By Mark McConville
STUNNING portraits has revealed the striking beauty of the Suri tribes of Ethiopia after background distractions were removed.
The incredible images a young mother posing for the camera while she carries her child inside her dress on her back, a child with a flower in his mouth and what appears to be a tusk necklace and teenager holding a small goat around her neck.
Other astonishing pictures show an elderly woman with a large plate in her lip, a woman with a flower painted on her breast and a child holding a large skull with horns.
The remarkable photographs were taken in the Suri region of Ethiopia by photographer Jan C Schlegel (52) from Nuremberg, Germany.
“Beauty, uniqueness, pride, something special and beautiful; I see hopes and dreams of the people I photographed but also the pain and hardship,” he said.
“In general I would say I see life. I also see a little bit of myself. The pictures are like a mirror where you can look outside into a foreign and unknown world and at the same time it is like a mirror, where I can see a little bit myself.
“I spent a lot of time in the village before I start taking pictures. For several days I am holding myself back taking pictures and try to learn about the tribe’s culture, language and difficulties.
“I try to stay right in the centre of the village putting my tent up where the elders are. I show interest in the people and I come back to the same place to bring them the pictures.
“Returning to the same place always opens the doors since then they see that I am really interested in them and their lives and that I am not one of the tourists.”
Suri is a traditional local name for a people living in south-western Ethiopia. The Suri are a self-conscious and culturally proud people, with, among others, a liking for stick fighting called saginé.
This is more properly called ‘ceremonial duelling’, and serves as a rite of passage for male youngsters and brings great prestige to men — it is especially important when seeking a bride — and they are very competitive, at the risk of serious injury and occasional death.
At a young age, to beautify themselves for marriage, most women have their bottom teeth removed and their bottom lips pierced, then stretched, so as to allow insertion of a clay lip plate. This has become the hallmark of the Suri – as for the Mursi – and the main reason they have been sought out by tourists interested in the ‘exotic’.
Some women have stretched their lips so as to allow plates up to sixteen inches in diameter. Increasing with exposure to other cultures, however, a growing number of girls now refrain from this practice. Their children are sometimes painted with (protective) white clay paint, which may be dotted on the face or body.
“I was travelling with a group of friends to the south of Ethiopia to help digging a well for a village during a several years long drought,” said Jan explaining why he took the photographs.
“I had never seen tribes before and was fascinated by them. I had a medium camera with me and took pictures of the people of the village. After being back in Germany in my darkroom I developed the pictures and was disappointed by my pictures.
“I did not understand why but I did not find the amazing people I met in my pictures. Instead I found poor and desperate people. I went back took more pictures, changed my perspective, my way of seeing and maybe after the fifth trip I felt slowly that my pictures begin to show the beauty and dignity, the pride and uniqueness that fascinated me so much.
“I remember developing my prints in my darkroom and discovering more and more the power that a image can have… I realized it’s the way I see them that makes the difference.”
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