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"Grace's Song" by Tony Maturin and the Village Poets

"Grace's Song" by Tony Maturin and the Village Poets

A review by John Gleisner

If you saw Tony Maturin’s earlier book of photographs from Cambodia you will need no persuading to sample his new book, ‘Grace’s Song’. This time Tony has put together a collection of sepia photos from Eastern Cape Province in South Africa. He has been living there for the past two years as a VSA volunteer. The photos have a commentary as well as some poems by local poets.

Almost all the photos are of people. People who are being helped by local NGO’s. And the few that are not of people show some of the material poverty which is their life. And the purpose of the book is to ‘celebrate the human dignity found in poverty’. The quality of these photos is quite outstanding and as I commented on the ones in his last collection, they are very reminiscent of the great photographer, Sebastiao Salgado, who devoted his life to photographing dispossessed people. Also many of the poems add another degree of poignancy to what is otherwise simple brutal poverty.

Someone once said ‘all possession is theft’ and it is equally true that richer countries are all oppressors. Returning to New Zealand, Tony links his experiences, his photos a microcosm of an oppressed people with the larger problem of global warming, directly related to the consumption of richer countries and its threat to civilisation. Likewise having returned from living in Palestine – and though Palestinians and the people of Tony’s book suffer different kinds of oppression, human dignity shows itself more than in our comfortable Western world where the media have captured the public conscience and consumerism and celebrity rule.

And what shines through in the photos is the humanity, humanity bearing the suffering not only of poverty, but also of the widespread illness of HIV/AIDS and the losses of so many family through it.
There is a saying that every journey begins with the first step. But that isn’t really true is it? Every journey starts with thinking. And this book provokes you to think. And perhaps will even provoke you to take a ‘journey’. Maybe you have been too long in a comfortable Western rut. And maybe it’s time you give up a little comfort.