Edition 2016

Méjan association

Hans Silvester

The Bench

Hans Silvester’s photography is a vibrant plea for the diversity of the planet. Since the 1980s, tirelessly bearing witness to peoples or places threatened with extinction or grave changes has been at the heart of his work—major reportages and longterm projects on several continents. He became a member of the Rapho agency in 1965 and has been travelling Africa in search of little-known ethnic groups since 2000. In a practically inaccessible part of southern Ethiopia, he lived with a people called the Bench.

‘The Bench, an important land-tilling ethnic group numbering over 130,000, live 600 kilometres south of Addis Ababa. Their territory is very mountainous, ranging from 1,600 to 3,000 metres above sea level. The climate is tropical but very healthy (malaria is rare). They grow bananas, mangoes, coffee, etc.

‘The Bench live in thatched huts built of wood and earth mixed with cow dung. Some are painted inside and out with natural colours they find nearby. Neighbours help each other with building and repairs. There are very few villages; the Bench live in isolated houses or small hamlets. Inside, the huts are very plain and divided into two parts; one half for the family and the other for domesticated animals (cows, sheep, goats and chickens).

‘Not all the huts are painted. It is the women and girls who decorate them with incredible imagination. The paintings are fragile and need redoing twice a year.

‘The Bench bear witness to an agro-pastoral civilisation that has lasted into the 21st century. Nobody has ever been interested in their beautiful frescoes and fascinating creativity— although, to be fair, not a single road goes up into those mountains and it takes a long time to get there.’

Hans Silvester

Exhibition presented with the collaboration of Central DUPON Images.

  • Institutional partners

    • République Française
    • Région Provence Alpes Côté d'Azur
    • Département des Bouches du Rhône
    • Arles
    • Le Centre des monuments nationaux est heureux de soutenir les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles en accueillant des expositions dans l’abbaye de Montmajour
  • Main partners

    • Fondation LUMA
    • BMW
    • SNCF
    • Pernot Ricard
    • Kering
  • Media partners

    • Arte
    • Lci
    • Konbini
    • Le Point
    • Madame Figaro
    • France Culture