I saw Margareth cold and shy and I approached her. She wasn’t disturbed by my presence or my camera, I remember she didn’t ask me questions. I took about ten photographs, I ask her name, but she didn’t have the time to tell me her story, her look would do it instead of her.

Tea Stories     

The bitter Taste of Malawi (2007-2009)    Italian Version

When Francesca and I thought we could tell the workers’ day in the tea plantations, we immediately became aware that the reportage should be dealt with in black and white and not in colors. Our choice was not just aesthetic, but necessary to underline the story and not the places or landscapes full of green hills and red roads.

We took photographs to tell, imagining in advance the result that should be obtained so that our efforts were not vain.

In many shots the image of the characters is not in focus, is cut or is a subjective shot to allow the reader to focus his gaze on movements and particulars that otherwise would be lost.

What we needed was a slight common thread that aesthetically bound each shot without never going beyond or becoming a symbol. The “guardian” umbrella, for example, is sign of difference in roles, common thread together with the buckets that women use every day, but also a tribute to Salgado, one of the greatest photographers alive who, with his tea plantations in Rwanda, has written this century photography story.

Margareth’s shy, cold and patient look opens the reportage and invites the observer to discover the characters that, like in a novel, are the key of the story. Women and men alternate each other in a theatrical dance with the plantations as scenery in a constant work of picking, weighing and processing.

Everyone has his/her role: someone picks up, someone weights, someone controls, someone drives the tractor and someone works in the office; they all have in common just one aim: picking tea.

It’s evening now, the sun is setting and workers go back home. Margareth goes back to her life; her bucket is well balanced on her head, while her boss with the umbrella goes back home.

When we chose the shot that should close the story we wanted a happy ending as conclusion of the working day.

That shot is the mirror of the reportage, there are all the elements that compose it and the schematic jobs of characters and so the guardian with the umbrella is in the middle of the scene, in focus and lit up by a bright light, while Margareth, due to her social position, is out of focus and on the edges of the image, almost invisible.

The story took place in the amazing Malawi tea plantations by matching life experiences with complex photographic strategies.

In the last three years we have been travelling a lot and spending many months near the workers which allowed us to have a good knowledge of the territory, of places and characters so as to be in sync with the story in a world so distant, far away, but at the same time very fascinating.

Morning mist and light allowed me to tell the odd atmosphere in an image with no distractions or incidental details, but rich in pauses for reflection.

Women come to the plantations almost at dawn from faraway villages, they sometimes walk for kilometers with the bucks on their heads and leave home to work till the evening. Their boss waits them to communicate the details of the day.

When it started raining and the boss opened his umbrella, I understood I could take photographs keeping an eye on one of the greatest photographers in history. This picture is a tribute to Sebastiao Salgado and “his” tea plantations in Rwanda.

This phptograph was chosen by Monica Allende, Canon Professional Network.

Picking tea isn’t hard, it is an accurate and repetitive gesture the workers live with throughout the day. This is a shot made by Francesca, perfectly placed in the context, that faithfully meets with the evidence code: you can work and smoke at the same time.

Tea leaves are taken to the gathering point and the bags are emptied before weighting.

Before transporting the processing sacks, they have to be carefully weighted. The tools are certainly not sophisticated, but they do their job.

I was sheltered by the shack when it started raining, I thought the tractors couldn’t start, the downpour was terrible, but I was ready. All of a sudden the drivers left and I took the photo. Tea was being taken to the factory and I needed that shot.

The offices are the heart of the system, office workers enjoy an economic as well as social prestige position than pickers. This shot reflects the working society within plantations, the division of roles and simple hierarchy.

Ancient tools still in use, like an old anemometer, challenge time and technologies. Not in the least “out” they still help the hard work of seasonal data collection.

Tea break in the tea plantations. Light, shadows and atmosphere sheltered by a shack where women simply wait for boiling water. In this image I looked again for the deep division of roles. The shot from above highlights the working positions between who serves and who is served.

Hot water is poured into the thermos. The pickers wait for the moment. The position of the camera is frontal, women indeed have the same role. I wanted to give importance to moment and gestures, I didn’t care for characters and depicted them without faces.

The first cup is for the boss in a play of roles clearly visible. He is in the middle of the scene and waits not only for enjoying a hot tea, but is proud of his position and of being served.

The working day is over. The boss goes back home illuminated by a bright light. Also Margareth has finished, almost invisible, on the fringes of society and of the photo; she returns to her village.

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