By Mark McConville
THE TRIBES of Papua New Guinea have been captured at their most proud including one man who is believed to have been imbued with the spirit of a crocodile.
Armed with spears, bows and axes, Kunai tribesmen are shown with red, black and yellow paint on their faces and show a Kangunaman from the Sepik River with scale-like scarification on his back to represent his crocodile spirit.
Other stunning pictures show the Huli Wigmen who have painted their faces bright yellow and wear elaborate headdresses which were traditionally worn in battle.
The astonishing photographs were taken in Papua New Guinea during a Sing-sing, where tribes or villages gather to show their distinct cultures, dance and music, by travel photographer Trevor Cole (61) from Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
“I always like to think that humans are inextricably connected to their environment, hence I love to shoot people and landscapes,” he said.
“People adapt to climates and landscapes, therefore they are a reflection their natural habitats and this contributes to the immense diversity of humankind on this Earth.
“Sadly globalisation is reducing diversity and homogenising culture. I love to travel to more remote areas to see people in their true environmental contexts.
“The people of the Omo valley in Ethiopia, for example, or the Himba in Kaokoland, Namibia and in this case to the tribes of Papua New Guinea.”
Papua New Guinea is a country with the greatest linguistic diversity on Earth. There are approximately 840 languages spoken, many of which are mutually unintelligible.
The Huli Tribe currently has a population of around 65,000 people and lives in the Tari Basin in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The region had little outside influence before the 1940s when plane travel allowed Westerners to bypass the coastal swamps and rugged inland mountains.
The threats to the Huli Tribe are flooding, crop damage and the danger of their part of the rain forest being cut down for wood.
Trevor, who used a Nikon D810 and D750 to take these photographs, explained how portraiture has become one of the most important facets of his photography.
“When I spend time in tribal villages I try to create to create an opportunity to ‘feel comfortable’ in their world and for them to feel comfortable with me,” he said.
“This doesn’t always work but the aspiration is there. I try to seek interesting faces in interesting contexts and for me the light and emotion of the moment are all important.
“The golden hours creating warmth and shadows make images come to life. I try to take candid shots but in the tribal context this can be difficult and the need to manipulate the scene sometimes materializes.
“Sometimes it is the subject’s face, which tells the story. Life lines, beauty, pride, sadness, deprivation and the allure of eyes can be seen and felt in the photograph.”
Trevor is also sensitive to the impacts that tourism can cause and so tries to make his visit sustainable and not promote ‘zooification’ of the people.
“It is all a delicate balance and a good guide is often best in deciding which strategy to adopt,” he explained.
“In some cases when I have visited villages, for example, I have wandered around the village without a camera just to become a familiar sight. Again, it is the interpersonal skills which can make the moment count.
“And in that moment I want to capture light, colour, emotion, insight, character and spirit. I try to shoot in the golden hours or at least where there is shade from the intense African sun. In the right light, at the right time the ordinary becomes extraordinary and that is something to strive for.
“I try to shoot when I feel the essence of a moment – when all those things you want to see materialise as one.”
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