Back in April, JMI photographer SUE PARKHILL joined grassroots charity Farm Africa in "Dig for Good," an initiative created to provide food and income opportunities to communities in Africa. Lending her creative talents to the initiative, Sue traveled to Kenya, where she spent a week photographing a group of businesswomen as they physically constructed a fish pond for a small female farming cooperative. Now, on the heels of her return, Sue sits down with JMI to chat about the charity organization, her experiences in Kenya, and the inspiration behind her photography.
JMI REPS: How did you first hear about the Farm Africa organization and its "Food for Good" initiative?
SUE PARKHILL: Farm Africa knew of my work through a UNICEF job I did a few years back; I've also worked for one of their sponsers, Sainsbury's.... I knew straight away that I wanted to do [this project]. I loved the whole concept that these leading U.K. food industries wanted to "do" something in Kenya, and actually raise money in the process...working with local women to make a pond that will provide a business in fish farming that will generate both food and revenue. It is so hands-on, and seems such an innate way to provide real help.
JMI: Before leaving for Kenya, did the organization brief you on the initiative, or what to expect while you were there?
SP: I knew that ladies would be digging a huge hole...[but] none of us knew that the rains had not stopped, or that the soil was saturated, clay-like, and very heavy. I didn't know any of the women, and wondered how they would hold up....running companies is very different from digging holes...a lot of alpha-females together, and some of them business rivals to boot...so I knew it was going to be interesting.
JMI: Wow. I bet! Did it turn out to be anything like what you expected?
SP: I am very pleased to report that the ladies were a delight. No infighting...and all with a future in laboring, if called upon! The local women were incredibly welcoming and hardworking, and we felt very much like a group in a short space of time. We found everyone had so much in common...a lot of "mum talk" about education, aspirations, and hopes for our children.
JMI: What, would you say, was your main creative goal while in Kenya? Were you trying to capture anything specific through your photographs?
SP: When I photograph real people, I feel a huge responsibility to represent them faithfully. I really wanted to show the challenge, hard work, camaraderie, compassion, and fun that is present when you work in a group on something worthwhile.
JMI: Did the organizers behind "Dig for Good" ask you to photograph anything specific during your time there (i.e. were there any creative guidelines), or was it more go-with-the-flow?
SP: There were things that we needed to show. The U.K. ladies were being sponsored, so it was important that the sponsors saw how hard they were working. I think there might have been a preconception that they would be "looked after," and not work too hard...this was so, so not true!
JMI: Of all the photographs you took during the span of your trip, which is your favorite?
SP: Impossible...but, I love the "heart potato" (pictured above). A young man came up to me in the market and showed it to me. It was strangely moving how much it looked like a heart.
JMI: I love that shot, too! Was that the most memorable moment of your trip, or is there another moment that sticks out in your mind as being the most special?
SP: I asked to record some of the singing I had heard the local ladies doing while they worked. Three of the ladies gave me a little private concert. That was awesome.