Gerry Ellis - September 9, 2006 – Isalo national Park

Wandering around Isalo by 4wd is reminiscent of the American southwest of southern Utah and Arizona – sandstone cliffs of wind sculptured red and cream. In this desert baobabs and spiny forest plants replace cactus, mesquite and pines. The real difference is in the people and their survivalist livings in this windswept environment. Bara people are the dominant group and they along with their zebu cattle extract the most basic existence growing manioc, a bit of rice and corn, and for the Bara eating their zebu cattle.

Over and over I found myself turning the camera towards the people. The following images are from a variety of daily scenes – most created with the 14mm. To do so requires engaging with people—such a wide lens does not allow you to stand back and abstractly peer into people’s lives. This lens was a challenge at first but the opportunity it presents has forced me to challenge my own hesitations. The Bara, like most Malagasy people, are warm and inviting and delight in having the camera and attention directed their way. And you will win over hearts and minds if after a few shots you flip the camera around and share your photos with your subjects. In the case of the Bara kids it spurred excitement, laughter and opened even more opportunities.

One photo to take note of is the little Bara girl looking up at the photographer. This was created, as many others in this blog such as the Bara and Zebu cart, although less apparent, by a technique I have devoted a fair amount of energy to developing over the past eight years—using the 14mm and wider lenses held away from my body. At first the results were poor, but the potential was obvious and I kept working at it. With digital it’s great—what you don’t like you dump—I started on film and it was costly in the beginning. What the effort delivered was an ability to shoot, with confidence, a camera extended away from my eye, held at odd angles and returning spontaneous photos that could not have been accomplished any other way. In the case of the little Bara girl the photo was created when after a couple of standard photos I squatted and showed her an image of herself in the display on the camera’s back—as I stood up she was looking for more, as she looked up and I had her attention by speaking to her, I dropped the camera along my side and tilted up and caught this wanting look.

In the case of the Bara zebu cart I was literally running backwards down the road as the boys encouraged the zebu to race faster in an attempt to run me down—with camera held down around my knees I photographed back-pedaling for my life… being mindful of the zebu’s shadows to complete the composition.