African tribal life
Taking part at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair, off the back of another recent exhibition at the THK Gallery, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher showed their incredible scenes of African tribal life documented over the past four decades.
Working in a staggering 44 African countries over the last forty something years, the photographers have been able to gain access to communities few have been privileged to do so, in far-flung locales and hard to reach places. And have photographed traditional rituals as varied as rites of passage, marriages, birth celebrations and death ceremonies, which they’ve recorded in their book African Twilight.
‘Before starting work with a traditional culture, we research and learn as much about their beliefs and rituals as possible. Once arriving in Africa, we take on African time. We often sit under an acacia tree with the village chief and elders, introducing ourselves and explaining our mission. We never take out our cameras until we have become friends and gained trust. We try to bring gifts that are appropriate to the various traditional communities,’ explains Fisher.
They state that because they are female they’re granted more access – to both female and male ceremonies – something a man could never achieve. ‘We can integrate with women and are also able to photograph male rituals as we have come into the community through the chiefs and elders,’ she adds.
Since they began working in Africa in the 1970s, recording traditional ceremonies, 40 percent of what the women have witnessed no longer exists. ‘For us, these traditional ceremonies are cultural signposts of age-old values, which hold great significance for us all. It is sad to lose the visual expressions of a culture, but it would be tragic to lost to history the values that inspired and informed them,’ comments Beckwith.
The women hope that people will come away from seeing their work with an appreciation of the deep values embedded in these cultures’ ceremonies, as well as their aesthetic beauty and impact. ‘They convey the importance of community for survival and support, enveloping individuals and giving them a sense of belonging. The illustrate the importance of elders being an active part of the community and sharing their wisdom, and the value of rites of passage that define and teach what is expected at each stage of life as well as the importance of ceremonies that keep us in balance with the environment and in touch with our own spirit worlds,’ adds Beckwith.