I grew up watching infomercials in the 90’s of Sally Struthers “Save the Children Campaign”. The visual was of small malnourished children with flies on their faces, surrounded by garbage. I didn’t think much beyond the story I was given about those children or of Africa. I believed what I saw. I walked away beleiveing Africa was a scary place where people where dying. The sad part of this, I was not alone.
I never thought to ask, “Is this true?” or “What else DON’T I know about these children. The answer, EVERYTHING.
As I grew up I began to think more critically and listened to the scholars, intellectuals and people around me. I realized we were all fed one story and it was damaging not only to the children Sally asked us to save but to anyone who believed there was only one story to be told. It’s not that it was untrue, but was it complete?
Like anyone of you reading this you know one photo of you, one Facebook post cannot tell the entire story of who you are. If its a photo of you at your most vulnerable then there is a very real chance people can walk away with a narrative about you that does not honor you as whole and boxes you into that one difficult challenging moment. That doesn’t seem fair does it?
For the people of Africa in particular this one story has been on a loop for decades. A loop creating the story that all of Africa is starving, dying and in struggle.
My goal in creating portraits for my VOICES project which I started during a long time dream trip to kenya was to let the subject take control of the narrative. We each know who we are beyond our circumstances and it is so much greater than most people can tell from a photograph. The women I photographed represent life from, the slums of Kibera to the beaches of Mombasa. Small business owners, caretakers and scholars. Rather than go to a continent and country I have never been and impose a visual story upon it & it’s people with my camera, I chose to leave the story telling in the hands of the women I met.
I asked women from all over Kenya to choose 3 words to describe themselves. I asked, “How would you like to be seen?” This is a question I ask all my clients before a photoshoot because the one truth I know is, the beauty of WHO you are is WHAT I see.
These women shared how they see themselves at the core, how someone who loves them might describe them. The results are the following images.