2019 Iris Awards

Maasai, Silver with Distinction: Travel category

The Maasai are famous for their fearsome reputations as warriors and cattle-rustlers. The Maasai society is strongly patriarchal in nature with elder men deciding most major matters for each Maasai group. A full body of oral law covers many aspects of behaviour. Formal execution is unknown and normally payment in cattle will settle matters. The piercing and stretching of earlobes is common among the Maasai as with other tribes. Various materials have been used to both pierce and stretch the lobes, including thorns for piercing, twigs, bundles of twigs, stones, the cross section of elephant tusks and empty film canisters.
As a historically nomadic and then semi-nomadic people, the Maasai have traditionally relied on local, readily available materials and indigenous technology to construct their housing. The traditional Maasai house was in the first instance designed for people on the move and was thus very impermanent in nature. The houses are either somewhat rectangular shaped with extensions or circular, and are constructed by able-bodied women.
Many Maasai in Tanzania wear simple sandals, which were until recently made from cowhides. They are now soled with tire strips or plastic. Both men and women wear wooden bracelets. The Maasai are known for their intricate jewellery. The Maasai women regularly weave and bead jewellery. This beadwork plays an essential part in the ornamentation of their body. Click here to see more!


The Fighter, Bronze Award: In-Camera Portrait

Amy is a fighter and a beautiful soul. She was diagnosed with grade 3 aggressive breast cancer in January 2016. It turns out that Amy’s family has the BRCA1 mutation: a tumour suppressor gene. Each child of a carrier has a 50% chance of inheriting the gene and each carrier has extremely high risk of cancer. Five of her six great aunts died of cancer by their forties.  Amy had four different chemotherapy drug treatments as well as radiation treatment. Amy had a positive response to treatment and the 5 cm tumor was totally destroyed! The surgeries were prophylactic. Amy underwent bilateral mastectomy with a two phase silicon reconstruction as well as a total Salpingo-oophorectomy (surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes). Amy also had a hysterectomy surgical operation to remove her uterus in order to prevent reproductive cancer.  Knowing she has beaten what by nature ought to have been certain death, gives Amy a sense of immediacy and urgency in life. There is no sense in waiting or hesitating because there is no guarantee of tomorrow! Amy is a dressmaker and a body painter who is now planning a six month trip around the world. Her stunning portrait is now part of “Eyes are Windows to the Soul” portfolio.


William, Silver Award: In-Camera Portrait

William and his friend Kim were shopping at the Takapuna Sunday market when I approached them. Kim was slightly kindly agreed to drive William to my studio following my car, her average speed was 35 Km/h… William spent 4.5 years in Mt Eden prison for robbing a dairy (a small convenience store in New Zealand). He always told his family that he will end up there. In prison he became part of the Mongrel Mob! He was diagnosed as schizophrenic after leaving prison so is now under heavy medication. Click here to see more.

Albert Einstein, Bronze Award: In-Camera Portrait

My mother Shoshana, posing as Albert Einstein! Outrageous mom is almost 83 and had a minor stroke last year. She has recovered beautifully and is very busy. Waking up early, Shoshana goes swimming at the local beach. She also volunteers at the local primary school, teaching young kids about deep breathing, meditation, relaxation techniques, correct posture, healthy eating, chakras and spirituality! Mom has recently started to practicing playing on a piano, following her grandson example… She practices Qigong and uses special healing bowls using deep vibrating sound! Click here to see more!

