Sunday, April 25, 2010
Thirty years ago American-born Carol Beckwith and Australian Angela Fisher met in Kenya and began a relationship with the African continent that would profoundly alter and shape their lives. Their journeys would take them over 270,000 miles, through remote corners of 40 countries, and to more than 150 African cultures.
During this time the two photographers would produce 14 universally acclaimed books, including Maasai (1980), Nomads of the Niger (1983), Africa Adorned (1984), African Ark (1990), African Ceremonies (1999), Passages (2000), Faces of Africa (2004), Lamu: Kenya’s Enchanted Island (2009), and Dinka (2010). Their defining body of work, the double volume African Ceremonies (1999), a pan-African study of rituals and rites of passage from birth to death covering ninety-three ceremonies from twenty six countries, won the United Nations Award for Excellence for its “vision and understanding of the role of cultural traditions in the pursuit of world peace”. Angela and Carol have also been twice honoured with the Annisfield-Wolf Book Award in race relations for “outstanding contributions to the understanding of cultural diversity and prejudice”, the Royal Geographical Society of London’s Cherry Kearton Medal for their “contribution to the photographic recording of African ethnography and ritual”, and most recently the Lifetime Achievement Award from WINGS WorldQuest honouring the accomplishments of visionary women.
From their body of work in Africa over the last 10 years Carol and Angela have produced a number of limited edition books printed on the fine art presses in Santiago Chile under the directorship of Roberto Edwards. Their special limited edition books are Surma, Karo, Maasai, and Dinka.
These multi-talented photographers have also been involved in the making of four films about traditional Africa including Way of the Wodaabe (1986) The Painter and the Fighter, and Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World. Their numerous photographic exhibitions have received acclaim in museums and galleries throughout the world, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, National Geographic Museum, Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Borges Cultural Center of Buenos Aires, National Museums of Kenya, and venues in Australia, Europe, and Japan. In 2000 their careers were celebrated at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York with a major travelling exhibition called Passages featuring 97 mural photographs, 6 video films and a selection of African masks sculpture and jewelry. This exhibition has since travelled throughout the USA, to South America and Europe. The two photographers have lectured at such venues as the Explorers Club in New York, the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C., and the Royal Geographic Society in London.
Presently Angela and Carol are preparing for the 2010 publication of Dinka, their 30 year study of the great pastoralists of Southern Sudan, and completing their pan-African study of the art of body painting for a book entitled Africa: Spirit of Paint scheduled for publication in 2011.
Aware that traditional cultures in Africa are fast disappearing, Carol and Angela are working with an urgency to complete the third volume of their ongoing study of African Ceremonies with the goal of covering the remaining traditional ceremonies in the 13 African cultures in which they have not yet worked. This book entitled African Twilight is scheduled for publication in 2013.
Angela and Carol have recently expressed their intention to place their extensive photographic archive of traditional African cultures and ceremonies with an institution to be selected in the coming months. In addition to more than half a million photographic images the Beckwith Fisher collection includes over 400 hours of video film, 200 illustrated journals and three museum scale exhibitions. This unique archive, created during a thirty-year period of dedicated work, encompasses one hundred and twenty distinct cultures from forty African countries. The institution to be chosen must be a venue for ongoing study and research, committed to making the collection accessible to students, scholars, and the general public, thereby insuring that Africa’s legacy of ancient cultures is preserved, accessible and understood.
“These unique cultures posses a wealth of knowledge that should be celebrated, shared, and honoured. It is our life passion to document and create a powerful visual record of these vanishing ways of life for future generations.”