New photographic series ‘Lukim Yu’ documents the people of Ra islandPosted: October 19, 2016
‘Lukim Yu’ is the name of a series of 132 photographic portraits of the people of Ra island, located off Mota Lava in the Banks Islands in Vanuatu’s north. Photographed in April this year by French photojournalist Mélinda Trochu, the series was published this week on Instagram. We talk to Mélinda about the experience of working with the people of Ra to capture these beautiful images.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your professional background, and about how you came to be in the Vanuatu, and in particular, in the Banks Islands?
I am a French multimedia journalist. I’ve worked mainly in France, Lebanon and Australia. When I was living in Melbourne, I met a woman coming back from a trip she did in Vanuatu. She was absolutely delighted and so passionate about it that it made me want to go. I did some research on Internet and decided to go to a “remote island” so I can meet the inhabitants there. Everything I read about Ra on blogs was describing it as a paradise. I just thought let’s go!
How did your ‘Lukim Yu Photo’ project come into being?
I was in Ra for three days I think and everyone was absolutely lovely to me. When people give me a lot, I tend to ask myself what I can do for them. I had brought school supplies and medical ones because I knew they would need it. Then, it struck me that I had something they didn’t have: photos and a camera. I wanted them to be able to cherish photos in the future. It’s easy to come, take their pictures and never come back. But I wanted them to get their own pictures.
So I asked one of the chiefs, Brian, if I could photograph the whole community (crazy idea!). He said yes, we went to the community centre and organized photo sessions. Winnie, a young teenager, helped me note the names and ages of people. I managed to photograph about 70% of the population.
You mention on your website that you wanted to “send them the photos”. As you probably know, most people in remote parts of Vanuatu have little (if any) access to photographic images of themselves. What was you intention in relation to this – and did this have a strong bearing on your project?
The first idea was that: let’s take their pictures and send it to them after. When people have to flee their home, they usually take the key and photos… photos are truly important to remember people.
I promised the inhabitants of Ra the photos would come back to them even if I knew it would take a few months (six months in the end, not bad). Then, I thought: they have never had a photo exhibition! So I am sending another batch of photos that they can exhibit in their community centre. It will be the first exhibition in Ra about people living there!
Your images capture a subset of the people present on Ra at a single point in time – and you’ve chosen to include local people in their daily clothes, as well as non-ni-Vanuatu, a choice that seems more akin to the documentary tradition as opposed to, the controversial idea of ‘authentic’, or of the ‘tribal’ that Jimmy Nelson’s ‘Before they pass away’ series emphasises (some of which were also shot on Ra). Would you care to comment on your choice, and what informed it?
I wanted it to represent them as they are. Some have old clothes, some were coming after the church, some after school, and yes some are Americans living here for years… I didn’t have any idea/prejudice in mind before doing the project. And I wanted the same background for everyone so they’re equal and also to make it more easy for them to find me (at the community centre) for the photo session. I wanted the photo session to be fun and not stressful. I kept saying “Ni” (smile) because that’s what they usually do, they smile all day!
I saw the beautiful photos of Jimmy Nelson before going to Vanuatu. We just don’t have the same goal. My photos were for the people of Ra, photos that you put in a box and then look at it ten years later, laughing how everyone has aged well!
How did the people photographed respond to your images of them? What were their impressions?
I don’t think they’ve seen them yet. They’re on Internet, but they have a really poor connection there. They will receive the photos at the end of November, thanks to a friend who is going there from Melbourne… I am now myself back to France before moving to Canada. I hope they will be happy to see I didn’t forget them!
What about outside Vanuatu? How have the images been received?
I’ve just published the project so this is my second interview.
The images are up on the popular image sharing social network Instagram – do you have any plans to exhibit them elsewhere?
I wanted to find a way to show their faces as they are, all beautiful. Instagram was perfect for that. The first exhibition will be in Ra, if they put it in the community centre but I trust them they will! I would love to get some funding to go back and photograph the other 30%. And maybe write a book about/with them? That would be a fantastic project.
And also, if I go back I’ll come with a sky map… they have the most beautiful sky I have ever seen but they don’t know the stars’ names, that’s just too sad.
Interview by Nick Howlett. The full ‘Lukim Yu’ series can be viewed on Instagram here. View Mélinda Trochu’s personal website here.