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.

Nadia Pandolfo: The Soul of San Lucas Tolimán


Nadia Pandolfo is a lifestyle, portrait, beauty, and fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. First introduced to photography at the young age of ten, Nadia has a gift for making masterful compositions and connecting with people. She has traveled to and photographed in many countries around the world, including Cuba, Galapagos, Iceland, and Brazil. A talented visual storyteller, Nadia’s work has been widely published in the U.S. and around the world. This week Nadia speaks to atlas about her soulful trip to San Lucas Tolimán in Guatemala, what inspired her to travel to this village, the challenges she encountered while interacting with and photographing members of the Kaqchikel tribe, and what she took away from her experience.

When were you first introduced to photography?

Nadia Pandolfo: I was introduced to photography as a child perhaps when I was eight years old. My mother was getting her master’s degree in Radio, Television and Film at Temple University. She was taking a photography class as part of that program and developing her own black and white film. My brothers and I were her favorite subjects. Around this time, my mother gave me a camera for Christmas. So I began experimenting on my cousins and friends. Later, I took a photography class at Harriton High School with the art teacher, Peter Murray, and I learned some technical skills. When I went off to California, I inherited my mother’s Fujica 35mm manual camera and continued taking classes first at UCSB and then at USC.

What about photography do you love the most?

I love to contemplate the distinction between light and darkness, and I love to try to capture short glimpses into the human soul during its journey on this earth.


You have been shooting lifestyle, fashion, and portrait photography. Which do you enjoy photographing the most and why?

It is difficult to say which I enjoy most. I enjoy all of these types of photography and that is because I love to work with people. I love the dynamism, emotion, and movement of lifestyle. I love the drama and artifice of fashion and the simplicity of the character study in portraiture.

Can you tell us about these beautiful images from Guatemala? What inspired you to take photographs there?

In 2014 I traveled to San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, a small village situated on the picturesque Lake Atitlán, to volunteer at the Centro Educativo Pavarotti. It is a middle school sponsored by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchú. The school was established in 2005 with funds generated by a concert given by Luciano Pavarotti. The mission of the school is to preserve indigenous culture and language in Guatemala. There are twenty-three different indigenous languages spoken and about fourteen different tribes in Guatemala. The village of San Lucas Tolimán is primarily inhabited by members of the Kaqchikel tribe.  Guatemala has had a tumultuous history of civil war and genocide of the indigenous people. The children who attend this school are descendants of victims of this genocide. Besides the obvious loss of human life, there has also been a loss of indigenous language and culture as a result of the civil war in Guatemala. I was inspired by the local people of this village, by Rigoberta Menchú, Ozwaldo Gálvez, the headmaster of the school, Baldomero Martin Balam and his wife, Carmen Rosa Sajquiy Lopez, the main caretakers of the school, many of these children, especially Inez and Abby, and the teachers. It was a privilege to travel to Guatemala and to encounter these people so I could document a small part their endeavor to rebuild the self-esteem of the indigenous cultures of Guatemala.


Did you encounter any challenges?

The main challenge was to open myself to the experience of the local people in the face of their suffering and my own foreigner’s perspective. I had to humble myself and establish their trust so that they would invite me into their world. I met a woman, Florinda Shipin Mejia, in the local market. She invited me into her home to teach me how she weaves fabric and introduced me to her five children. She confided her life struggles to me. Kaqchikel is her first language, but she could also speak elementary Spanish. She told me that whatever she sells at the market in a given day is the money she has to buy food for her children that same day. If she does not sell one day, she does not have money for food that day. She allowed me to interview her on video for a documentary. When I asked her if there was anything she would like to say to people in America, she said she wants to let them know that people like her exist, and that they do beautiful work making textiles and other handicraft items. She explained that each Mayan tribe has their own distinct pattern of weaving fabric with specific colors and patterns. This was done traditionally so when the indigenous tribesmen and women went to the coffee and fruit plantations, everyone would recognize which tribe they were from by the pattern of their garments.


What did you take away from your experience while working on this project?

I felt like I genuinely connected with the people featured in these photographs. They invited me into their lives and allowed themselves to become vulnerable in front of my lens. I am still in contact via Facebook with many of the children from the school, and I enjoy reading their posts and communicating with them. I will carry these stories and faces in my heart for the rest of my life.


If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be

Well there are so many great photographers, whose work I respect. However, if I had to choose one, it would be Toni Frissell. This is mainly because she was a pioneering female photographer, who mastered an immense repertoire from fashion to photojournalism to war photography and portraiture. She is a wonderful role model, and I believe she would have been a very interesting person to observe at work.

