I began to photograph this series, We Danced, during my first business trip to Liberia in 2011. Since then, I have made numerous visits to several countries in West and Sub Sahara Africa—their major cities and villages; I have wandered endlessly through their streets, alleys, and along dusty paths, and have entered abandoned buildings and have been invited into homes.
At first, my interest was piqued by the stark differences I saw between my life and those living in this part of the world. As I returned to some of the same neighborhoods and villages over the years, my work began to reflect something else; that is, the influence of the East and West on traditions in dress, housing, religion, education, and, in general, life. By juxtaposing traditional ways with those more closely associated with industrialized nations, in We Danced, I present manifestations of this change: adoption, adaption and, sometimes, rejection of these influences. When I see these changes, I see a great loss for all of us. As we become more alike, we are replacing cultural diversity with a world of sameness.
The title for the series, We Danced, comes from a few moments when I was standing by “Daniel’s mother” as she husked the maize that would help support the family until the next crop was ready for harvesting. We spoke and laughed in fragmented English as we did whenever we saw each other on my visits to the village. But this time, spontaneously, she took my hand and started to dance. Even though our lives were different, and I could never truly understand life from her perspective, it was as if she had accepted me as a friend. The following winter, Daniel’s mother died suddenly; this would be the last time I saw her.
Affected by the classic photo essays of Eugene Smith and later by the work of Eugene Richards, Ernesto Bazan, Latoya Ruby Frazier and Sylvia Plachy as well as, others, I approach this work looking for something that moves me both intellectually and emotionally, and that goes beyond mere description.