Photographer Sophie Green has a history of documenting many of the UK’s marginalised communities among them gypsies, pagans and boy racers. Her latest project took the London-based photographer further afield.
International charity Just a Drop support communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America by providing access to sustainable clean water solutions. The chairty commissioned Sophie to depict some of the communities they support. Over the course of just three days, Sophie travelled to the “particularly arid” areas of Makueni County and neighbouring Machakos County in Kenya where she created a series of images telling the story of the people, the environment and the successful work undertaken in the area.
Can you tell us about the work Just A Drop you’ve done in Kenya?
Just a Drop has been working with local communities to bring about life transforming sustainable safe water, sanitation and hygiene projects. Rains fall twice a year in a very short period of time (a week or two) – so water solutions in the area focus on how to capture this source of water, via school rainwater harvesting tanks, and community rock catchments and sand dams. Just a Drop also supports soil and water conservation food security programmes in the area, as with a stable source of nutritious food, the health of the whole community improves. Excess crops can be traded to provide an income, transforming a community’s prospects.
Human life at its most basic level needs water to survive. It is tragic that too much of the world does not have access to a sustainable source of water in order to survive, never mind live. It was totally inspiring to witness the positive impact the charity have on the local communities. Safe water changes everything. It completely transforms lives.
How did you first get involved with the charity?
I was approached by Just a Drop as they were looking to commission a photographer to visit their projects in Kenya to capture images of the communities they work with that would really tell a story and creatively depict the people, the environment and the successful work they undertake in the area. They wanted a recognisable identity to help Just A Drop stand out from the crowd and a series that they could use across their communications.
The quality of their project work is really high. It’s all sustainable, community-led and owned, and all of their projects are monitored for a minimum of seven years after completion. They are doing a lot of great work, they’ve reached over 1.4 million people across 32 countries, and they felt that their images needed to reflect this.
The charity had done extensive research online and liked my approach and aesthetics and after meeting in person felt that I had an appreciation and understanding of their work that would be reflected in my photographs.
Can you tell us the stories of some of the people you met in Makueni County and Machakos County who feature in your images?
It was wonderful visiting the schools and talking to the students who attend – they all had such inspiring aspirations for after their education ended. I met a prospective lawyer, president, criminologist, psychologist and even a few photographers in the mix!
As we were driving around over the course of the shoot, every time I saw something that caught my eye – I’d shout “Stop, let’s pull over!”, so on the road I would have my cameras around my neck ready to spring out the car – it was fun!!! Examples of the images I captured this way include the man painting his shop front, the school girls leaving school hand in hand walking back to their village, also the two girls in a field who were daughters of the local farmer, they were tending to the cattle but were just so beautiful and I liked the way they were styled. To their surprise I sprinted across the field towards them and asked to take their portrait; they could be models.
In addition to the work they undertake in the community, the charity wanted to capture a feeling of Kenya, a document of the physical fabric of the environment to provide extra context. We had a mad day of shooting in a few local towns where I captured a variety of portraits, incidentals, details and environmentals. It was a sensory overload, people everywhere, all kinds of businesses happening in every corner, dirt and smoke, rustic paint on the walls. There were crowds of curious locals surrounding us while I shot, it was pretty intense.
We visited Kilili Primary School in Makueni County, where Just a Drop worked with the local community to provide life changing safe water for the children and teachers at the school. There is now enough water at the school for drinking, cooking and washing. John Kyama, parent and Chair of the Kilili Primary School Committee, said: “This (water) will change everything. There will be less illness and our children will have a better education”. At this same school, they were doing renovations to their dining room, so the roof was totally exposed with just the bare structure so when the sun shone it created the most incredible light and shadow on the dining rooms walls. It was a winner location – the school boy sitting on the traditional ladder is my favourite image shot here.
How did the series build on your existing portfolio of work with marginalised communities closer to home?
Whilst working on these sensitive projects, I find it a continuous challenge to create authorship of an image and to be creatively innovative whilst still doing justice to the reality of the story, and being fair to the subjects I am portraying. I wanted the works to very much preserve the dignity of the communities and people the charity are helping. I hope the images engage and resonate with the viewer on an emotional level, because it’s our hearts and simple human empathy that make us want to help — by giving.
I shot on the medium of photographic film for a higher aesthetic level to elevate the look and feel of the project and help give a distinctive edge over existing charities’ photographic works. I had total freedom to shoot what I found interesting with very few guidelines, the charity were very trusting. It’s such a pleasure to receive such a pure creative license for commissioned work. It really was a wonderful project to work on.