I always find myself invariably distracted by random human interest articles, attracted to artistic reviews rather than practical current affairs in my online news wanderings. My latest distraction was an article in the NY Times about a photographer who took photos of 4 sisters over 40 years – every year since 1975! Gorgeous, simple, raw photos – all in black and white. Capturing sisterly connection, youth, changing fashions and hairstyles, aging. They were really beautiful, an insight into an interesting story.
It reminded me of how portraits, both paintings and photography, are a special and incisive way of capturing relationships, emotions, human essence. It reminded me of some of the photos I took in wilderness of Botswana of the San Bushmen, a small fading group of nomadic peoples whose fate, as they are driven off the land and can no longer hunt, is reminiscent of many indigenous peoples globally. Reviewing the photography portraits of the hour or so I spent in their presence, learning about their culture, their clicking language, their expert knowledge of the wilderness and the wealth it offers us, their relationships, I reflected upon the intensity in their eyes. And ironically, in the comfort of my New York apartment, the old Louis Armstrong song came to mind…
When the weather vane points to gloomy
It’s gotta be sunny to me, when your eyes look into mine…
…says mother looking into her child’s eyes.
Mother smiles and plays with her child, warms him, cleans his snotty nose. Maternal love does not change across cultures!
Intensity in the expressions shared between them; many inside jokes we didn’t understand as they laughed at us no doubt! There was happiness with their children, generosity and humor among themselves. There was also a sense of uncertainty about the future. A certain sadness.
Young Proud San Man
The only young man in their presence, although small and fine in stature, was a proud and strong man. He is the heir apparent to lead the community here in the San community in southwestern Botswana. Apparently he was also the brother of the Botswana Ambassador in London…what a different life choice. His elder was a wispy, thin man full of sinew and filled with a sense of responsibility as he scoured the ground and earth for its riches. The most excited we saw him was when he showed us how they make fire – which literally burst into flame and lit up his whole expression.
Feeding from the egg
Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those peepers?
Jeepers Creepers, where’d ya get those eyes?
Gosh all git up, how’d they get so lit up?
Gosh all git up, how’d they get that size?
Louis Armstrong – Jeepers Creepers Lyrics | MetroLyrics
There was a part of me that felt a deep sadness in the eyes of the San Bushmen in the orange, dusk lighting of the African plains – despite flashes of laughter, of fascination, of love. A loss of engagement, a loss of their community space. Sharing their portraits is partly my way to share in the awareness of the diversity in this world. To open up our horizons to different lives. To share in humanity, through the eyes and portraits of others.