In 2003 I experienced a life changing event when I traveled to Tanna in Vanuatu in the Melanesian Islands of the Pacific Ocean with two friends. Tanna is populated by about 10,000 Ni Vans who mostly live in subsistence farming communities. Because foreign investment have been limited to less than 50% tourism infrastructure is very limited resulting in a local culture that has remaining relatively free from foreign influence.
The last time foreigners descended on mass was in WWII when the American soldiers practically took over a few of the islands. This overwhelming influx of the modern world on a traditional culture permanently altered it when a number of cargo cults started up fashioning themselves on American military camps. Many Ni-Vans so overcome with the amazing technology and physical power of these soldiers decided being American must be pretty good so henceforth considered themselves adopted Americans. To show how American they were they rebuilt their villages in the style of the military camps, saluted the stars and strips and even made planes and jeeps out of bamboo. Mixed into this infatuation was aspects of ‘Kustom’ (native) religion and Christianity into a cult called the John Frum cult (short for ‘John from America’). Ever since WWII the John Frum followers have been waiting for the second coming of John Frum with his ship full of cargo for the faithful. Just before my trip the cult had become so troublesome that the army had been called in to disperse them. They did this by simply burning the village down so people would be forced to go home to their native villages (the village happened to be constructed on the side of an active volcano as well which didn’t impress the authorities much either). On their previous trip my two companions were invited to go and speak in the John Frum Village and meet their leader the prophet Fred a rare privilege for an outsider.
I spent two weeks in Tanna climbed an active volcano and spent time getting to know the locals who kindly put us up in their village while we ministered to the local church. Two of the people I got to know the best were Jeremy a boy who took me under his wing and Willie an inspirationally spiritual man who was a church leader down there. I took this shot of my friends on the second last day I was there in the local river just below the village of Lonimilo.
Having never been out of a western culture before experiencing village life, food, water (yuck), music (with no radio or TV the sound of acoustic guitars and singing were almost constantly in the background, yum) and living with such beautiful family oriented people profoundly effected my whole way of seeing the world. Jeremy and Willie’s smiles kind of sum the whole thing up.
P.S. I don’t really see myself as a portrait/ people photographer but the bubble is such a great place to try out new things I thought I’d post it and see what people think. The shot was taken with my first ever SLR camera (a Canon EOS30 with Ilford Delta 100 b&w film) that I bought duty free on this trip. To get this shot I got into the river with Jeremy and Willie paranoid I would slip on the sloping bottom with my new baby, fortunately I kept my feet and got the shot, a precious memory. I’ve also been really inspired by Melinda Kerrs work too.
To my great surprise this shot won the ‘B&W – Character – People Shots’ groups Indigenous People Competition in August 2008. It was also a finalist in the Black and White groups Emotion competition back in May 2008 and has somehow ended up on the home page three times.
Home Page, 3 times as of 6/7/12