWs.

And who the hell wants to see articles and photos full of people living boring ass urban lives all the time? I don't. I like seeing what is different and unique. And just because a majority of people live one way doesn't mean a damn thing in terms of the validity of how others live their lives.

I don't ever go out into the bush and work with people and think..gee these folks need to move to an urban center and dress in suits because some white folks back home will be concerned if they are living lives seperate from how Americans live. Maybe when I was younger and had only been out a bit from school then I might still be a little worried about presenting Africans(or whatever place I was working) as being capable. Well that really isn't that important in my opinion. If a person doesn't know that other human beings are capable despite the clothes or lives they lead then it really doesn't matter if they are living in a middle class house in Nairobi or not.
posted by tarvuz at 12:25 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you search Google Images for Africa, you get a lot of maps of the continent. There is also an odd image of President Bush.

The related searches are: poverty in Africa, Africa outline, Africa map, Africa safari, Africa sunset and North Africa.
posted by TheProudAardvark at 7:02 PM on May 19, 2011

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