The earth in the Chalbi desert near the village where I met Mindisayo looked like it had been baked in a kiln. In fact, Chalbi is a Gabbra language word that means ‘bare and salty’ and the territory truly lives up to its name. Being there was like my childhood imagining of a desert come to life and I watched as the light danced in playful mirages while the occasional tumbleweed swept across the sand. For this reason, it was all the more surreal to spend time with such a vibrant local community where colorful personal expression is part of everyday life.
I spent a week or so in the village meeting the elders and women and playing with the children, and I found most of the Rendille people I met to be instantly delighted to have their photos taken. Mindisayo, however, sat on the edge of our little group and carefully watched as her friends flurried around the camera with excitement. Most villagers welcomed the deviation from everyday activity, and Mindisayo’s friends weren’t quite sure why she wasn’t as eager as them to have her picture taken.
After spending some time with her she warmed up, trusting me more with each moment. When Mindisayo finally decided to sit in front of the camera, it was as if something unspoken aligned to create the perfect light while she shot me a look that was unscripted and impenetrable and, still, cemented in my mind. I make portraits of cultures that involve unpredictable conditions, language barriers that often cannot be overcome, and unforeseen circumstances that we must handle moment by moment. Yet, the intensity and beauty of “A Young Goddess, Mindisayo” is exactly what has me traveling to such great distances and going to such great physical and mental lengths to create my artwork.
Confident and poised, it’s as if Mindisayo is staring down her future without hesitation which is especially admirable given the male-dominated society she was born into. She represents the next generation of women who will set the course for the future of her village and for all of her peers in the years to come.
Traveling to this Rendille village to photograph Mindisayo was an expedition to document a culture where changes are creeping in at an alarming rate. While it is not my place to judge what is for the best, I do believe that conserving this culture on film was of the utmost importance. This fleeting moment let me into Mindisayo’s world and for that, I am forever grateful.