in Golden Age Comic Books
Posted December 26, 2019
Posted December 26, 2019
Edited December 26, 2019 by Flex Mentallo
These great books are simultaneously a testament to the cultural practices that have lasted for thousands of years, a criticism of those who would ignore and destroy them, and a call to understand and support the beauty, complexity, and knowledge held within.
The threats against these practices are not just the result of time or internal changes, but instead often come from the seizing of land by governments that refuse to recognize the ancestral use and sacredness of the land. The erasure of these cultures is not something inevitable, but instead a choice being made by outsiders.
As much as these books records the ceremonies, they are equally critical of the threats these cultures face. The text calls attention to communities’ dwindling numbers and disruptions to their cultural practices; admitting they were only able to gain access to some of ceremonies because the communities recognize that this may be the last chances to preserve them.
At the same time, they speak directly to their Western audience about the ways in which our culture is affecting African tradition.
Where other photographers have exploited the cultures they record, not giving back anything, Beckwith and Fisher funded wells, set up schools and spawned small businesses; and a portion of their royalties is going back to the communities they photographed.
The ceremonies of these African tribes are a recognition and celebration of the passing from one phase of life into another: birth and initiation, courtship and marriage, royalty and power, seasonal rites, beliefs and worship, spirits and ancestors.
In doing so, the images within these book cannot be divorced from context, nor from the care, worth, and value that their culture imbues into these ceremonies, and in turn they refuse to ignore or dismiss value, humanity, and beauty of these cultures, these arts, and the people who maintain them.
None of the shots ever come across as staged, nor do they ever present the subjects within as “other” or “foreign”. Instead, the book embeds as much context and history into its pages as possible, making sure that the most possible amount of information surrounding these ceremonies is present.
The camera seems never to have any effect on the proceedings, the act of recording apparently not having interfered with what was being recorded. It is a thoroughly candid work, engaging at every step, anthropology at its finest.
“We hope people take away the richness, diversity, beauty and creativity of African cultures.”
“We learned the value of rites of passage that define and teach us what to expect at every stage of life,” adds Fisher.
“Forty percent of the ceremonies we recorded no longer exist,” she notes.
“We feel privileged to have spent 40 years in Africa recording ceremonies in 44 out of the 54 African countries. When we arrive in Africa, we take on Africa time. We work slowly, live with communities, make friends and build trust before we start taking photographs.”
A Wodaabe nomad taking the women across Niger on camelback at one point described their project as "maagani yegitata," which translates as "medicine not to forget." What they ultimately created is a lasting record of a fading culture as well as a heartfelt tribute to a world that many of us will never have the opportunity to witness for ourselves.
The pair met in Africa in 1978, each working on her first book, and developed a friendship. Years later, they got the idea to document the traditions and ceremonies of tribes across the African continent, many of which are dying out, some of which were secret and had never been photographed before.
Between them, Beckwith and Fisher have published 14 books, and have had their photos appear in National Geographic, Natural History, African Arts, The Observer Magazine, Time, Life, Vogue, Marie Claire and Elle. They continue to exhibit and lecture at galleries and museums worldwide, including The American Museum of Natural History and The Explorers Club in New York City, The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and the Royal Geographical Society in London. They have also collaborated on four films about African traditions. Together they have received numerous accolades, including the United Nations Award for Excellence, the Royal Geographical Society's Cherry Kearton Medal, two Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, The Explorers Club's Lowell Thomas Award, and the WINGS WorldQuest Lifetime Achievement Award
For decades, photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have explored remote communities in Africa, documenting sacred initiations, courtship rituals, shamanic mask dancing and jubilant creative works, capturing these vivid and fleeting rites.