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Masai

Written by Maartje Punt on 18 June 2019

Ten years ago I shot one of my first photo series. In 2009 I got the opportunity to shortly visit Kenya and Tanzania. At that point I’d taken ‘loose pictures’ for about nine years. In no way anywhere near professional, but all the more passionate. I was hoping to be able to capture an ‘original image’ of the Masai. But you can tell from the routine of their rituals that tourism has taken a big flight. This makes it difficult to see a difference between the original and touristic Masai. Or maybe there’s no difference at all, perhaps it is inevitably mixed together. But this did not make the experience any less impressive.

The Masai are generally tall and stately people. Very striking. Their clothing seemed to be mainly blue, red and purple. I found their facial expressions just as impressive. The women in particular radiated pure strength and the urge to survive.

Being in Africa also made me wonder about their cultural or religious rituals. We didn’t get to see any of that, but nevertheless I tried to create images that represented the atmosphere. For these two pictures I used a lot of experimental editing. The left photo consist of branches that the Masai used to create their property boundaries. I duplicated and flipped a picture, and found the result to look a lot like a typical African mask! In the picture on the right I wanted to emphasize the movement during one of the ritual dances, by duplicating the picture and adjusting the transparency.

One of the things that captured my attention back home was the facial expression of these kids. I also love the harsh contrast between the darkness of their appearance an the lightness of their dry, sandy surroundings.

Looking back on this project after 10 years I can conclude two very different things. One. I still recognize the same enthusiasm in my present documentary photos: I still love capturing people in their natural, original surroundings. A foreign visit is -for me- the best way to experience this, because I look around with more attention and I’ve got all the time in the world. Two. I have come a long way… When I see these pictures I am both proud of my 20 year young self as well as proud of the steps and progress I’ve made in the years following this series. It’s nice to look back in a helicopter view to conclude that the same passion is still there, and I keep developing *pun intended* my photography (and myself, for that matter).