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Omo Valley, Ethiopia...This is probably my toughest trip to date, it took me two years to plan this trip for 2016, but definitely one of my most rewarding trips. I have long heard about the ancient tribes of the Omo Valley and wanted to photograph them very much. Much of the area is very isolated and visiting is only possible from mid November to early March, during the dry season. At all other times, even the slightest rain turn the roads into mud ponds making the villages inaccessible. For most parts, there is no hotels, no restaurants, no amenities. We had to organise our own camping entourage, guides, cooks and body guards armed with rifles.
The experience is humbling and certainly an eye opener. This is my best known work to date, winning quite a few photojournalism and Humanitarian awards worldwide. "Flowers of Ethiopia" is about the Surma tribe - a tribe in the Kibish area well-known for creating Haute Couture out of Nature with their elaborate body painting and outrageously fashionable head pieces made of flowers. The Surma tribe of the Omo Valley, Ethiopia...a place where mankind probably began. The children and teens appear innocent and beautiful, with their ornate body paint work and exotic head decorations made of flowers. The place appears peaceful and untouched, but in reality, life here is harsh with the tribespeople at frequent wars with neighbouring tribes over cattle grazing rights. The line between peace and war is very fine and very blurred. They can be so near to each other, yet at times appear so far from each other...
When photographing the tribespeople, no flash, external lighting or reflectors are used out of respect for the tribespeople. The locals believe that each time a flash goes off, blood energy is being sucked out of their bodies. The techniques for photographing the Surma people is very simple, it is my Venetian technique of making portraits. I prefer to photograph the people in twos or threes so that they are more relaxed. Often it is easier to catch them at a more natural state when they are reacting to each other. The best photos are done with one subject slightly in front of the other, I concentrate on the front one and blur out the ones behind to make the photos more dramatic.
My other spinoff series "Tales of the Omo Valley" focuses on the other Omo Valley tribes and is equally successful with its numerous photo contests, with the best known photo from this series being "Sisters".
Robin Yong Photography
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