Photographing Africa – Harry Hook

This documentary, aired on BBC4 on 10 March 2014, followed the search by Harry Hook for five Samburu women he had first photographed as young girls in 1984.  This journey was, in the main, to find out whether they had kept to tradition and remained in the same rural areas or been swept up in the now common migration to the cities.  This also gave him the opportunity to photograph, amongst other subjects, tribal rituals not often seen.

The photographs are absolutely stunning and capture the real essence of Africa and the people he encountered.  What was of great interest to me was seeing the way Harry went about his business and, in particular, his interaction with the people.  From the technical perspective I was intrigued by his use of a portable studio, not least due to the logistics but not what I associate with this type of project; given the beliefs of some of these people I would imagine it might be difficult to persuade some to step into the studio, essentially a black cavern.  His achievements, in my view, notwithstanding his technical skills, expertise and experience, are very much testimony to his whole approach to interacting with the people, both those who become the subject of his photographs and those who are in some way involved.  I am still quite apprehensive when it comes to taking photographs of strangers and remain in the discovery phase, albeit I realise it has much to do with confidence.  What stands out in Harry’s approach is the absolute respect he has for everybody, each and every one is treated as an individual having his absolute attention; no photographs are taken without permission and sincere thanks always given on completion.  I think this must have been pivotal in him being allowed to photograph in the areas he did.  I am photographing a street market tomorrow and intend to engage with the stall holders at the outset!

I very much like the images he creates, they all tell a story either through the eyes of the people and their pose or the dramatic scenes he captures.  The use of the black background to set off the very colourful clothing and accessories, coupled with the lighting gives great character to the portraits. One particular technique that struck me was getting people to mimic objects in the landscape, not obvious at first sight but then it hits you as you study the image.

This programme is well worth a look.

Reference List:

Photographing Africa Dir. Harry Hook.  BBC, UK, 21.00, 10/03/2014, BBC4, 60mins.


Hook,H. (2014) Harry Hook photography.  Available from: [Accessed 10 March 2014]