Kimironko Market – Rwanda, Bronze Award – Travel Category

The photos in this composite set are from Kimironko Market which is the best and the biggest in Kigali. Vendors here sell produce from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while locals from all over the city head here to stock up on fruit, vegetables, fabric, clothing, shoes, and general household necessities. Second-hand clothing, fruit and vegetables, fish, fabric and baskets are all sold in this covered complex. One can find everything in this market from food to kitchen tools, electronics and hardware, clothings as well as car parts. The variety of food on offer is amazing. However, as you plunge into the depths of the site to the clothing and crafts area – everyone wants you to part with your cash. The brilliant seamstresses are worth a watch as their sewing machines rattle away and you must be prepared to bargain and expect an extra gift to seal the deal. The entire experience and a drama for the senses. Kimironko is a “real” market where locals buy all their stuff. You just get everything. It is so lively, crowded and colorful. The choice of different Kitenge fabrics is incredible. The people in Rwanda were very friendly and helpful. They were mostly delighted to pose for my camera! Murakoze (“Thank You” in Rwandese) Click here to see more.

Maasai Women – Tanzania, Bronze Award – Travel category

I visited Tanzania In February 2019 where I met a few of the Maasai community and took the opportunity to capture their portraits. I made special efforts to connect with the indigenous population and was very fortunate to create these extraordinary portraits. These are not candid snapshots, but carefully composed portraits that honour the Maasai people. I did not plan to create these portraits but was overwhelmed when I first saw members of the tribe.
Maasai people endeavour to hold onto their traditional way of life and maintain a strongly patriarchal society, which sees elder men deciding on most major matters for each Maasai group. My first encounter with the tribe was at a lodge located near the Ngorongoro Crater, which is a national reserve for wildlife animals where I was touring and photographing the wildlife. The Maasai were working at the lodge when I approached them to ask if he could create their portrait.
One of the men spoke English, which helped me make contact with the others. I only had a brief time as they were busy working and I was a member of the tour group, focusing on wildlife photography. I immediately saw the potential to document this culture and seized every opportunity — early morning or late afternoon — to make contact with the local community and document them on every stop of our journey across Tanzania.
I would ask permission from each person I wanted to photograph and made an effort to create rapport with them. I asked a local tour guide to teach me how to say “My name is Ilan. What is your name?” in Maa (the language of the Maasai). I would then repeat this on every encounter and the Maasai people opened up, allowing their portrait to be created.
I made a point of connecting with a few of the younger generation Maasai who had smartphones with WhatsApp. After completing the series, I sent them the link to the album and asked them to show it in the village. They were so proud and delighted with the outcome. They said the album shows that I really love the people.
When finalising the series, I converted Maasai People into film-like monochrome. The heightening of contrast helps to create a sense of drama, lending to the series a unifying style that emulates analogue lithographic techniques”. He explains that although some may consider it ‘wrong’ to lose the authentic colours, he feels that the monochrome treatment is timeless and helps to bring the portraits together, creating a flow throughout the portfolio series. Our eyes are attracted to certain colours such as red and yellow, so converting the photos into sepia makes us focus on the body language, expressions, forms and shapes without any distraction. It makes the portraits extraordinary and timeless.
Click here to see more!


