In the picture: Portraits without a face yield bountiful harvest

18 March 2014 - 02:02 By Lucy Davies, The Daily Telegraph
SCULPTURAL: One of the photos from Jackie Nickerson's 'Terrain'
SCULPTURAL: One of the photos from Jackie Nickerson's 'Terrain'

In 1996, Jackie Nickerson was invited to stay with friends on a farm just outside Harare, Zimbabwe.

At the time she was making her living as a fashion photographer, shooting for Vogue and Vanity Fair, but glamour and glitz paled into insignificance when she first saw the southern African country.

She said: "I'm from an urban background. Confined environments made from concrete. My first visit to Africa was liberating - it gave me a feeling of space and freedom."

She started to walk around the farm, using photography as a way to approach and talk to people.

"I gravitated to where they worked in the fields. After a few weeks I bought a small flatbed truck and started to travel - to rural places in South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique as well as all over Zimbabwe."

Her first series of pictures detailed the beautiful clothing workers fashioned for themselves from materials they had available. Her photographic collection Farm was published in 2002 - and she turned her back on buttons and bows.

Her latest series comprises portraits of farm labourers in which the face is wholly obscured. Disorienting viewing, but magnificently sculptural.

Photographing the series was a long process - "about six months of visits spread over a two-year period".

It was important to Nickerson that the picture-taking remained a collaboration between herself and the worker.

"All of the arrangements come from the guys themselves. This is not just spectacle or a performance."

She said: "The photographs are about the relationship between people and their working environment. These are the tools and materials they are working with - earth, plants, plastics. I would love to see these guys on the side of cereal boxes."

She said of the experience: "It was something the guys enjoyed, I think, because it was so different to what they do every day. I think a large number of people, or perhaps everyone, thought I was a bit mad."

  • 'Terrain' is published by TF Editores. See