Marks of African maturity

Two photographers explore daily life and coming-of-age ceremonies in Africa

Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have traversed the African continent for more than 30 years, documenting the ceremonies of its peoples. "Faces of Africa," their compilation of hope, wonder, and joy, is an important counterpoint to headlines confronting the world with the problems in Africa. The book is in a smaller format than the pair's earlier two-volume tour de force, "Ceremonies of Africa" (1999), and at just $35, it's a bargain.

Fisher and Beckwith follow the cycle of life from birth to death. In between, we are allowed into coming-of-age ceremonies, courtship rituals, celebrations, and daily struggles at the heart of African life. The piercing stare of a Masai warrior intent on battle contrasts with the joyful laugh of a Karo man with his body painted for courtship. The "language of jewelry and adornment" is translated in tight images of intricate beadwork, tattoos, and scarification. The personal anecdotes and well-crafted captions enable viewers to understand the nuances in subjects' subtle glances, gestures, and expressions. This helps bring greater depth to the work, enhances the connection to the images, and conveys the respect Beckwith and Fisher hold for the cultures they explore.

The photographs are an important anthropological record and serve as a time capsule of cultures under pressure by increased urbanization and Western influences.

Andy Nelson is a Monitor photographer in Washington, D.C.

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