• Omo: Expressions of a People

    The Omo Valley has been populated for generations by semi-nomadic tribes steeped in timeworn traditions of beauty and survival, which are practiced with rigor and sacrifice.

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Ethiopia’s sun-baked Omo Valley, an area recognized by scientists as the cradle of humankind, is home to a rich variety of semi-nomadic ethnic groups. Diverse in many respects but linked by their shared migration paths, these groups lead a way of life that is both colorful and austere. Herdsmen and their families keep cattle as they have for centuries, consuming just enough food to sustain themselves and sometimes enduring months of drought.

More than merely surviving in this unforgiving landscape, each group has stamped a richly unique identity onto it. This is a place of vibrant, age-old traditions. Elaborate communal rituals mark an adolescent’s passage into adulthood, and men and women alike ornament their bodies in strikingly beautiful ways. Bracelets, necklaces, and headdresses are treasured and worn with unabashed flair.  Moreover, beautification practices are encouraged as a way for an individual to establish his or her identity within the community. Scarring one’s arms or chest is a celebrated form of expression; men paint each other’s bodies for display and battle; rather than disapprove of a daughter’s lip piercing, a Suri mother is more likely to do it herself.

Physical attractiveness is held in extremely high regard. While its body-decorating methods are breathtakingly unique, Omo culture overlaps with classical ideals of beauty in its appreciation of the human form. By inviting comparisons with contemporary fashion imagery, Omo documents Doggett’s perspective on this shared aesthetic sensibility by highlighting form, style, and composition in an attempt to capture an idea of beauty that speaks not just to southern Ethiopia but to humanity at large.

Advancing technology, agricultural expansion, and other realities of globalization have reached the tribes of the Omo Valley and begun to alter their way of life. In exploring this area’s remarkable heritage, Omo: Expressions of a People aims to help viewers gain a new respect for the extraordinary diversity and precarious fate of traditional cultures around the world.

