Dan Nelken, HeadStrong: The Women of Rural Uganda
February 3d to February 27th
Reception: February 12 from 5 to 7 pm
Artist Talk: February 14th 1:00pm
Emerald Arts Center
500 Main Street Springfield, Oregon
11am to 4 pm Wednesday thru Saturday; Second Fridays 5 to 7 pm
Open to the public
MASK ARE REQUIRED
HeadStrong: The Women of Rural Uganda
Dan Nelken photographer
Beatrice Lamwaka story translator
HeadStrong is an ongoing photographic and storytelling project focusing on working women in rural Uganda. These women are at a critical crossroads in their agrarian society. Emerging from a history of war and economic uncertainty, women are the tipping point of a future with more possibilities for their gender and offspring. As their accompanying stories reveal, many are hampered by lack of education and opportunities for themselves and their children. Yet, most have hope.
During four trips to Uganda as a volunteer, I interacted with many women in rural areas. Impressed by the women’s work ethic, poise, sense of humor, and resilience, I initially embarked on this project for esthetic reasons: a desire to showcase their personas in Uganda’s natural light. As this project progressed, I realized that a broader community should hear their stories.
Because Uganda has one of the world’s fastest-growing and youngest populations (15.9 years median age), women’s roles are critical to ensuring economic, intellectual, and societal success in the future. Childrearing and domestic tasks are almost entirely the responsibility of women; in rural communities, women are often the family’s primary wage earners. These facts directly impact the lives of women.
As a life-long professional portrait photographer, I chose to combine the power of portraiture with the women’s own stories to portray their individuality and endurance. Aware of my outsider status and insufficient knowledge of Ugandan society, I partnered with Beatrice Lamwaka, an award-winning Ugandan author, who brings an essential East African female viewpoint to this project. Lamwaka interviewed the women and then wrote a biographical narrative, which includes aspirations, to accompany her portrait. These texts are an integral part of HeadStrong.
Each woman expressed herself through personal choices of work clothing and accessories. Their direct gaze powerfully conveys their sense of self and ownership in presenting themselves to the viewer. I chose mosquito netting to physically separate the women from their chaotic surroundings while alluding to the region’s paucity of medical care.
The titles include documentary details that provide context for the portraits.
Dan Nelken was born in Tel Aviv and immigrated to the United States with his family, becoming a citizen and residing in Chicago. He departed for New York and received his undergraduate degree from Pratt Institute.
By the time he was 11-years-old, Nelken had lived in four countries with three different languages. As a result, he developed an innate understanding of being “the other,” struggling to adapt to new circumstances. As a documentary photographer, he is known for his portrait work of those outside society’s mainstream. His portraits aspire to accentuate individuality while acknowledging the importance of group behaviors, habits, and rituals. His ongoing project, HeadStrong: The Women of Rural Uganda, exemplifies his commitment to this theme. The portraits focus on the contribution of women in a predominately patriarchal society.
Nelken has received many awards and recognition for his HeadStrong project and earlier for Till The Cows Come Home: County Fair Portraits. His work has been published and exhibited widely and is in both public and private collections.
Dan owned and operated a photographic studio where he produced advertising and promotional images for design firms, ad agencies, publishers, and corporations. This work helped support his multi-year personal projects.