Cotton made in Africa promotes the cultivation of sustainably produced cotton in Africa to improve the living conditions of thousands of smallholder farmers currently active in the initiative. This exceptional collaboration with fashion and commercial photographer Albert Watson provided insight into the cotton farmers' worlds and transported a better awareness of CmiA's work.
The photos illustrates the initiative's goal to improve social conditions in the smallholder farmers' lives without visual stereotypes. The aim of the project has been in contrast to show a new image of African living environments - through the eyes of Albert Watson. In addition to the cotton harvest, that was underway during the journey, Watson has also visited traditional markets and a regional king in Benin to get an impression of the diversity of life in Benin and its people.
The completed photographs have been scheduled for exhibition from September 14th 2012 to January 13th* 2013 in the House of Photography at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. The VISIONS FEAT. COTTON MADE IN AFRICA exhibition has been part of a show that included the photographer's vintage and Polaroid works never shown before.
Curator Ingo Taubhorn noted: „Albert Watson is well-known as a fashion and celebrity photographer, but he is so much more: He toils uncompromisingly on the image and can just as easily turn his scrutinizing gaze on social realities. That is why I am looking forward to seeing what stories the smallholder farmers will tell in his pictures."
*the exhibition has been extended to January the 13th due to public demand.
The Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in Africa exhibition has been held from 14th September 2012 to January 13th 2013 in the House of Photography at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. The exhibit consisted of two parts: Albert Watson's newly created photographs of Benin from December 2011 comprised its heart. They depict smallholder farmers who work with the Cotton made in Africa initiative and their living environments in order to visualize the social effects of the initiative.
Alongside the current photographic fruit of his trip round Benin, various rooms have been dedicated to a retrospective of early work groups, mainly small-format vintage prints that Watson himself made in the darkroom. In the extraordinary architecture of the Haus der Photographie, fashion and lifestyle images have been presented in a new way alongside incisive, powerfully energetic landscape and portrait shots as well as still lifes from Morocco, Las Vegas and the world of the Benin cotton farmers.
The exhibition has been curated by Ingo Taubhorn (House of Photography). Besides two of the Cotton made in Africa retail partners, OTTO and Tom Tailor, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has been another important sponsor of the project.
Press photos: "Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in Africa"
Please indicate the full copyright status. Images may only be used in connection with reporting on the exhibition "Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in Africa" (September 14, 2012 -- January 06, 2013, Haus der Photographie, Deichtorhallen Hamburg). Images may not be cut or cropped. Please provide two sample copies in case of publication to:
Aid by Trade Foundation
Bramfelder Chaussee 105
Pictures of the Exhibition
Deichtorhallen: Albert Watson
Tina Stridde, Managing Director Aid By Trade Foundation.
Arrival at Cotonou airport. With his white beard and Panama hat, upon his arrival at Cotonou airport, Albert Watson looks more like a charismatic adventurer than an experienced star photographer. His gaze is inquisitive, open, alert. "I can't believe I'm finally here," he says - words that strike a chord with me.
The soil of the savannah shines red; here and there we can see mud huts: time appears to have stood still in the countryside north of the capital. Our convoy consists of three off-roaders. Albert Watson, in the front vehicle, calls us to stop. What then follows is repeated scores of times each day with Albert Watson climbing out, followed by his three assistants. Lights, tripod, the Hasselblad camera are all unpacked. The master photographer has discovered something fascinating. Sometimes it's a roadside stand, sometimes a woven fence, most of the time, however, it is people. At a marketplace in Abomey we come across a group of dancers and musicians. Watson rolls out his reflector and asks - our translator helps - if he may photograph them. The polite and sincere nature of the stranger with the hat is convincing and they are all willing. "Just act as if I'm not there," he calls. As soon as he is finished, he shows them his pictures on the laptop. Many are bashful, almost ashamed, not used to seeing such a flood of pictures, for us this is difficult to imagine. Watson puts them at ease with the few words of French he knows: "C'est parfait" - it's perfect.
"They remind me of Moroccan nomads," says Watson while looking at a group of Peuhl, who have gathered in Natitingou. Peuhl were originally nomads, but many are now working as settled cotton farmers. Watson is enthralled by their peculiar charisma. Their faces are tattooed, they are brightly adorned, seem serious, almost unapproachable. At the centrepiece of the celebration a ceremony is taking place in which the ritual flogging of young Peuhl men is obviously a kind of test of courage, in which blood flows. Watson mingles in the crowd, shooting away as if in a trance. Now and again you can see his white hat between the heads of the young men. In his improvised street studio, he takes a portrait of a young woman cotton farmer. Her name is Aissatou Mahamadou. The picture is symbolic of Watson's talent. So apparently undemanding, he gets everything he wants in this photos. Self-assuredness, intimacy, naturalness. Whether with Hollywood stars or farming maids.
On one of the few cotton fields not yet harvested, four farmers are working in the midday heat. Can Watson take a photograph? They agree. A woman scuttles across the dusty field, lowers a big barrel of water she had balanced on her head for the men and then goes on her way. Watson tries to lift the heavy container, and just manages. In the evening he asks himself, and us, without finding any plausible answer, "Why didn't I photograph that woman?" Just, "It was a wonderful, fleeting moment."
