Art, Books October 11, 2010 By Sarah Coleman
Tribal Man in Transition, Kenya, 1985

Tribal Man in Transition, Kenya, 1985

What brought you to this subject matter?
I grew up in a Jewish family in Los Angeles, and I had a strong sense of Jewish culture and history, of family members dispersed all over the world. That gave me a deep appreciation of other tribes and cultures. Also, ours was a family that faced ceratin tragedies. From a young age, I was immersed in loss, particularly of my father’s two beautiful sisters, who both died very young. One, who was my mentor, died of Lupus at age 40 when I was 12 years old. She was a beautiful soul in a crippled body, and she touched my life deeply. She taught me that essence is the most important thing, it’s important to express our radiance. I understood early on that whatever I wanted to do in my life, it had to make a difference.

How did you begin the three-decade journey that’s resulted in this book?
After I graduated from Stanford, I was working as a young photographer in San Francisco. It was the mid 1980s, the heyday of Silicon Valley, and my first commercial jobs included a lot of annual report work. A client sent me to Puerto Rico to shoot some images. I was just a hop, skip, and jump away from Haiti, so after the assignment ended, I went there for a few days and fell in love with the spirit of the people. I think of myself as being on fire at that time. I’d go out and photograph all day, come back exhausted, then wake up early and go out again. The image on the book’s cover was one of the first I created on that journey.
     For the second trip, I went to Kenya after I was commissioned to make portraits of officers in the British Army. Again, it was opportunistic. Tickets were cheap from London to Nairobi. I’d had a dream I’d go to Kenya, so I took that step. I spent three weeks there. Many strong images came out of that time, and some are in the book.

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