  • Unfortunately, the influx of firearms over the years has brought terrible bloodshed, often in the form of tribes raiding one another for their cattle and grazing rights. In many parts of the region, firearms have become a necessity for protecting your herd.
  • Taking a much-needed break to rest beneath this termite mound outside the Hamar villages. I find it extraordinarily impressive that such small insects could build something of this scale.
  • A health clinic in the Karo Village of Dus. During my trip, I visited many of these clinics in an effort to better understand and document the health care issues that the people of the Omo Valley face.
  • While walking through the Suri village of Tulgit at dusk I spotted this young boy in a tree. His pose, one of contemplation and serenity, perfectly complemented the fading sun in the distance.
  • The Dassenech villages surrounding Omorate exist in an almost inhospitable environment characterized by heavy winds and dust as seen by the “relief” of my wristwatch. I am humbled by their ability to adapt in such harsh conditions.
  • Suri village of Kibish. It wasn’t but 20 years ago that tribes in the valley were referred to by outsiders as “the forgotten people.”
  • The Omo River is not only a source of life, but also a great way to cleanse oneself both figuratively and literally. After long days of shooting, I found washing in the river to be such a peaceful and refreshing end to the day. Without fail we’d always have a few dozen spectators who fished, played, and watched from the banks.
  • I enjoyed visiting the local school’s and meeting with teacher and their students. I found it interesting (and surprising) that all textbooks and classes are taught in English, with Ethiopian only offered as an elected course.
  • I witnessed firsthand the astonished pace at which urbanization is occurring in the Village of Turmi. This cell tower was literally BUILT during the length of our stay. My guide told me that most tribesmen would have cell phones before they have electricity in their homes!
  • Fishing in the Omo near the Karo village of Korcho.
  • We spent days on end driving down freshly plowed roads- a clear indication of the modern world creeping into the valley. The scale and pace at which the roads are being built was astonishing. I felt a real sense of pride and opportunity here. As close as 30 miles outside the Suri village of Kibbish I remember seeing telephone poles laying on the roadside waiting to be installed. It won’t be long!!
  • Due to the incredibly poor construction of the roads and the “off-road” nature of the month-long trip our SUV had a total of 7 flat tires- several of which occurred within minutes of one another! Spending upwards of 11 hours a day in the car, these forced “pit-stops” weren’t actually so bad!
  • Drew walking back to base camp at end of an incredible day of shooting in the Karo village of Dus.
  • I enjoyed watching the Suri youth run and jump into the river each evening. In general, I found this tribe to have an remarkable sense of self- one of great pride and confidence. With few inhibitions and free from many western social constructs I envy their ability to live in the present.
  • During my visit to the Dassench villages surrounding Omorate I came across this low-tech solution for pumping water up from the Omo River to be used for drinking and irrigation. I found it difficult to accept that this brown sediment-filled water is the locals’ only option for consumption.
  • Here, I set off across the Omo River to our next shoot location. The bridge that connects the East and West regions of the Omo Valley is supposedly in the last stages of construction- a development that I imagine will have a profound impact on the region.
  • After wrapping for the day my team and I would often gather with locals and sit by the riverside to enjoy the incredible breeze. This particular evening I spotted a fisherman amidst the beautiful blue cast of dusk returning home in his canoe.
  • Crowds, sometimes as large as 75 villagers, had a tendency to build as I spent time documenting my subjects- often without me evening knowing it. In this instance, I found onlookers (including the goats) watching with an intense curiosity as I pulled back from documenting my subject and widened my frame. I’ll never forget this moment.
  • A traditional Dassenech hut made of corrugated metal, branches, and cow hides near the village of Omorate.
  • Young suri “warriors” find interest in the same things that I did. They kids enjoyed our company and would often follow us for miles as we went from village to village. I loved how they would come up behind me and take hold of my hands in a sign of friendship.
  • Besides what food we bought from the locals, my 4-week journey into the Omo required two SUV’s full of supplies and fuel. I guess you can say that I don’t travel light!!
  • Nearing the end of my journey, I stand here overlooking the Omo River from the Karo village of Korcho. It’s been an unforgettable experience.
  • I document while Two Suri warriors engage in ritual combat. Stick fights, held during harvest time, are sport and spectacle for the Suri. This popular tradition allows men to show off their agility and brute strength; broken bones often follow, sometimes even death. The results help determine how men and women within the tribe will pair off.
  • While bathing in the river one evening, I heard repeated gunfire a few hundred feet away. Within minutes, 15-20 Suri warriors, all armed with semi-automatic weapons like this one, came running out of the bush and headed towards the sound of gunfire. We discovered the next morning that the frightening episode was the result of a warrior drunkenly destroying the house of a man who intended on marrying his lover. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the experience certainly sent chills though my spin. Alcohol related violence is an all too common reality in the Omo Valley today.
  • In Hamar territory, holes like this one are the only source of water during the dry season.
  • Shortly after arriving in the village of Dus, I setup my “studio” by the riverside- not a bad place to call my “office!”
  • Rare but much needed downtime with my support crew in the village of Omorate.
  • I was invited into this Karo villager’s home to escape the midday heat. Like in most Omo communities, animal skins are used as bedding, with a separate area designated for cooking. Here, these Karo women prepare a meal.
  • I met many incredible people during this journey, however these two Suri boys were among my favorites. Returning to my camp each morning, they would follow me as I visited each village. Here, they proudly wear my sunglasses.
  • Documenting flat tire number three of seven. I have to say that I left the Omo Valley with a new appreciation for Toyota!
  • Having come such a long way to document the tribes living alongside the crocodile-infested Omo River I felt the journey wouldn’t have been complete without seeing part of it via traditional dugout canoe. It turned out to be an incredible experience!
  • Here, my local team and I set up a shot overlooking the vast expanses of Suri territory.
  • I’ll forever remember failing asleep many nights to the beating of drums and singing in the distance. Simply incredible..
  • My team and I, just before departing Karo territory and heading back to Addis. Sadly, this life changing journey has come to an end.
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