Thanks for being our featured photographer for the week, Nadia!

For more information about Nadia, visit her website.  All images © Nadia Pandolfo.


Thom Pierce: Capturing Beauty and Courage in Andriesvale

Home of Sara Rooi

Thom Pierce is a Cape Town-based photographer. Originally from the U.K., Thom moved to South Africa seven years ago and enjoys art and documentary photography. He has made a profound and successful effort to tell stories and bring attention to the often forgotten communities around him.  He deftly uses the camera to communicate the stories and the reality in which these communities live in day in and day out. In addition to being featured in numerous publications and books, a collection of Thom’s work was acquired by the South African National Gallery for its permanent collection. This year, Thom was selected as a winner of the prestigious Piclet Popcap Award for contemporary photography. Thom speaks to atlas this week about the courageous Khoi-San/Khomani people of his Andriesvale series, his intellectual and artistic approach to photography, and his recently completed project involving the people of Semonkong.

How did you first become interested in photography?

Thom Pierce: I do not really remember. I have seen photographs of me at a young age with an SLR around my neck, but there is no defining moment when I became interested. I used to take a lot of photographs and develop them in a darkroom that I built at home, but I never gained a huge passion for it until I was much older and until I understood what was interesting about photographing.

Do you specialize in a specific genre of photography?

I like to call it documentary portraiture. Telling stories using techniques from documentary, formal portraiture, and fine art photography. Photography is my way of engaging with the world. I am interested in people and their stories and I am endlessly fascinated by the way photography can be used to translate and communicate.

Gert Tieties

How is documentary portraiture different from other genres like landscape, street, and portraiture?

I think that documentary is a mix of all of the above. It is not creating scenes like you may do in some forms of portraiture but it also is not claiming to be an unnoticed observer. There is a collaboration between me and the subjects and an agreement to tell a specific story. I am not directing what is happening but I am also not claiming my presence does not have an impact on the situation. To me, framing choices in documentary photography can be more specific so that you try to make the best out of the environment that you are in much like landscape. I think the lines between all genres are — and should be — blurred.

These images from your Andriesvale series are about a group of Khoi-San/Khomani people. These are very compelling and moving photos. How did you first hear about them? How did this project get started?

This was quite an early project for me in terms of my career and my life in South Africa. I was looking for a subject that would take me somewhere new and broaden my knowledge of the country I was living in. A friend told me about a project that the university in Durban was doing with a community in the Northern Cape. I met with the facilitators and asked if I could go along on their next field trip. I often look to universities for interesting research to see if there are any project ideas.

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Did you encounter any challenges while working on this project?

The hardest thing was trying to explain to the community what I wanted to do. It is really important to me that my intentions are understood and there is a verbal agreement between me and the subjects. I realized early on that “Bushmen” (a problematic term but one that is most universally understood in this context) are usually portrayed in a very romanticized way, in monochrome, and in their traditional clothing. I really wanted to give a more realistic and accurate representation but this is a very hard intention to explain to anybody especially in their second language.

Boy in cart

What did you take away from this project? What message do you want viewers to take away from it?

What I took away from the project was that there is big difference between our idealistic view and reality. I think that so much of photography is a cliched look at the world as seen through a filter of how we want things to be represented. But the truth is very different from that. It is important that we, as photographers, do not just accept the preconceived ideas as truth but that we go, explore, and report back.

Are you currently working on any projects?

I have just finished a series of portraits called “The Horsemen of Semonkong” that I shot in the last couple of months in the small mountain kingdom of Lesotho. I am very excited about it as it is a temporary departure for me — leaving behind the more issue heavy work to focus on something more aesthetic.  This project may be found here:

Vetkoek takes advantage of 2 days work clearing up around the local school.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?

Nadav Kander, Arnold Newman or Sebastian Salgado. I love the slightly older generation of photographers who take their work extremely seriously and are incredibly professional about their approach. I want to see that in action.

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Is there a lot of support for photographers in your community in South Africa?

Yes and no. In South Africa, photography is seen as very important as a tool for change and documenting the ongoing struggles of the country. There are many great photographers who work tirelessly dealing with difficult subjects. Unfortunately, like the rest of the world, photography as a profession is undervalued and it is common for photographers to be exploited.

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

For more information about Thom, visit his website.  All images © Thom Pierce.