Fascinated by tribal cultures and traditions and with a desire to photograph the Omo tribes for years, Louisa Seton made the journey to Ethiopia in April 2015.
“The Omo was especially dear to me because I knew that with the building of the Gibe III dam much change and development would come into the Omo region,” says Louisa.
As always, with progress comes change, and Louisa wanted to record these tribal groups before these customs were influenced by westernisation, which will take years. However, different attitudes towards the traditional practices were already apparent during her journey to the remote Omo region, and subtle change is already happening.
Louisa’s photographic exhibition, Odyssey, was launched at an exclusive benefit at Studio 124 Collective. Generously donated items were raffled on the night to raise funds and awareness of Nakuru Hope (a 100 percent not-for-profit registered charity). Fabulous prizes included an original artwork by international artist and founder of Studio 124 Collective, Cher van Schouwen, as well as a $1000 interior design consultancy voucher from HC Interiors, and a weekend for two at the beautifully appointed Hougoumont Hotel in Fremantle.
We caught up with Louisa to hear about her childhood in Africa and the places her photography has taken her around the globe…
Tell us a little about the journey you went on to create your latest body of works, Odyssey.
I had been tossing up the idea of going to Ethiopia for a number of years and felt a strong pull to go sooner rather than wait any longer, knowing the dam was complete. I knew the dam would affect the local tribal groups, displacing many and bringing with it controversial social and environmental impacts. I researched the region, found a guide and a driver, and went. It wasn’t the easiest journey to undertake but I managed to get to the Upper Omo, which is right on the border of South Sudan. It’s very remote and off the beaten track. It took three solid days of driving from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to reach that area.
How has your upbringing in Kenya influenced your work and the way you see the world?
Being raised in Nairobi, Kenya, I was surrounded by a rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Growing up in Africa, I had a fairly free childhood – I lived and interacted with a variety of different communities, which helped inspire a deep respect and ongoing curiosity for the people I encountered and the ways in which they live their lives. It helped that my dad is a bush pilot over there, and I got to explore remote parts of the country flying alongside him in his light aircraft.
Where has your work taken you around the world?
South America – from Colombia to Brazil, East and Southern Africa overland, parts of Europe, Cuba, Papua New Guinea, America, Australia and India.
What do you feel is unique about the way you work?
I interact closely with the people I encounter. Everyone has a unique story and even if it’s a simple one it’s important to them and I feel I am able to reveal their stories in my work. Maybe it’s the way they look at me, a glint in their eye. You need to build a trust with your subject before they open up to you and you can capture the essence of who they are in their portrait.
Biggest career moment?
I think when I was living in London after University and won the Travel Photographer of the Year competition: Face to Face portrait category. I got sent on my first assignment as the winner, which was photographing for the Brazilian Tourist Board. It gave me my first taste of being a travel documentary photographer and I loved it.
Who are your top influencers?
Definitely National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. Also, Peter Beard who is a fantastic fine art photographer from the 50s. He is American but is heavily influenced by Africa.
If you could collaborate with anyone on any type of project, who would it be?
Steve McCurry – he photographed the Afghan Girl. He’s a great travel documentary photographer and I’d love to go into a remote region somewhere and just watch and learn how he interacts with his subjects, and observe his techniques to capture his remarkable photo stories.
Where can people in Perth see your work?
Studio 124 Collective, Mosman Park until April 20.
Stay tuned for a profile on the talents that make up Studio 124 Collective, including international artist Cher van Schouwen, HC Interiors and Birds of Passage.
Studio 124 Collective