Life through their eyes.

Vanuatu may be a small island country, but it is definitely not small in talent. For the past four years, Island Life had the enormous privilege to work with the best photographers in Vanuatu. This is our tribute to them and their invaluable work and legacy.

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A Papuan boy wears a pearl-lugger headdress, used in kastom dances remembering the pearling days of the early 20th century. PNG 2006.

Ben Bohane

BEN BOHANE is an Australian photojournalist, author and TV producer who has covered Asia and the Pacific islands for the past 25 years. He is the founder and present Director of Wakaphotos. After several years in Sydney working on alternative lifestyle magazines, Bohane’s first foreign reportage assignment was covering the Vietnamese army withdrawal from Cambodia in 1989. He then spent the next four years based in South and South East Asia covering the wars of Cambodia, Burma and Afghanistan. He secured the first interview with Golden Triangle opium warlord General Khun Sa in 1991 after he was indicted by the US. In 1992 he was reportedly the first western traveler to go overland from Kabul to Moscow in decades, as the Soviet Union was collapsing. In 1992 he was based in London covering Northern Ireland and Europe. In 1994, Bohane returned to Australia and began covering the much under-reported Pacific region. Since then he has focused on “kastom and conflict” throughout Melanesia and black Australia, documenting cults, cargo cults and new religious movements in the Pacific.

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OPM guerilla from Central Command stands against a mountain backdrop, Nduga highlands, West Papua / Indonesia, 1995.

While covering every major conflict in the South Pacific, he traveled and lived with a variety of tribal, cult and rebel groups and was thereby able to secure the first pictures of BRA leader Francis Ona in Bougainville in 1994 and the only interview and pictures of Guadalcanal warlord Harold Keke, before he surrendered to Australian and RAMSI troops in the Solomon Islands in 2003. He has the largest contemporary photo archive of the South Pacific in the world. His photographs are collected by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum and the Australian War Memorial, as well as being held in private collections. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Stern (Germany), Monocle, The Guardian (UK), French Geo, Asahi Shimbun (Japan) and many publications in Australia. Ben has also done news stories and documentaries shown on ABC & SBS TV Australia, BBC, F24 (France), ARD (Germany) and NHK (Japan). In 2003 he published “Follow the Morning Star” documenting the forgotten struggle for independence in West Papua. His book “The Black Islands—Spirit and War in Melanesia” has been published by Waka Press, while the exhibition is touring widely. He is on the advisory council for the Pacific Institute of Public Policy, the main independent think tank for the Pacific and is one of the founders of the Australian photo collective Degree South together with Tim Page. www.wakaphotos.com.


 

Philippe Metois

Born in 1961 in Morocco, of French descent, Philippe Métois arrived in Vanuatu in 1984, camera already hanging around his neck. The diversity of the islands and their scenery, the cultural wealth of the country… what more could you wish for if you were a young artist in search of beauty and originality? Unbeknownst to him then, Philippe had come to stay.

While checking out the ideal meteorological conditions for underwater or aerial photography, always on the lookout for what might be going on in the country in terms of events, the purpose is invariably the same: to record beauty for all eternity. The beauty of a country, of its magical or Dantean-like scenery, from its lush tropical marine life to the very tip of active volcanoes, the beauty of its traditional rituals untouched by the modern world, the beauty of its people, often described as the happiest on earth.

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Dancers from the Lenapuas village during the Nekowiar festival, Tanna, 2010. The 30 minute long kastom dance is both exhausting and exhilarating for the dancers.

 

While Philippe has visited most of the islands in the country and taken an abundance of photographs, the island of Tanna holds a special place in his heart and inevitably, in his work, which includes close to twenty thousand shots taken over a period of nearly thirty years. Hence his recording and reporting of the Toka ceremonies is of immense historical value.

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The perfect beach. This photo was taken in the reef islands, part of the Banks group, back in 1995. Nothing much has changed since. The beach and the land are still as beautiful, pristine and untouched as they were then.

A vast number of these photographs are available to the general public in the form of postcards or philatelic stamps. Large-size printouts are frequently on display in Port Vila or Sydney, and projections often accompany cultural exhibitions in Vanuatu.

Philippe, who belonged for many years to the agency called ALTITUDE of Yann Arthus Bertrand, is now offering us the opportunity of discovering and enjoying his entire work through the new on-line agency at www.wakaphotos.com.


 

Valéry LEBEAU

Valéry LEBEAU was born in 1967and graduated from Lyon’s Photography School in 1987. Valery has always been passionate about photography, reportage and design. At age 20, he ventured to Nicaragua to take portraits of women engaged in the revolution. This project gave birth to a book featuring portraits of such influential figures as former President of the Nicaragua Republic Daniel Ortega, the heroine of the Nicaraguan revolution Doria Maria Tellez and many others. Organized by the French Minister of Women’s Rights, the book and photographs were exhibited in Paris and collected by the Minister of Culture. In the coming years, he co-published another two books, collections of portraits of personalities from the Auverge region being photographed in unusual situations, such as the portrait of former French President Claude Malhuret, hanging outside a helicopter in mid flight. The work toured in exhibitions across France.

