The Kara tribe lives on the banks of the Omo River in an extremely remote area of southern Ethiopia. Yet even in their seclusion, they are not out of tourists’ reach.
Utah photographer Rick Egan traveled to the village for the first time in 2011 and found it difficult to make pictures.
“They have strict rules about photos and then insist on being paid personally for each photo,” Egan said. “Because of this situation, it is not possible to just roam around and photograph the villagers going about their daily routines. Every photo was posed and stiff. I had never seen any candid photos of the Kara tribe.”
This tradition of “selling” their pictures is the major source of income for the tribe, he says. Egan gathered that although they were familiar with being photographed, most likely, no one in the tribe had ever had the opportunity to take a picture or to photograph one another.
“When the tourists come into their village, it seems that entire village lines up for their photo, and they are all very solemn and stiff,” he said.
“I wanted to see what they would do if they had a chance to take their own pictures. What type of things would they focus on as they roamed around their tiny village with their own camera?”
Egan returned to Utah but wanted to return to Africa. In 2012, he and writer Matthew LaPlante won the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism from the University of Oregon for a story about the sacrificing of cursed “mingi” children. He used the prize money to fund his next visit to Ethiopia.
“I have a friend that teaches religion at Brigham Young University that handed out cameras to women to take their own photos of their daily life for research for her doctorate,” Egan said. “When I told her my idea, she offered to let me borrow her cameras, making my dream a reality.”
Earlier this year, Egan made the arduous trek back to southern Ethiopia. He explained his idea in detail to his guide and Amharic interpreter, Chapy, who relayed it to Bona, one of the tribesmen. Bona rounded up 10 children between the ages of 10 and 12.
“The cameras were distributed around 3 in the afternoon. The kids brought the cameras back just after sunset. It all went very well, with one exception,” Egan said. “One of the cameras got into the hands of an older tribe member, and I never saw it again.”
As night approached, he gathered the nine remaining cameras and downloaded the images onto his laptop. He hung a sheet on one of the huts and projected the images onto the material, to the delight of the tribe members.
Ultimately, Egan hopes to produce an exhibit of the photographs and sell the prints to help purchase items for the villagers such as mattresses and mosquito nets for the children.
- Raymond McCrea Jones, CNN