This book is an invitation to travel with me on a magical voyage that is both surreal and real….our destination… AFRICA.
Since the age of sixteen I have worked in my creative profession as beauty creator that I still feel as passionate about as I did when I began.
I am grateful for all the opportunities it has given me to travel in the world. Although conceived as an invitation to escape, I like to think of this book as “a project” because what has been created here is the fruit of long labor.
The idea originated in the dissonance I felt, during my frequent professional trips to Africa, between the luxury I was welcomed with and the poverty I saw on the outside. Staying in five star hotels only accentuated the uneasiness I felt at the enormous gap between a life of abundance and the unacceptable reality I witnessed on street corners of children unable to get basic nourishment.
My journeys were marked all along by encounters with people who generously believed in my talents.
The idea of creating a book of photographs devoted to the beauty of the African land and her children took shape during one of my return trips to NY. I decided that the profit generated by the project would go to some organization dedicated to bettering the lives of African children.
Today the gratitude I feel expresses itself as a need to share that richness feeling that we all exist protected somehow by a benevolent presence.
As soon as I arrived in New York I tried to persuade several of my photographer friends to join me in this venture but their initial responses were not exactly enthusiastic. No matter. I knew I was capable of carrying out the whole concept, and handling the various aspects of production…., the booking of models, the styling, the make up and hair styling. The skill I now needed to develop was photography. The expression of my own vision of African beauty would only see the light through my own eyes.
It became evident that I would need some technical advice from friends who were willing to facilitate my apprenticeship in the art of photography. My apartment was transformed into a photo studio. Lighting soon revealed itself to be a crucial art. For that I drew on all the experience I had learned while observing photographers I had worked with over a period of thirty years.
Day in, day out, I found myself confronted with the hard task of manifesting my dreams into reality. So many times when I was discouraged I got strength from staring at my refrigerator magnet that said “ Never, never, never give up" !
My artist friend Anne Domenech got involved in this creative adventure from the outset without any expectations. She is a great designer and working with her painting the backdrops was a beautiful experience. I would convey to Anne the feeling of the story I wanted to present in harmony with the costumes, the model and the other stylistic elements. Then I would follow step by step her directions, her brush strokes and effects as close as possible.
We worked together in the cellar of the Hungarian Pastry Shop which Peter, the owner, made available for us. That was the Café where we used to meet regularly for our Sunday morning French Connection meeting with friends, to the amusement of the regular clients, the students and professors of Columbia who would hear our animated discussions.
We had begun in the warm weather and then the arrival of winter complicated our task. Intense damp cold temperatures pervaded the cellar and slowed down the drying process. Our enthusiasm heated up the atmosphere and from time to time we would retreat upstairs to enjoy a nice hot coffee. Anne’s good sense of humor was a precious asset. I’m sure our bursts of laughter are still echoing in the cellar vaults.
The actual photo shoots required more of my time and I had to leave my regular job during the second year of this project. I could no longer do all the work involved and juggle the demands of my professional trips. All the friends and models who generously offered their time and talents did so because they too had become passionate about the cause.
New York was helpful too. The Flower and Fashion district of Manhattan between 28th and 38th streets became the destination where I spent hours of time hunting for needed accessories that I had envisioned very precisely. On 125th St. in Harlem I found the right make-up and just the right ritual face paint, in addition to the wigs and braids for hairpieces and coiffures. The African market on 116th St. inspired me and provided me with authentic African dyed fabrics called Bogolans that came from Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
In addition to making jewelry and some of the other accessories myself, I also designed and hand crafted all of the costumes, some of which required several days of work to accomplish.
Being concerned about protecting the environment, I did careful research. I was able to locate specific accessories copied in fiberglass, such as elephant tusks, animal horns, shells and coral. Most of the feathers used are imitations.
At long last the photograhs and the book are finished, the work of sharing with the world can begin.
I dedicate this book to the children of Africa…beautiful, powerful, mysterious, and courageous Africa.