Laurent Elie Badessi traveled to Niger, Africa in 1987 and 1988 to photograph indigenous tribes for his Master’s Degree thesis project entitled “Ethnological Fashion Photography”. His goal was to study the impact of photography on natives from different ethnical groups, some of who had never (or very rarely) been exposed to this medium. The psychological aspect in the interaction that occurs between a photographer and his sitter during a photo session was also a focal point in his research.
For this undertaking, Badessi adopted the method of “La photographie négociée” (the Negotiated Photography), introduced to him by his teacher photographer Michel Séméniako. Badessi was seduced by this method and decided to use it here, because it allows the sitter to determine most of the parameters for a photo session that captures his/her image. In this case: the pose, the clothes, the make-up, the accessories, the time of day and the location. To make these sittings playful, he decided to use an element specific to human kind—clothing—as the main source of interaction between him and the autochthones.
For his research to be pertinent, Badessi decided to stay extended periods of time with each different ethnicity to better appreciate their culture. He and his team lived with the following ethnicities all across the country: the Haoussas, the Bororo (Wodaabe), the Kanouris, the Gourmances, the Djemmas, the Beri Beris and the Touareg.
The experience with the Bororo happened to be one of the greatest highlights of the project. Because they worship beauty, this highly nomadic group was particularly drawn to the “magic” and playfulness of having their photo taken.
Photography was totally foreign to this group of Bororo. To familiarize them with the medium, Badessi started taking Polaroid of his teammates, so they could see and understand its process. Little by little they became more comfortable with the team and expressed an increasing curiosity towards the “magic box” known to us as the camera. This particular group of about 100 nomads had only seen their image as a reflection of themselves into the water or in the mirror. When Badessi took their photo on Polaroid, he had to explain what to look for on the image–their face, their hat, their accessories, et cetera. Appearing so small wasn’t rational to them. It was total magic, because they were used to see their reflection as a life-size image, but not as a “tiny person” on a small piece a paper! Once they were able to recognize themselves, they laughed and placed the Polaroid over their heart. It was very emotional to see how touched they were and how precious the Polaroid became to them.
The photo sessions were a success and they became an integral part of the Bororo’s daily routine. After the cores, they could not wait to get ready for the sittings.
As Badessi mentions in his thesis, “we were in symbiosis with them, as much as they were with us. They were excited to have visitors and to share these great moments together. It was very inspirational to look at them getting ready. Somehow it was a meditative experience for us, because they took their time, you did not feel the constant pressure of the clock ticking in the back of your head, like we do in our culture, especially in big megalopolises. They totally lived in harmony with Mother Nature and respected her rhythm.” (Keep reading)