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Miss Vanuatu Portrait of Valérie Martinez, Miss Vanuatu, taken as part of the portfolio for the Official Miss Asia Pacific World 2013.

 

At age 25, Valéry embarked on a career in advertising with France’s well-known advertising agency ‘L’Agence’. From there, he continued as Creative and Artistic Director for magazines of the caliber of L’Express, L’Usine Nouvelle, L’Echo Touristique and many others, collecting many awards along the way.

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A shot from Tusker’s road movie project. The movie is a love story between a young woman and a bus driver. The shot was taken to emulate a vintage image.

In 2005, the family decided it was time to explore new territories and embark on new challenges. After some research, they headed for the Pacific where they traveled for five months, spending most time in New Caledonia, New Zealand and Vanuatu. It was Vanuatu that finally won their hearts, and after a short time back in France, they moved to Vanuatu in 2006.

In Vanuatu, Valéry created IGMedia, advertising and photo agency in Port Vila. Their list of corporate clients include AJC, ANZ, C&K, Eratap Beach Resort, Fatumaru Lodge, Law Partners, The Grand Hotel, TVL, Tusker, Unelco, VTO, Warwick Le Lagoon and many others. Website.


 

Groovy Banana

Gaëlle Méheut and Benoît Heurtault, or Gaga and Ben are the people behind Groovy Banana. When they met during their studies in France thirteen years ago, it was love at first sight and the start of their creative journey. In 2013 they decided to start a new chapter in their lives.

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We like telling stories and like to shoot candid, spontaneous and unrehearsed snaps. This one depicts some of Vanuatu’s treasures such as coconut palms, the sea, the Futuna Fatuana’s warriors, and not only a couple but a family! Taken in Erakor in May 2015 and the couple are Tahlia and Sam.

 

The sweet memory of Gaga’s childhood in Vanuatu was enough to convince them to choose the archipelago as their next destination. After an inspiring trip across Europe, South-East Asia and Australia they landed in Vanuatu and immediately fell in love with the country and its people.

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During the Easter Promedical Post-Pam action around the island, a very helpful deaf-and-dumb boy from Epule village (North Efate) fills plenty of water containers to bring to everyone. Cyclone Pam caused wide spread damage to water structures and catchments, especially in the southern part of the country.

They quickly established Groovy Banana “made in Vanuatu” offering photography and video services with a fresh and contemporary style. They specialize in weddings also work on different projects for local businesses and organisations.

Vanuatu turned out to be a fertile ground to grow their artistic skills, with vibrant and genuine people, stunning light and colours, and a booming cultural scene filled with opportunities to share and collaborate in visual arts, music and dance. They enjoy giving back to the community by supporting local initiatives with their services and giving the youth the opportunity to learn photography and videography. www.groovy-banana.com.


 

Dan McGarry

A few years ago, I started wishing I could find a way to get someone to pay me just to take photos and write. That wish came true earlier this year, when I was hired as Media Director for the Vanuatu Daily Post newspaper.

Someone asked me once to explain a little about what I look for when I take photographs. Here’s what I told them: The very first theatre show I ever worked on was called How I Got That Story. It’s the tale of a sad-sack freelance reporter in Saigon during the Vietnam conflict who misses story after story. Until one day when he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a crowd. A Buddhist monk approaches him and asks to use his lighter. Before the hapless hero knows what is going on, the monk has doused himself with gasoline and used the lighter to immolate himself.

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A man returns to his home in the Ohlen neighbourhood of Port Vila after a day’s work in the garden. This photo was taken just a few hundred metres from the edge of town, a reminder of how lush Vanuatu is.

I’ve never chased that kind of story, and until this year, I’ve rarely had it thrust upon me. I’m happy to cover the news, but left to myself I like the other kind of story ­ what I like to call ‘the miracle of the mundane’.

Images from a massive kastom ceremony at the groundbreaking for the Lapetasi Wharf Project.
A boy shelters between two elders during a massive kastom dance in Port Vila. Nearly 400 Tannese dancers performed the highly tabu Toka dance for the occasion. This is only the second time they have performed the dance outside the island of Tanna itself.

Those little moments that let you see wonder again in tiny bits of everyday existence. Those moments when people (whether they mean to or not) reveal some essential part of themselves and in so doing reveal the multifaceted beauty of human existence. I’ll leave Tahrir Square and Benghazi for others. I think we are most interesting when we are at peace ­ or at least, fighting the smaller battles of day to day life. www.imagicity.com and www.humansofvanuatu.com.


 

ISLAND LIFE MAGAZINE

 

 

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