Author:Versi, Anver
Position:Arts/Books - African Twilight: The Vanishing Rituals and Ceremonies of the African Continent

Africa's extraordinary cultural diversity, the richest in the world, is steadily vanishing as modern life inexorably encroaches on its living traditions and customs. But the latest book by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher captures the glory of African creativity even as it slips into the sands of time. By Anver Versi.

I met Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher many, many moons ago during the launch of an extraordinary book on Africa at the October Gallery in London.

I remember being stunned by the photographs on display. They not only showed a totally new, unexpected and thrilling aspect of Africa, the composition and execution of the photographs was of the highest global standards; the characters in the pictures seemed to come to life and to dominate the space around them.

Somehow, each picture told a story of unique individuals and groups in unique settings. I was a serious, if somewhat amateurish photographer in my spare time myself and I was well aware of the enormous difficulty of being able to capture a slice of life on film that brought out all the colour, the vibrancy, the personality and the vigour of the moment that was frozen for all time on film (this was before the digital age for most of us).

I eagerly sought out the duo and in time became good friends with them, particularly Carol Beckwith. I learnt from her that these wonderful pictures were not just the result of being in the right place at the right time (which of course is crucial) but also took a great deal of hard work both technically, as well as and more importantly, being accepted and welcomed among the people who were the subjects.

This could not be done without a deep understanding, respect and love for the people one was photographing and in effect, preserving for posterity.

We were allowed to use some of their best shots in our new colour magazine at the time, New African Life. Compliments for the picture spreads came from everywhere, within and outside Africa.

I was to see these spreads, removed carefully from the magazine, pasted on walls or framed and hung in private homes, restaurants and meeting places in Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and elsewhere.

When I asked what these pictures meant to the people who had thus preserved them, the inevitable answer was that they "make us proud. This is what we really are."

Whenever I have travelled around Africa, I have always tried to take time off and visit outlying areas--villages...

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