A term like indigenous peoples is a dangerous one; it can come with a certain (heavy) set of expectations. In describing thousands of groups, scattered across the world, it can also flatten and generalize, rather than allowing us to focus on the singular experiences within each group. However, in the densely packed new photobook, by the world forgot, Christoph Lingg offers sensitive black-and-white portraits that are decisively concerned with individuals and allow us to access communities that we would be hard-pressed to discover otherwise.
Driven by his fascination with the way these indigenous peoples have maintained their minority culture and isolated way of life for generations, he visited several groups in Asia to learn more about the challenges they face in the modern world: the Kalasha of Pakistan; the Dani of Indonesia; the Buriad of Mongolia are just some of the highlights—he visited more than a dozen peoples spread across the Asian continent.
Lingg offered his subjects the choice between standing in front of a white background, or using their daily environment as a backdrop. Photographs of these individuals in their unique environments give us a glimpse into the rich and varying cultures represented. Expressions range from contentment, pride, joy, and solemnity.
Kalasha women wear their hair in long, exposed braids. An elderly Buriad woman blends traditional cultural dress with Western fashion in her choice of sunglasses. A Dani man stares directly into the camera, his only attire the traditional gourd covering his penis. Despite utilizing the white background, the lush greenery of his native Papau Province in Indonesia peeks up around the white sheet, serving as an effective metaphor for the strong connection between the Dani and their environment. These individuals, whether they choose to wear traditional cultural dress or Western attire, make for striking portraiture subjects. The direct eye contact in many of these images connects us, the viewers, with the subjects, thereby overcoming some of the distance that exists.
However, issues of “Otherness” can not always be bridged with mere eye contact. Indeed, the gaze can further the gap in our understanding of the subjects’ unique cultures. When looking at images of indigenous peoples, no matter how “sensitive,” it can become difficult to draw the line between earnest fascination and Orientalism. Lingg’s introduction serves to clarify his intentions:
“My main interest was always to portray the individuals themselves rather than to evoke any kind of voyeuristic interest in their ‘exotic’ appearance.”
Occasionally, we might feel moments of discomfort, but fundamentally, Lingg’s work is able to create a dialogue rather than a spectacle. By sharing the experiences of his indigenous subjects in an open manner, he successfully celebrates cultural differences and shares other worlds through the transportive magic of the camera. Ultimately, by the world forgot connects us to powerful (and largely overlooked) facets of the human experience—a noble end result, well worth the many journeys.
by the world forgot
Publisher: Edition Aufbruch, Vienna, Austria