February 22, 2010

Welcome to the new IMPACT online exhibition, a project exploring the internet as a venue for insightful photographic work. In an effort to remind viewers of the important role photographers play around the world, we invited an array of imagemakers to share galleries on their blogs (like this one) that comprise up to 12 images representing an experience where they had an impact on the subject or were impacted themselves. By clicking on the links below the IMPACT logo, you can move through the exhibition, viewing other galleries by different photographers. You can also click the IMPACT logo to be taken to a post on the liveBooks RESOLVE Blog where you can see an index of all participating photographers. We hope that by linking different photographic visions of our first topic, “Outside Looking In,” we can provide a multifaceted view of the topic as well as the IMPACT individuals can have on the world around us.

Fady. That is a word you hear repeatedly in Madagascar. Recently, while working on a project in southeastern Madagascar, I encountered a particular fady. This fady was creating a roadblock that was impacting my project, preventing me from getting close to one particular aspect of my story. In Malagasy culture fady means taboo and this superstitious vein in their culture is still alive and vibrant. It seems to impact their daily life in profound ways, creating the organizing principals for how they structure their villages, their behaviors and their do’s and don’t’s. A fady can decide where the outside toilet is placed, therefore determining the paths in and out of your village, or the places you can plant your food and keep your zebu (cattle). And these beliefs are ancient and must be respected, particularly by an outsider with a camera.

One fady I kept on pushing up against happened every time we came upon one of their sacred burial grounds. The Malagasy people have a spiritual connection to their forests and their burial grounds. 90% of their forests have been decimated from centuries of unabated logging, mostly to support their meager form of subsistence living. And their burial sites, unavoidable with huge slabs of granite mixed in with Christian influenced tombstones, adorned zebu horns and other ancestral elements, were traditionally were hidden deep in their forests. Now they are exposed out in open clearings, and in some cases just by the side of the road. I was explicitly told that I could photograph them, but only from the road! I absolutely could not take a step off the road or enter into these private but exposed sanctuaries, that in some cases held burial sites that were hundreds of years old.

I was in Madagascar working with a UK based charity, Azafady, and was accompanied by their director, Mark Jacobs, who has been going to Madagascar for 11 years. One very sunny and bright day, while returning from a village two hours north of Fort Dauphine, our base, we came upon a boisterous group of men on the rutted dirt road. They were of all ages, many drunk and stoned. They were carrying a 2 meter long slab of granite on two long wooden poles, decorated by green shoots and foliage from the forest. We suddenly realized this was a funeral procession and jumped out of our vehicle. Upon approaching them, we came to learn that this was a stone laying ceremony for a recently deceased elderly woman from a nearby village.

As we asked more questions and they noticed my camera, they got agitated and told us to leave and that we couldn’t take photographs of this scene. We asked why and Mark, along with our wonderful Malagasy friend, Lala, explained that we were from Azafady and were interested in showing their culture. One of the older men in the group, who couldn’t have been more than 40, suddenly said, yes, we could join them to the burial grounds and it was indeed acceptable to make photographs as well. Suddenly this scene turned into an energized experience, where I was allowed into a normally private ceremony. Mark turned to me and said he had never experienced anything like this in his 11 years coming here, and when we enetered the burial grounds, walking in the midst of these towering, white tomb stones, sharing alcohol with the men, while sitting an listening to the speeches, I sensed the impact we were having on these people. I also realized, once again, the impact an inquisitive but sensitive photographer can have on a situation, opening doors that would otherwise remain closed to the outsider.

Categories: Press, Published