Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Matilda Temperley | Omo Valley

A few years ago,  Matilda Temperley traveled to Ethiopia's Omo Valley with a portable studio to, as she says it, to "isolate the subjects from their surroundings, extracting the individual from his or her contextual backgrounds so as to bring their gaze, unmediated, into the image."

The Omo valley is at a crossroad of cultures and civilizations and many tribal groups, such as the Mursi, Suri, Ebore and others live around the South Sudanese, Ethiopian and Kenyan borders. These tribes have developed their own unique styles of self decoration to differentiate themselves from their neighbors. The Mursi women, as an example, have their lower teeth removed and ceramic plates inserted that stretch the lips.

"Tribal porn", as some correctly describe it,  is what fuels the gradual and steady increase in the tour groups, and there's been an increasing stream of westerners into the valley in the recent years. Tourist cash in making its way into the tribal regions, and is polluting their cultures. The fashions in the more accessible Omo Valley villages are changing, with tribes people adorning themselves with as much accessories as they can find in order to beg for photos.

It's regrettable and very sad to see these proud Omo Valley inhabitants being encouraged by many unscrupulous tour agents, tourists and photographers to do so, at the risk of losing their identity and age-old cultures.

The Ethiopian government's actions are also a contributing factor. The  forthcoming hydroelectric Gibe III dam is expected to cause potential humanitarian disaster for the region's 500,000 inhabitants. The dam will allow Ethiopia to become a major energy exporter, but will also allow for large-scale commercial farming through irrigated agriculture along the banks of the Omo. Another change in the ways of life for the tribes of the Omo Valley.

Matilda Temperley is a British photographer, who had career in tropical infectious diseases before taking up photography. She is known for her stylised portraiture of marginalised societies.