TORSTEN BLACKWOOD | PHOTOGRAPHS BY SANDRO | Smithsonian Magazine
WASHINGTON - Is any place on the planet less familiar to Americans than heavily forested, mountainous, linguistically complex, faraway Papua New Guinea?
The images here document just a few points on the wide spectrum of life in PNG today. At one end is what might be called extravagant tradition. To see that, the photographer Sandro, who’s based in Chicago, went to the Eastern Highlands and attended the Goroka Show.
That’s a three-day festival where people from all over the country showcase their customs. In a makeshift studio Sandro photographed men and women wearing costumes unique to their villages.
This kind of undertaking is not without risk. Anthropologists rightly caution against ethnic stereotyping, and a Papuan elder in feathered regalia doesn’t stand in for the entire population any more than a woman wearing a calico bonnet in Colonial Williamsburg is a typical American.
At the other end of the spectrum is the underworld of Port Moresby, the capital, a city plagued by car-jackings and other street crimes.
Many of the perpetrators are young men who left the countryside in search of work, only to end up unemployed and living desperately in grim settlements.
Sandro’s pictures of them reveal a combination of fierceness and vulnerability that is downright poignant.
Then there are the women Sandro photographed. They toil on the other side of the world, but they’re familiar—one stooping under her burden, another smiling with a youngster on her hip.
These women don’t represent PNG. They represent humanity. They’re us.