creative and inspiring photography from around the globe

Anne Launcelott: Life in the Omo River Valley


Anne Launcelott is a Nova Scotia-based photographer who specializes in candid photography. Anne attended the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and has been capturing beautiful and spectacular images for over thirty years. She has a unique gift for telling stories with her camera about people from different cultures and countries, including Vietnam, Myanmar, Morocco, and Ethiopia. Anne’s work has been shown in many solo and group exhibitions around the world, including Canada, China, and Nova Scotia. She was elected to the Society of Canadian Artists in 2012 and her black & white image, “Face at Window (Havana, Cuba) was selected as Best of Show for the Society of Canadian Artists National Open Juried Online Exhibition. This week Anne speaks to atlas about how she got started in photography, her experience photographing the Kara and Hamar Tribes in Ethiopia, and the impact the tribes people made on her during her trip.

How did you first become interested in photography?

Anne Launcelott: I received my first camera, a Brownie Instamatic (for those old enough to remember) as a birthday present from my father when I was 14. I have had a love affair with photography ever since.

Some say photographing people can be challenging. What is your approach?

My specialty is candid photography. I am inspired by people and the themes of everyday life. In order to photograph a certain expression or action, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible so as not to break the moment. More often than not, travel takes me to countries where a blonde white woman with a big camera around her neck really stands out. In these circumstances I spend time with the person, talking through gesture. Once I have their trust, I then indicate I would like to photograph them. I never get a refusal and I have a memory that lasts long after the photograph I have taken is forgotten.


You used to photograph in black & white exclusively up until ten years ago. Why did you switch and what do you prefer to photograph in now?

I went digital in 2006 because B&W film, or film of any kind for that matter, was impossible to buy here in Halifax. I find color is more of a challenge because if there is a red bucket in the background, for example, the eye goes to that and not your subject. In a B&W image, it is just one more grey or black object in the background. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Color shows the viewer what it was truly like when I photographed the scene, whereas B&W is so much better at creating a mood and dispensing with the distraction of color.

In 2013, you went to the remote Omo River Valley in Southern Ethiopia with a group of photographers to document the lives of isolated tribes living in the valley. What inspired to you go on this trip? What was your experience like?

This trip was being led by world famous photographer Steve McCurry, and since this was an area that really intrigued me, I just had to sign on. I loved travelling with Steve. He took us to this remote area of Ethiopia and then we were free to wander and photograph to our hearts content. At first it was very difficult and overwhelming to photograph.  About a hundred children were crowded around me yelling, “photo, photo”, but since we were camped outside their village for about a week, they soon became familiar with me walking around their village. It was virtually impossible to take any candid shots so I was certainly outside of my comfort zone.


You captured some very beautiful and compelling images from the trip. What were your impressions of the Kara and Hamar Tribes? What did you take away from your experience?

The Kara tribe lives in a very remote region. Despite having nothing and contending with so many hardships just to survive, the children were carefree and happy, free from the trappings of our modern technical world. The women do all the work while the majority of the men sit around every day doing nothing. This was rather disconcerting and I really admired the wormen whose every waking hour is devoted to looking after the children, cooking, gathering wood for the fire, collecting river water for cooking and washing, and tanning the hides of the goats to make clothing. The boys go to school — up to grade 4 or 5 — but the girls do not as they are needed in the village to help their mothers with the work. Feminism is certainly not a word they know in this society.

The Hamar Tribe, on the other hand, live right beside an Ethiopian village called Turmi and are much more influenced by the outsider through the tourism. The tourist has to pay to take a photograph, and the members of the tribe would spend it all in one of the three bars in the small village. This was very sad to see. Regarding what I took away from the experience, I was amazed at the resilience of the human species and realized that despite such huge differences, we have so much in common.


What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip had to be traveling with Steve McCurry and getting the chance to make a connection with a young teenage girl from the Kara Tribe. She would hold my hand every time I came into the village and learned very quickly some English words I was teaching her. She would place on my wrist each day a bead bracelet she had made for me. Here they have nothing and yet she was giving me a gift each day. I will never forget her.

What message do you hope your viewers will take away from these photos?

I want the viewer to come away having learned something about the way of life and culture of these people. I really hope my images have told a story about how rich this culture is and the importance of tradition. Despite having nothing, the Kara Tribe are a proud people and we can certainly could learn so much from them about taking joy from the simple things in life.


Where do you want to travel to and/or photograph next?

India is very high on my list of travels. I feel that this country is a feast for the artistic eye.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

I am often asked by the person I photograph to send him/her the image I took. Always honor this request if you have said you will do so. It will make a person trust foreigners and make it easier for the next photographer who comes along.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Anne!

For more information about Anne, visit her website.  All images © Anne Launcelott.

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