The yams are cooking on a hotplate in the middle of the yard; we are expected by the cotton farmer who introduces his two wives, seven children, brother, brother's family and his parents. And then his oxen, the animals he wants to be photographed with. The farmer has been working with Cotton Made in Africa for some years now. "That's why I can afford the animals and the cart for the harvest," he explains. All seven children go to school and he plans on them becoming doctors and engineers. "You can read the pride in his face, pride in what he has achieved with your help," says Watson, pleased.
On the road, we see a motorbike coming towards us carrying amazingly, six people. Stop! Albert Watson climbs out of the van and talks the people into having their photo taken. They ride past his camera endlessly until he is finally satisfied with the shot. "That was nearly surreal", he says waving to them as they finally disappear in a cloud of smoke.
Originally published in Otto Group Times 2011/2012, reprinted by courtesy of Otto Group
I went to Benin and travelled from the South to the North and from the North to the South; from desert area to the beaches. And on the way, I was producing photographs that will end up in the exhibition. I was able to get a feeling of the country.Benin was quite surprising to me because it was slightly different to my image of what West Africa was. It was a real surprise because I didn't know, for example, who the Peuhl people were. And they were curious about me! When I did the portraits, they were completely open with me and completely natural. And as I looked at them like they were strange from another world, so they looked at me and thought that I was strange from another place. I had a great time in Benin, I enjoyed everything. I felt I did something I have never done before; I saw a place I've never seen before; I met people I never knew existed before. And the people were wonderful! They were fabulous to photograph. Everybody was very open and supportive. During my time in Benin I only just learned what the initiative is doing exactly and I really appreciate what CmiA is doing to improve the livelihoods of the African farmers and saw the benefits of their work. I think the work of the initiative defi- nitely improves the people's lot and life. They have a better life because of this! But of course, there is a lot to do still.
CmiA smallholder farmer in Benin
For me, meeting photographer Albert Watson was a truly memorable experience. I was able to show him that since I joined Cotton made in Africa many things had become easier for me and my family. I've learned a lot about efficient methods for cultivating cotton and have thus improved my harvest. And I now have a higher income from which I have been able to buy new mules and a car.My seven children likewise benefit from the initiative: I'm happy that thanks to Cotton made in Africa I've been able to send them to school so that they can become doctors or engineers. Mr. Watson was very interested in all this. And like me he is now part of the Cotton made in Africa family and with the photo project he is helping to make more people know about our work, our life and our cotton.
Guide / Translator / Driver for the Benin photo project crew
I spent two weeks accompanying the team led by Albert Watson. We drove all over Benin scouting for exciting themes and for the faces of smallholders who are participating in Cotton made in Africa. I'm proud that I was able to witness how the photos were produced and that I was able to support the project on location both as an interpreter and with my local knowledge. My aunt also lives in Benin, she a practitioner of natural African medicine and Albert Watson made a portrait photo of her. I was thrilled to see how a world-famous photographer captured our culture, Benin's nature and our everyday lives in artistic images.
Over his four decades as one of the world's preeminent photographers, Watson has used his powerful, graphic style to create images for hundreds of magazines, such as Vogue, GQ and Rolling Stone, along with successful advertising campaigns for major corporations. All the while, Watson has spent much of his time working on personal projects, creating stunning images from his travels and interests, from Marrakech to Las Vegas. Much of this work, along with his well-known celebrity portraits and fashion photographs, has been featured in museums and gallery shows worldwide. The photo industry bible, Photo District News, named Albert one of the 20 most influential photographers of all time. Born in 1942 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Watson studied graphic design in Dundee, followed by film studies at the London Royal College of Art in the late 1960s. After moving to the U.S. in 1970, he soon got the chance to earn his living with photography. He has directed more than 200 TV commercials, shot hundreds of covers of fashion magazines (100 covers for Vogue alone) as well as movie posters (e.g. "Kill Bill" and "The DaVinci Code"). Until the early 1990s, Watson was most well-known for his fashion photography and shots of supermodels such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, and for his campaigns for companies like Prada and Chanel. With his groundbreaking images of celebrities, including Alfred Hitchcock, Mick Jagger and Mike Tyson, Watson raised the bar of portrait photography and made himself an icon in the field.Besides several exhibitions at the world's leading galleries and museums (e.g. Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York and the National Portrait Gallery in London), Watson has also had numerous solo shows in Europe since 2004.
During the course of his career, he published six books, including the award-winning "Cyclops" (1994), "Maroc" (1998), and more recently "UFO: Unified Fashion Objectives" (2010), and "Strip Search" (2010).In December 2011, the initiative Cotton made in Africa and Deichtorhallen Hamburg sent Watson to Benin. During the two weeks, Watson used his camera to capture the country and its people, taking photos of the cotton farmers who work with the initiative. These photos show the people behind the initiative and create a better understanding of the initiative's work in Africa.
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