In April 2013, Spanish photographer Alex Franco made a trip to the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia, looking for inspiration. His aim was not simply to take pictures, but to really get into the tribes, to get to know them and to show his respect to these communities. In the market town of Turmi, in the southwest, he became acquainted with a Hamar family and remained as their guest for fifteen days. It is especially during market day, an important day when people turn out to shop and socialize in the equivalent of their Sunday best, that Franco began to absorb the remarkable style that is innate to the culture of the Omo Valley.
Western and tribal worlds, he explains, converge as items like plastic hair clips and discarded bottle caps are reappropriated into ornate headdresses like those of the Bana and Daasanach people. ‘T-shirts transported from the Kenyan border sporting Obama or Coca Cola graphics are accessorized with towel-wrapped miniskirts and beaded bracelets stacked up the arms and legs.’ He believes there is an unintended androgyny to their style, as Western concepts of masculinity and femininity are blurred with men often dressing and carrying themselves more extravagantly than the women. In the Mursi and Bodi tribes especially, he says, close friends, girls or boys, dress alike, hold hands openly, and mark each other with colorations of clay. As he explains it, the art of decoration is a part of their way of life. They have an amazing pose, he argues, an amazing look, an incredible sense of style and of mixing colours.
Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Alex Franco returned to the region with the goal of turning the project into a book and exhibition (Eastern Way project). Profits were to be used to raise money and awareness for the tribes not only in the outside world, but first and foremost inside Ethiopia itself, where the government is allowing foreign interests and rampant development to carelessly displace a people from whom there is a lot to learn.