Photographing Africa One Community at a Time: Martha Tadesse’s Journey
Martha Tadesse is an Ethiopian photographer who believes photography can be a tool for community development, and even the development of the continent of Africa at large. After pursuing an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Dire Dawa University, she entered the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology to pursue a major in Community Development. Currently, she works as a Project Coordinator for an international NGO working with orphans and street children in Ethiopia. Every now and then, her passion for photography leads her to travel to a region in Ethiopia, or another country in Africa, to tell a story, and convey a message with her camera, which she hopes makes a difference in the lives of her continent’s inhabitants.
What has been the drive behind your passion for Ethiopia, and Africa at large?
A love for my country and for my continent. Africa has been misrepresented big time. For many, Africa is all about the starve-appealing babies and huts. True, there are huts and babies with flies but you can never tell half the story and decide that is all about it. There are so many beautiful smiles that deserve a camera pose and many inspiring, uplifting and funny stories from those huts in the media that need to be told.
How did you learn to make photography your voice?
When I started photography, I honestly didn’t know I could use it as a tool in challenging societal standards. In the process of time, I grew into writing stories of the people I photographed. There, my passion for community development came alive and I became a great friend with my camera.
I realised I could talk about access to education with portraits of kids, so I did. I realised I could talk about domestic adoption with stories from street children, so I did. I’ve shared wisdom from the old, and painted photographic pictures of the beautiful cultures of different people groups. It’s been an exhilarating experience, serving as a voice for the subjects and topics I photograph.
So your approach has mainly been photographs and stories
Yes, I share what I can write about, be it people or places.
What project are you working on currently?
I am currently working on a photo giving project. I won a Fujifilm camera from givephotos.org and got the opportunity to join the team. I have since been giving away photos of the people I photograph whenever I travel. I love seeing kids so surprised to have their photos. I am grateful to have been the first one to have taken their portraits. Some of the kids I met never had a photograph of themselves prior to me meeting them.
Sometimes, I find them running to their parents to show the portraits – an instant transition from being scared of picking their film, to having great ecstasy from seeing their smiles captured in print. And, it’s not just the children, lots of adults have never owned a portrait of themselves.
I once met a Hamar man on a journey to Harar to represent his community on Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Day. It was interesting to see him dressed in his native outfit in the city. Hamars, in spite of their outstanding hospitality, are usually looked down upon by many because they dress differently and aren’t very developed, most of them being pastoral.
I asked if I could take a portrait of him, and he agreed. He was surprised when I handed him his portrait. With great joy and excitement, he hurriedly put the portrait in his pocket and said “I will show my wife.”
Truth is, that was the first time he (a man of about 35 years) became an owner of his own portrait. Many indigenous people groups are photographed by photographers from all over the world, but hardly do they ever get to become owners of at least a copy of those images. Sad, but true.
The end goal is to show my beloved Ethiopia and hopefully, Africa through my glasses, to leave photographs the next generation will look at. I hope to leave a balanced portrait of my country and the continent. And hopefully publish these portraits in one or more travel books someday.
Most of all, I would love to teach love regardless of skin color, specific people group or status. I hope my photos teach love to everyone who goes through them.
You have beautiful dreams. What’s your inspiration?
My inspiration is the people I see around me and the stories I hear. I am inspired to photograph more because the concept of development is changing the African environment everyday, and I am afraid I might not find the places I photographed as they were – people change and places change, I might just keep memories then.
All in all, knowing the identity of Christ has been a great influence on my life. Christ knows no division. The greater message is love and he loved everyone regardless of their story. He spoke for the less fortunate, so shall I. He was a voice for the voiceless, so shall I be.
Wonderful! It seems our interview has been filled with a lot of seriousness. Is there a fun side to the justice, love, and equity-driven Martha?
Look who’s speaking! You could ask fun questions. You made the questions so serious I almost put on my suit. (Laughs) Fun side? I am very sarcastic.
Well, the No Gray Zone doesn’t have room for the sarcastic, so you probably may want to put down your hat of sarcasm, and enter into the zone. Are you ready?
Martha Tadesse: Where the fun questions at? Hit!!!
David Tamsey: What will Martha have for breakfast on a beautiful Saturday morning? Tea or Coffee?
Martha Tadesse: A cup of tea with lots of sugar!
David Tamsey: Sunsets or Sunrises?
Martha Tadesse: Sunset
David Tamsey: Chocolate or Vanilla?
Martha Tadesse: Chocolate with Vanilla topping 😂
David Tamsey: Well, you have to settle for one.
Martha Tadesse: Uggh chocovanilla
David Tamsey: Nah Nah Nah. No room for combinations.
Martha Tadesse: Hmmm… Chocolate then
David Tamsey: If there are 16 free tickets to each of the countries in West Africa, but you can pick only one, which country would that be?
Martha Tadesse: Ghana, but can I walk on the other 15 countries while visiting Ghana?
David Tamsey: Definitely! All expenses fully paid.
David Tamsey: Shiro or Misir?
Martha Tadesse: (Laughs) Shiro
David Tamsey: Scuba Diving or Mountain Climbing?
Martha Tadesse: Mountain climbing all day everyday.
David Tamsey: 35mm or 50mm lens?
Martha Tadesse: 35mm
David Tamsey: Leica or Hasselblad?
Martha Tadesse: Leica
David Tamsey: If you were to be left alone in an obscure place for a day, which will you choose?
Desert or Forest?
Martha Tadesse: Forest please
David Tamsey: Fried Chicken or Grilled Chicken?
Martha Tadesse: Grill that Chicken!
David Tamsey: Thanks a lot Martha. I’ve enjoyed this interview.
Martha Tadesse: Same here. Thanks to you as well. I’m off for some grilled chicken now. 😅
David Tamsey: Bon appetit!
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