SOAS University of London


A photographic exhibition by Ray Massey

6 July - 23 September 2005

The Background to the Exhibition

Through August 2000, accompanied by my son Jean-Michel, I travelled through Madagascar in all directions stopping frequently to photograph its natural beauty and savage harshness.

This is a country of extreme contrasts: A small forgotten tropical island the size of France and half of Belgium combined. A climate of seasons inverted from our own with its unique micro climate: The hot dry plains to the west and the tropical forests to the east of the temperate highland backbone of the country where the faded elegance of Antananarivo lies draped over some of the country's highest ground like a discarded shroud.

The country's infrastructure of railways and highways is often punctuated by a crumbling bridge bypassed by a dirt track and a log raft shuttling rusty lorries cars and "taxi-brousses" laden with colourful people, food and supplies across an often swollen river. The beauty of the country is epitomised by a prehistoric dawn over the misty swamps surrounding Baobab Avenue where trees appear to be inverted, their roots stretching for the sky or whales basking in the channels outside the reefs surrounding the Isle St. Marie, paddy fields cascading down the sides of the central highlands or the fragile grass roofed huts along the beaches sheltered from storm only by swaying palm trees. This country is inhabited by the largest number of endemic species of creatures and fauna anywhere in the world.

Although this amalgam of intense colour and powerful odours has left an indelible impression on me, having taken hundreds of pictures in colour, I have chosen to portray my most vivid memories, those of its peoples, in black and white. It is a paradox that black and white comes closer to reality than colour because reality itself is black and white: In the remote communities of this island there are few shades of grey separating the path between life and death, where few have access to primary healthcare, sanitation, safe drinking water and all live below the poverty line.

The supreme optimism in the smiling faces of the children of this forgotten island is the most rewarding lesson I have ever received.

Ray Massey