This book contains images of modest nudity, including nursing mothers and children, that would probably earn this book an "R" rating if it were a motion picture.
Having known of Ms. Mirella Ricciardi's work as a photographer in Africa, I expected this book to be the typical photography book. What I found instead was far more interesting and rewarding. The book combines brief essays about her life in Africa with captioned photographs of her family and friends, and of the scenes she visited, studied, and photographed. Extending from a privileged childhood in what was then colonial British East Africa to recently in Kenya and neighboring nations, you see the collapse of a fantasy-like way of life, the rise of a troubled new one, vanishing wilderness, and the reflections of an intensely self-critical woman. If you are like me, you will be moved by what you see and read.
First, you will be impressed by Ms. Ricciardi's frankness. "I was a bad mother, a discontented wife and a frustrated photographer." She blames herself for the death of her older daughter, Marina, at thirty-six. "To this day, I am convinced this tragic event was my punishment." Personally, I think she is too hard on herself. Her story shows a warm heart and an eye for beauty that have enriched all those who have seen her work. I hope she finds self-forgiveness in the future.
Her mother was quite remarkable, as well. Coming from an influential and wealthy French family, she studied sculpture with Auguste Rodin and lived life as an artist in Paris before meeting the author's father, who was an exile from Italy. Relying on her mother's wealth, the couple soon set up a dream-like existence on a vast estate in Africa based in a "vast pink Italian villa" they built there near Lake Naivasha.
Ms. Ricciardi grew up with great wealth, hunting and enjoying the wilderness, and appreciating the native Africans. Later, she learned how to be a photographer while working with her future husband, and produced her well-known photographic work, Vanishing Africa. You will find many examples of that book as well as the details of how it was shot. Married to this adventuresome man, you get a sense of their time together as well as their discontent. As part of this, Ms. Ricciardi recounts her years with a young black lover, and how they handled the social challenges this presented in the class conscious society. Her two daughters were raised in an unself-conscious way with African children, often cavorting together nude as many young children do. You will enjoy seeing these scenes of carefree youth. Ms. Ricciardi's love of nature is matched by her love of the African people, and you will especially enjoy her images of the Maasai.
Moving forward in time, you see photographs of white Kenyans who fought the Mau-Mau, farmed and studied wildlife, the destruction that war brought to Africans, and the retreating wilderness. I especially enjoyed her profiles of people who have found a continued life in Africa whose family roots go back to colonial days. Ms. Caroline Roumegeure was especially interesting to me, with her background as the daughter of a Maasai warrior and a French woman in a family with 6 wives and 26 other children. She seemed to blend the best of both cultures together. Ms. Ricciardi eventually became estranged from Africa and has left it.
The photography captures breath-taking beauty that will stun you with its mystical appeal. You will feel like you are looking at something that is beyond your own understanding, but which will beckon you forward. Ms. Ricciardi's openness to the people, land, and animals will become your own, and you will be the better for it.
After you finish contemplating this deep and self-critical view of another way of life, I suggest that you think about where you are divided from other people and nature in your community. How can you reach out to bridge the gaps in a loving way?
Share your love with all around!...