Man Holding a Stick – Rwanda, Silver Award: Travel category

I visited Rwanda in February 2019 after being deported from South Africa. The original plan was to spend a week in Johannesburg on route to a Safari trip as the winner of the Grand Prize from the 2018 Sony Alpha Awards.
Arriving to Johannesburg, South African border control said that my passport expired and would not scan the extension. I felt extremely stressed and was lucky not to be sent directly back home as the plane to Sydney had already left the gate.
After spending a night at the airport, I bought a ticket to Rwanda and landed there at 11pm exhausted and stressed as this experience was completely outside my comfort zone after losing control over the situation. I like planning and knowing where I’m going to stay so this required improvising and trusting the people I meet along the journey. This man kindly waited until I created his portrait at the entrance to his home at a remote village.
The Berlin Conference of 1884 assigned the territory to Germany as part of German East Africa, marking the beginning of the colonial era. The explorer Gustav Adolf von Götzen was the first European to significantly explore the country in 1894; he crossed from the south-east to Lake Kivu and met the king.The Germans did not significantly alter the social structure of the country, but exerted influence by supporting the king and the existing hierarchy and delegating power to local chiefs. Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and Burundi in 1916, during World War I, beginning a period of more direct colonial rule. Belgium ruled both Rwanda and Burundi as a League of Nations mandate called Ruanda-Urundi. The Belgians also simplified and centralised the power structure, and introduced large-scale projects in education, health, public works, and agricultural supervision, including new crops and improved agricultural techniques to try to reduce the incidence of famine. Both the Germans and the Belgians promoted Tutsi supremacy, considering the Hutu and Tutsi different races.In 1935, Belgium introduced identity cards labelling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutu to become honorary Tutsi, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the classes.
Belgium continued to rule Ruanda-Urundi (of which Rwanda formed the northern part) as a UN Trust Territory after the Second World War, with a mandate to oversee eventual independence. Tensions escalated between the Tutsi, who favoured early independence, and the Hutu emancipation movement, culminating in the 1959 Rwandan Revolution: Hutu activists began killing Tutsi and destroying their houses, forcing more than 100,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. In 1961, the suddenly pro-Hutu Belgians held a referendum in which the country voted to abolish the monarchy. Rwanda was separated from Burundi and gained independence on 1 July 1962, which is commemorated as Independence Day, a national holiday. Cycles of violence followed, with exiled Tutsi attacking from neighbouring countries and the Hutu retaliating with large-scale slaughter and repression of the Tutsi.In 1973, Juvénal Habyarimana took power in a military coup. Pro-Hutu discrimination continued, but there was greater economic prosperity and a reduced amount of violence against Tutsi. The Twa remained marginalised, and by 1990 were almost entirely forced out of the forests by the government; many became beggars.Rwanda’s population had increased from 1.6 million people in 1934 to 7.1 million in 1989, leading to competition for land.
In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel group composed of nearly 500,000 Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda from their base in Uganda, initiating the Rwandan Civil War. The group condemned the Hutu-dominated government for failing to democratize and confront the problems facing these refugees. Neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage in the war, but by 1992 it had weakened Habyarimana’s authority; mass demonstrations forced him into a coalition with the domestic opposition and eventually to sign the 1993 Arusha Accords with the RPF. The ceasefire ended on 6 April 1994 when Habyarimana’s plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing him. The shooting down of the plane served as the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide, which began within a few hours. Over the course of approximately 100 days, around one million Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were killed in well-planned attacks on the orders of the interim government.
The Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, and took control of the country methodically, gaining control of the whole country. The international response to the genocide was poor, with major powers reluctant to strengthen the already overstretched UN peacekeeping force. When the RPF took over, approximately two million Hutu fled to neighbouring countries, in particular Zaïre, fearing reprisals; additionally, the RPF-led army was a key belligerent in the First and Second Congo Wars. Within Rwanda, a period of reconciliation and justice began, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the reintroduction of Gacaca, a traditional village court system. The people of Rwanda are now recovering from the calamity and anarchy which took place during the massacre of 1994. Click here to see more.

Woman and a Tree, Gold Award: In-Camera Portrait

“This photo hangs proudly in my house as a reminder of my personal evolution. Two years ago I was in the depths of my human resources career. Slogging it out by day & discretely moonlighting as a performing artist, competitive pole dancer & sexuality student outside of the 9 to 5 job. I had held secret dreams of working in the sexuality space since I first went to University; but swallowed back those ideas, instead heading into something a lot more traditional. Somewhere in my mid-20s those ideas bubbled back up in a demanding way & I dived back into personal exploration & professional study of sexuality, love & relationships. I’m now a full time sexuality, love & relationships coach & am often totally amused by the dichotomy between my then & now. This beautiful work by Ilan reminds me of a homecoming; the return to what I romantically refer to as my true nature.” Click here to see more!

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  1. […] to Ilan Wittenberg on winning a Gold at the 2019 NZIPP Iris Awards! “It was an honour and privilege to be a judge at this prestigious event”, says […]

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