Jim Naughten Hereros
May 04 2014
British photographer Jim Naughten’s trip to the hostile desert of Namibia yielded more than pockets full of dust—he came back with a glimpse into the largely unknown culture of the Hereros tribe. Passionate about the process as much as the end result, Naughten’s photographs allow a glimpse into the tribe’s cultural past through their men, women, and children.
The subjects of Naughten’s dramatic portraits showcase some of their finest and most historically significant clothes. The historical aspect comes from the German colonization in the late 19th century. Soon after the turn of the 20th century, tensions peaked and wars between the native Hereros and sitting Germans reached a breaking point. The Herero Wars soon turned into a near-genocide, decimating the native population.
Now numbering around 250,000, the present-day Herero people proudly wear clothes that take cues from their ancestors. During the wars, when a Herero warrior killed a German soldier, he took his clothes and wore them as a symbol of his supremacy in battle. With this custom for the men also came traditional Victorian dresses for the women, something still continued for special occasions.
With his assistant in tow, Naughten spent almost four months in the desert capturing his portraits. Thinking of the language barriers, the persistent sand, and the occasional reminder of the wild (think: lions), you gain a certain appreciation for the end result.
Naughten’s decision to stage his portraits with such a desolate backdrop, instead of their villages, was no accident:
“By composing these portraits against the Namibian landscape — one of unforgiving intensity but also of silent witness — there is an enlivening that takes place in an otherwise frozen moment. The still space, the direct gaze, the re-appropriated cloth combine to curate a stillness that allows the past to speak.”
The vibrant clothes of the Hereros pop against the bleak desert, and motivate the viewer to focus solely on the subjects. In the photographer’s words: “The still space, the direct gaze, the re-appropriated cloth combine to curate a stillness that allows the past to speak.”
All photos c/o Jim Naughten.