This Week in Photography Books: Soraya Matos

 

It’s Thanksgiving morning. (It’s true.)

Some weeks, I get the column done early.
Like Tuesday.

If I write on Tuesday, it means I’m fresh as a daisy, and brimming with energy.

(Mondays are just not realistic.)

Thursdays happen often enough, because that’s how deadlines work.

Right?

You wait until the pressure of having-to creeps up, and then that bit of need kicks your butt, and rouses action.

Normally, though, you’d rather not work on Thanksgiving. It’s that totally secular holiday that people either love or love to hate.

There’s no in-between.

So many Turkeys die.
Football players get concussions.

And South Jersey breathes a collective sigh of relief once they’ve unloaded yet enough year’s worth of cranberries on the rest of America.

Other than a few cynical years, (I admit,) I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. I get why the roots of the holiday can rightly be given the side-eye, especially living here next to Native Americans.

But I grew up believing in many of the American ideals that were taught to me there in Central New Jersey, where the ghosts of George Washington were said to inhabit the area.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Now, if you can temporarily set aside what you know about the flaws of the founders, those are some pretty idealistic notions. That Americans are granted the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That all people are created equal.

Despite our many problems, the rule of law still exists here in America, and we are essentially free. Most of us, (if not all of us,) have many, many things for which to be thankful.

I know I do.

I’m thankful for my wonderful family, and the fact that I live in a relatively safe place.

I’m thankful that I get to write about interesting photo books, as a job, and I’m thankful for those of you who read my musings.

But the truth is, today’s column is about to get dark. (Consider yourself warned.) I didn’t mean for it, as I might have rather kept it light today.

No, I wanted to start with the positive today, and ask you to think about the things (and people) for which you’re thankful. That was the appeal to the head.

The gut-punch-of-a-book will wind up your heart for sure, so please trust that I didn’t plan this. It was totally random; the luck of the draw. I reached in to the bottom of the stack for a book by a female photographer, and “The Ghost People of Tanzania,” by Soraya Matos, published by Edition One Books in Berkeley, was next in line.

I liked that it came tied in fabric, because who doesn’t like the extra touches, but only when I untied the bow did I see that it was covering an albino boy or girl, surrounded by darker-skinned African children.

The intro text sets up that the book is a part of an advocacy project that accompanied public exhibitions of the images in public places around Tanzania, where the albino population is both sizable and menaced.

Contemporary norms including witchcraft place albino Tanzanians at risk of murder or dismemberment, as their body parts are used for witchcraft medicine.

(I told you this was going to be unpleasant.)

The book features a series of portraits of Tanzanians who have the condition, and a photo of their handwritten answers to a few questions, which are then translated into English as well.

I must say, some of the smiling photos were disconcerting. In most photo books, featuring difficult subjects like this one, the people might scowl or look serious in some fashion.

And the backgrounds are both nondescript and bright, likely
featuring local fabrics. (Hence the fabric that tied the book when it arrived.)

Those smiling faces are a set up, because when you turn to the first page with a portrait of an attack survivor, and the arm’s not there, the blood drains from your face.

Can you imagine?

There are enough such stories in there that then you begin to think, aren’t these people putting themselves at risk, even if some are at a protected government facility?

Running for your life while someone chases you, and then they catch you, and chop your arms off and leave you to die, and then they get away with it, that has to go down as one of the very, very worst things that can happen to a person.

And for what?

Because they have a genetic condition?

Because they look different?

It’s like living in a permanent horror movie, where you always have to look over your shoulder for the boogeyman.

Anyone involved with this project, including Ms. Matos, puts themselves at risk to try to educate the public, and that takes some serious guts.

I applaud the effort here, and hope she and all these people stay safe. There’s nothing fair about a world where this happens.

So let’s use it as inspiration to be truly thankful for what we’ve got, and I hope you have a safe holiday, wherever you are.

Bottom Line: Tragic, heart-breaking stories of albino discrimination 

To Purchase: The Ghost People of Tanzania,” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We currently have a several month backlog, and are particularly interested in submissions from female photographers so we may maintain a balanced program.

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 1 Comment On This Article.

  1. I regard Thanksgiving much the same way I do our American flag, with very mixed emotions- truly love what it stands for, very aware of the truth behind the myth(s).

    Great book! I remember my shock upon first hearing of this “practice” some years back- how could such ignorance create an atmosphere for such cruelty in our “modern world?” And, of course, there are those who would present this as further “evidence” of the behavior one can expect from “inferior” peoples from “shit hole” countries- the very same people who are somehow oblivious to the the prejudices and policies that allow them to target, discriminate and yes, sometimes even kill individuals from selected groups of people in their own “civilized” country.

    Once seen in that light, it becomes a most appropriate warning to people the world over, that where ignorance and prejudice remain unchallenged, incredible cruelty always follows…

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