Martha is a self-taught street, travel and humanitarian photographer based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has a Master’s degree in developmental studies and currently works for an international NGO. Her photographic work began in earnest in 2013. With film and and an Instax camera provided by GivePhotos, Martha traveled to the Afar region of Ethiopia to share her photography. You can see her beautiful images on Instagram @marthinolly
When did you start giving photos?
I started giving photos in October 2016. I have always been showing pictures flipping my camera towards the people I photographed, but it never seemed right. I saw them smiling at their image and wondered how they would feel to actually own it. Many people in the rural regions of Ethiopia don’t have their own pictures. You often meet people who have never had their photo taken. I always plan on printing and sending them photos but I mostly fail. I would find their address but then would feel too lazy to make prints and send them back. I have thought of using instant cameras but the expensive film discouraged me. Also in Ethiopia we don’t have access to online stores which makes it difficult. Joining GivePhotos made me excited to be able to engage in conversations easily with my instant camera. People trusted me more with their portraits and stories because they were happy to have their own picture.
What motivated you to do it?
I am more motivated now that I’ve done it and I’m thinking further on how I can get more film because it has been such a wonderful experience. People open up so much right after their photo is taken. As a photographer you can build trust and genuine friendship. The more I give photos the more excited I am to see smiling faces and the more I give photos the more stories I can tell. My goal is to tell stories of the people in my country, to share their wisdom, laughter and life experiences. Giving photos has made it creative, and a more natural way to document a moment. The smiles and gratitude in children’s and elderly people’s eyes after receiving their photo is very motivational, it keeps me going when I think of all those moments.
What equipment do you use and why?
I use a Canon D700 with 24mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4 and 55-250mm f4.0 lenses, a Fujifilm Instax mini camera and I also use my Samsung galaxy S5 Neo. I love my Canon 700D and 24mm lens is my favorite. People aren’t scared to have a camera in their face because it is very small and I can easily run around with it. People are usually scared of zoom lenses and I have heard some guy joking “Big lenses look like they read your secrets from your soul. I hate it.” Big lenses can make people uncomfortable. I love my Samsung because it is handy, I can be sneaky with it pretending I am taking a selfie when I’m doing street photography. I am in love with my Instax because it is kind to its subjects. My Instax brings out people’s character — you see nervousness and a huge smile all at once. People are nervous to take the film from the camera and then you see them smiling looking at the picture.
Can you share one memorable story with us about your experience sharing photos?
It is hard to share only one. I have different beautiful memories and you don’t want to miss any of it, trust me. I have met an old lady who blessed me multiple times while staring at her picture with teary eyes and patting her chest (a symbol of love or “mine” depending on the context). I have met an 80 year old man who begs on the street and he gave me the most genuine smile with “I am old I don’t have teeth.” Children mostly run back to their parents holding the tip of the print so their picture doesn’t “vanish” if they touch it. I have met a mother of three who never had her children’s portrait and I still smile from the thought of her gratitude. I can also tell you about a Hammar man, from the Southern region in Ethiopia who didn’t even give me a chance to look at his portrait twice because he didn’t trust me with his print. He put it in his pocket and said, “I will show this to my wife.” I often wonder what she said about it.
Do you have any suggestions for people who would like to give photos?
You are missing out big time! Taking memories and being happy becomes mutual — you give photos and you receive love and gratitude. If you are a story-telling photographer, it is one way of building trust with your subject. If you are someone who loves seeing others happy, an instant camera is for you. If we all could share smiles and happiness, what a beautiful world it would be. For a more exciting moment, don’t tell them you are giving them their photo, don’t explain what an instant camera is. My only hope is that it will get cheaper. One dollar might sound cheap for one film but if we are talking about a travel photographer who takes a minimum of 400 pictures, $400 is quite expensive. My readers, if you want to see more of these stories, you should kindly support groups who are working on donating cameras and films, kindly contribute to these great causes!