Photo Essay: Alejandro Chaskielberg's Turkana Collection

The Sony World Photographer of the Year shoots Kenya by moonlight for Oxfam

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Through the Camel Restocking programme and the Gardening Project, Oxfam’s on-going efforts to fight the effects of drought in Northern Kenya and to resuscitate the pastoralist communities, breathe hope back into those who were beginning to think that there was none. To document the progress they’ve made, Alejandro Chaskielberg joined the charity in Turkana.

What impressed me the most was their joy. I didn’t know at all how they were going to react about being photographed at night, but most of them saw it as a game with me, and they found it very funny to see me running around as a fool with my torches

Bathed in moonlight Chaskielberg’s photographs focus on an eerie hopefulness and the images radiate an aesthetic that is alien to most charity campaigns. Here, despite the crisis, beauty and dignity are allowed to flourish and his subjects look defiantly down the lens, posing with stern determination alongside their newly acquired camels, goats and vegetables.

Dazed Digital: Why did you decide to take the photographs by moonlight?
Alejandro Chaskielberg:
I had just published my book La Creciente, about the islander community of the Paraná Delta River. It was a four year project where I took pictures of the life of the islanders, at night, with the full moon. Oxfam proposed that I work at night in Kenya as well, with the idea of showing the consequences of the draught in a more positive and hopeful way. They wanted to focus on people’s dreams about the future, showing that even in such an extreme situation, people still have hopes and wishes, as we all do.

DD: Do you think that the aesthetics of an image affect the way people engage with its subject?
Alejandro
Chaskielberg: The photographic language is changing a lot, as we live in a time where we communicate with images. It’s necessary to expand our visual vocabulary, and not to be afraid of the new. When we see an image, we translate it according to our cultural background and our reality. When we “read” an image, we are projecting our wishes.

DD: What struck you most about the people that you met in Turkana?
Alejandro
Chaskielberg: What impressed me the most was their joy. I didn’t know at all how they were going to react about being photographed at night, but most of them saw it as a game with me, and they found it very funny to see me running around as a fool with my torches.

DD: Did your visit to Kenya change your perceptions of your own life?
Alejandro
Chaskielberg: Without doubt. I realised that there is always room for wishing and loving, even in extreme situations. It’s sad to know that the famine in East Africa is a preventable catastrophe. In Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, I slept in a comfortable hotel and after just a two hour flight, I was with people dying of starvation, in the same country.

Alejandro Chaskielberg’s Turkana Collection goes on display at Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH, between 18th – 22nd April

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