Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mitchell Kanashkevich: Orthodox Christmas In Lalibela

Photo © Mitchell Kanashkevich: All Rights Reserved
 "Lalibela is Ethiopia’s answer to Jerusalem."

Most of my readers will know who Mitchell Kanashkevich is; either because they read his blog as well, or because they're read some of my posts about his work.

He's currently in Northern Ethiopia, whizzing along its bumpy roads on a motorcycle (yes, he's hardcore in that way), and has attended the Orthodox Christmas celebrations in Lalibela, which he correctly describes as the Ethiopia's Jerusalem. During his stay there, he made gorgeous photographs which are on his blog.

Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. The town is famous for its churches hewn out the rock, which are thought to have been built in the 12th and 13th centuries. All told, there are 13 churches, assembled in four groups. Orthodox Christianity became the established church of the Ethiopian Kingdom in the 4th century through the efforts of a Syrian Greek monk.

Reading through Mitchell's blog entry, I pause at his statement that tourists' behavior, such as giving out of money for photos, is leading some devotees to beg for money after being photographed. Having been in Lalibela and Northern Ethiopia in 2004, I was relieved then that this was not my experience...devotees, deacons and priests welcomed my photographing them with no demands. However, I am not surprised at all this has changed with all the influx of tourists who don't know any better...or don't care.

Like Mitchell, I refuse to hand out money for photographs...unless (and that's an important qualifier) I specifically ask the subject(s) I want to photograph to go somewhere else with me, and there set them up for a photo shoot. In this case, I consider these people as models whose time I've taken, and some modest monetary payment ought to be in order. Now, like Mitchell as well, I mostly photograph documentary-style, so this is the infrequent exception.

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