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. P r o d u c e d e y e s t w o e a c h t h e m i v e g o d s g t h e e n d a t t h e the people of Mbomo still hold a strong human relation to nature. We seem to be disconnecting ourselves from the organic world more and more in the west. We wanted to bring awareness to this by celebrating the beauty of the Basin and the people who call it their home, rather than just the former, which is the more conventional approach to ecological dialogues. All of humankind originates from Africa. Though we might have a stereotyped idea of strife on this continent, there’s incredible wisdom to be found. By celebrating connectivity, we can warn against further disconnection.
A: How do you think this project sits within today’s discussions surrounding the climate crisis? What media exposure has it accrued and how has this impacted global understanding of the Congo Basin? EV: By now there have been numerous ripple effects from this project. Some we were aiming for, some we had only dreamed of, and others we have not expected at all. The project has had exposure on some of the biggest media outlets in the world. For me, there is incredible beauty in a newspaper such as The New York Times making a front-page story out of the mythologies of a people living in the rainforest. It proves that news does not always have to be negative. The short children’s film (directed by Stefanie Plattner) that was made based on one of the stories – The Little Fish and the Crocodile – has also been featured in film festivals all over the world; it is an interactive education tool.
A: What are your favourite images from the series? Are there any that particularly stand out to you both? EV: To me this question feels like asking a mother which is her favourite child. I cannot choose. I am so amazed by how the series has turned out and how Pieter captured the wisdom, power and beauty of all our friends in Mbomo. There is one image that holds a special place in my heart: it depicts women holding fire torches on the border of the forest. We had asked 10 women to join us, but over 50 showed up! It was an inherently powerful moment.
PH: My favourite image is The Impossible Task. In this story, a boy plays a mole. He asks a sorcerer how to save his mother from dying. This image was taken during the day, as were all the images. Because Mbomo doesn’t have an electrical grid, we couldn’t shoot at nighttime. So, all nocturnal-looking scenes were shot during the day with powerful strobe lights to mirror darkness and shadows. As I was shooting the image, behind me were excited children, so the piece had a large sense of the surreal and mysticism. This particular picture contains everything I love about photography – endless storytelling, drama, light and composition.
A: What is your intention for the project, both in terms of viewer perception right now, and the years to come? EV: This is only the beginning for us! Tales of Us is an ongoing multimedia series communicating the urgency of protecting the world’s most powerful and fragile ecosystems and the people who call them home. We are currently researching Pakistan, Romania and Iran for the next project. PH: I hope that people feel they have learnt about these wonderful people as well as how to live in balance with nature. I hope they will allow themselves time to really look.
Right: Animals, Totems, And Symbols. “In the marriage covenant, the ties between woman, man, and totem animal are an umbilical symbol.” Photo by Pieter Henket. Edited by Eva Vonk and Stefanie Plattner. Story told by Théophane Bokaka Bouanga. The inspiration for the photograph also comes from storytellers in Mbomo and was researched by Mr. Maret Mouendet. Produced by Tales of Us.
Words Kate Simpson
Congo Tales is at Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle, until 5 January. The series is available as a book from Random House / Prestel.
pieterhenket.com talesofus.com museumdefundatie.nl