Admas Habteslasie may never have lived in the East African country of Eritrea, but it has been part of him for as long as he can remember. A self-described Diaspora Eritrean, he followed the trail of his parents’ stories back to their place of origin. Having made several trips there with his family, he returned by himself after he began studying photography. It is his intense connection to the small country that affords Habteslasie his unique point of view, combining the familiarity of family photographs with the removed observational strength of documentary photography. This is not Robert Frank arriving in the US to monumentalize “the Americans” one casual moment at a time. This is a photographer exploring an unknown place that has always been home to him.
Habteslasie’s photographs create a quiet and dignified portrait of Eritrea that, image for image, sets itself apart from the stereotypical view of Africa proliferated by the Western media. Absent are the heartstring images of starving children photographed clinging to their helpless mothers to promote fundraisers by relief organizations, nor are there vacation-promoting images of a romanticized desert traversed by women whose flowing garments bellow in the wind. This is a different Africa. Habteslasie goes to great lengths to capture the fragile beauty of a country suspended by generations of warfare. Here war wounds have never been able to heal before being reopened by new skirmishes with oversized neighbor Ethiopia. Thirty years of warring have left their mark on landscape, cities, and Eritrea’s people, but as Habteslasie delineates in his images, this violent history has not robbed the country of its indeterminable hope for a better future that will end their current state of uncertainty.
This catalogue includes an essay by Hannah Frieser.
When Admas Habteslasie was young, he was intrigued by the way stories could be told through film. He grew up to study film and literature but came to photography by watching Terrence Malick’s film Days of Heaven, which features photographs by Lewis Hine. He recalls “being amazed at the immediacy and simplicity of Lewis Hine’s photos in that montage. It was like a window into the souls of his subjects. That was when I realized the uniqueness of photography’s power as a storytelling medium.”
Habteslasie was born in Kuwait to Eritrean parents. He traveled to Eritrea with his family when he was a child and has since returned multiple times to photograph. He received his MA from London College of Communication in photojournalism and documentary photography. His work has been exhibited at venues such as Flowers East and 198 Gallery in London. His work has also been published in Source Photographic Review and the magazine Next Level.
Habteslasie participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence program in June 2008 through a collaboration with London-based charity Autograph ABP. Each year Light Work welcomes one Artist-in-Residence selected through Autograph ABP, which works internationally to educate the public about photography with an emphasis on issues of cultural identity and human rights.
For more information about Autograph ABP, visit their website at www.autograph-abp.co.uk.