Vanishing Ethiopian Tribes

A young man the day before a bull-jumping ceremony. Photo: Trupal Pandya

In January 2014 Trupal Pandya and Alexander Papakonstadinou, fourth semester photography students, traveled to Ethiopia to document the vanishing tribes of the Omo Valley. The tribes’ way of life is stressed by hunting restrictions (tourists can hunt game, tribal members cannot). Soon a new dam will flood the valley as well.

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Exhibit poster: Vanishing Tribes of the Omo Valley.

“I was working with Magnum photographer Steve McCurry, who makes a lot of trips to Omo Valley,” says Trupal. “He had just returned from Ethiopia. I found his work to be inspiring and decided to document the tribes in my own style. I wanted to bring studio lighting to the remote areas of the Omo Valley to create modern-style portraits.

“The way the tribes dressed, and their lifestyle, is still traditional. The tribe members were beautiful to us. We wanted to document that before it vanished. It is already under stress from globalization and development. Dress is changing, customs dying.”

In a rite of passage, a boy jumps over the backs of cows. Photo: Trupal Pandya

“Every time the strobe went off the people thought that it was draining their blood and made them uncomfortable, so it was a difficult thing to do,” says Trupal.

Photo: Alexander Papakonstadinou

Alexander shot in a completely different style, black and white 35 mm film:

“My way of shooting was more documentary,” says Alexander. What’s happening in their everyday life, capturing their expressions, focusing on details, finding patterns. It helped me realize how uncluttered their lives are. There’s no materialistic pleasure. It’s peaceful.”

Photo: Alexander Papakonstadinou

Trupal and Alexander spent 10 days travelling within the valley and had the chance to reside with some of the tribes, which brought them closer to the culture.

“We were lucky to find a fixer who gave us access to these tribes,” Trupal says. “We took sacks of coffee or corn whenever we went to a tribe. Sometimes it was money, sometimes clothes, sometimes food. It was always a bartered thing.”

They visited the Benna, Mursi, Hamar, Arbore, and Ari tribes. “Our tents were right next to their huts,” says Alexander. “We ate the same food. We exchanged food. We gave them canned food in exchange for their local chicken and lamb. They didn’t like the canned food of course.”

A Hamar hut made from thatch, river reed, branches & sticks.  Photo:Trupal Pandya

“We had a lot of mentoring,” said Trupal. “Our professors inspired us to do something out of the ordinary.”  Alexander and Trupal credit Ron Amato, Jessica Wynne, Brad Paris, Max Hilaire, Brian Emery “and all other faculty who played a role.”

The students showed tribal members some of the photographs they took; They plan to return to the Omo Valley with the prints with a touring exhibit in their villages.

“I’m planning on doing this with tribes of India as well” says Trupal, who grew up in Gujarat.

Photo: Alexander Papakonstadinou

From now to April 4, some 40 of their photographs are in exhibit at the Marvin Feldman Center. There is a sense of regality to them. And that beauty in its natural form is what they want to show the world.

Trupal and Alexander will be there to talk about their photos on the March 25 starting at 6 pm.

Opening: Trupal Pandya & Alexander Papakonstadinou “Vanishing Tribes of the Omo Valley” photos in FIT C lobby, March 21 – April 4.

All photos used with permission

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