Kaye Martindale and Geoff Brokate traveled through Pakistan for around eight months making portraits of local women, including young blogger Malala Yousafzai, a runner-up for Time’s Person of the Year 2012 award. She was hospitalized in October after being shot in the head by the Taliban.
The couple’s aim was to meet everyday women in Pakistan and understand their lives, Martindale said. They traveled across the country and met approximately 150 women, interviewing more than 100 of them.
Martindale and Brokate met very strong-willed women who wanted to share their life stories. Some women’s photographs were made in secret, while others had husbands who encouraged them to be in the photo. Others still wouldn’t allow the couple to photograph them.
“We wanted to give a voice to women who aren’t heard, to show strong women like Malala, who can’t be stopped, who are so brave, so incredibly courageous,” Martindale said.
They decided to make portraits of the women they encountered, as well as conduct interviews with each subject. The portrait, along with each person’s story, makes it personal, revealing the strengths or vulnerabilities of each woman.
“The general feeling was that women were not really in control of their own destiny,” Martindale said. And in the cases she found where the woman was in control, it wasn’t of her own ambition alone. Someone else enabled her.
In Pakistan, there are varying degrees of oppression and freedom for women, Martindale explained. At the core lies a culture of honor.
“The woman must obey and not step out of boundaries,” Martindale said. Sometimes that means not being seen by men, and sometimes that means behaving well and dressing in the right clothes.
As a woman, Martindale dressed conservatively while touring the country. And the way she dressed, like with her head covered or uncovered, seemed to directly affect the way other men treated Brokate.
Honor and modesty also occasionally limited Brokate’s access. More than once, he was not allowed to even be in the room during the photograph.
“It’s a complicated society,” Martindale said. “The man controls his wife, but the man is controlled by society.”
She hopes that the portraits reveal the reality of what’s happening in Pakistan.
In the vein of Malala’s hospitalization, she hopes “some great tragedy doesn’t have to happen to create positive change for women.”
Martindale and Brokate’s portraits and corresponding story will be on display at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England, on March 8 in conjunction with International Women’s Day.
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN