Working as a team for more than 30 years photographers ANGELA FISHER & CAROL BECKWITH have documented African tribal ceremonies of cultures thousands of years old. They speak to TOR McINTOSH about their remarkable journey.
During a 35-year love affair with Africa, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have journeyed more than 270,000 miles through 46 countries to photograph more than 150 traditional African cultures. They have spent months at a time living among indigenous peoples to earn their trust before being granted exclusive access to the sacred rites and rituals that mark the lives of Africa’s tribal groups. They’ve travelled by foot, mule train, camel, canoe and 4WD vehicles to the remotest corners of Africa to reach communities that have never seen, or been seen by, the outside world. Each journey has had its fair share of obstacles; they’ve travelled along roads littered with land mines, negotiated their way through war zones and dealt with death threats from tribal warriors.
Over the past three decades the two women have produced 14 coffee-table books, exhibited their work in museums and galleries throughout the world, and been honoured with numerous awards for their ongoing work recording the tribal ceremonies and ancient cultures of Africa. I spoke to Australian Angela Fisher from her remote base in Kenya overlooking the picturesque plains around Mount Kilimanjaro. And from the slightly less exotic setting of New York City I caught up with American-born Carol Beckwith during a trip back to her homeland. From these vastly different locations the two women chatted passionately to me about their enduring and deeply respectful relationship with the people, cultures and traditional ceremonies of Africa.
Drawn to Africa in the mid-1970s by the kaleidoscope of art forms and cultures, Angela and Carol began their lives in the vast continent working on individual projects, blissfully unaware of the other’s existence; Carol was shooting for her book Maasai (1980), a study of the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania, and Angela was working on her book Africa Adorned (1984), a seven-year study of traditional adornment in40 African countries. While visiting his daughter in the Maasai Mara nature reserve in Kenya, Carol’s father bought her a hot-air balloon ride over Maasai country for her birthday; the balloon pilot was called Simon Fisher, Angela’s brother. “He was terribly good-looking and I was smitten by him,” recalls Carol. “At 1,000ft he looked deeply into my eyes and said, ‘There is something that I really have to tell you.’ My heart was beating wildly and he continued to look deeply in my eyes and he said, ‘I would really like you to meet my sister.’ My heart sank,” laughs Carol.
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Published in Photography Monthly, July 2011.