By MALUM NALU
SINCE the beginning of this year, Stephen Dupont has been wandering Papua New Guinea, a self-described “nomad with a camera” to capture these moments for posterity.
This world-renowned photographer has this year worked in Port Moresby, Tari in Southern Highlands, Mt Hagen, Goroka, Wabag, Porgera gold mine, deserted Panguna mine on Bougainville, and the Sepik River as far as Black Water Lakes.
Stephen Dupont… ‘nomad with a camera’
A good mate of mine, whom I have known since 2009 when I assisted him and a French TV journalist on a documentary on crime in Port Moresby, Dupont has become well known to many at The National’s office as he wandered in and out to see me.
A church service and flag-raising at Kaningara village, Middle Sepik
Stephen Dupont was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1967.
During the past two decades, Dupont has produced a remarkable body of visual work; hauntingly beautiful photographs of fragile cultures and marginalised peoples.
He skillfully captures the human dignity of his subjects with great intimacy and often in some of the world’s most-dangerous regions.
Evangelist bush church near Tari, Southern Highlands
His images have received international acclaim for their artistic integrity and valuable insight into the people, culture and communities that have existed for hundreds of years, yet are fast disappearing from our world.
Dupont’s work has earned him photography’s most prestigious prizes, including a Robert Capa Gold Medal citation from the Overseas Press Club of America; a Bayeux War Correspondent’s Prize; and first places in the World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International, the Australian Walkleys, and Leica/CCP Documentary Award.
In 2007 he was the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography for his ongoing project on Afghanistan.
In 2010 he received the Gardner Fellowship at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology.
Watching the rugby at Kaugere Oval, Port Moresby
His work has been featured in The New Yorker, Aperture, Newsweek, Time, GQ, Esquire, French and German GEO, Le Figaro, Liberation, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Independent, The Guardian, The New York Times Magazine, Stern, The Australian Financial Review Magazine, and Vanity Fair.
Waiting for a PMV at Mt Hagen market
Dupont has held major exhibitions in London, Paris, New York, Sydney, Canberra, Tokyo, and Shanghai, and at Perpignan’s Visa Pour L’Image, China’s Ping Yao and Holland’s Noorderlicht festivals.
Dupont’s handmade photographic artist books and portfolios are in the selected collections of the National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Australian War Memorial, The New York Public Library, Berlin and Munich National Art Libraries, Stanford University, Yale University, Boston Athenaeum, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Joy of Giving Something Inc.
|Crowd waiting to see the Prime Minister arrive at Goroka Airport, Independence Day, September 16, 2011|
He currently resides in Sydney with his family where he splits his production there with assignments and long term projects in the field.
He is a photographer, artist and documentary filmmaker.
|Welcome singsing dancers on the tarmac at Goroka Airport waiting the PM to arrive, Independence Day, September 16, 2011|
This year, he has been on a prestigious fellowship from Harvard University in the USA, called the Gardner Photography Fellowship at the Peabody Museum of Ethonology and Archeology at Harvard.
|Mudmen on the tarmac at Goroka Airport waiting the Prime Minister to arrive, Independence Day, September 16, 2011|
“My proposal was to do a project on Papua New Guinea,” Dupont says.
“My theme for this project would be around PNG society and detribalisation.
|Supporters of Prime Minister Peter O'Neil waiting for his arrival at Goroka Airport, September 16, Independence Day, 2011|
“In essence, I wanted to look at changes facing the human condition of PNG society today, 2011.
“I was awarded the fellowship to do this project for one year, so the money would help me come back and forth to PNG to complete this work, which would ultimately be a book and exhibition for the Peabody Museum.
|Putting on make up, Enga Show, Wabag|
“I started in Port Moresby where I focused on the urban environment and the effects of urbanisation on the various tribal communities."
“I wanted to contrast this window into the cities, with a focus on the rural environment, so I travelled to Tari in the Southern Highlands.
|Singsing performers at Enga Show, Wabag|
“I travelled the Highlands Highway to Mt Hagen and Goroka.
“I covered the cultural shows in Hagen, Goroka and Wabag.
“I visited Porgera gold mine and travelled through Bougainville, and documented the community around the Panguna mine.
|Bride price ceremony, Banz, Western Highlands|
“I also journeyed up the Sepik River as far as the Black Water Lakes, documenting traditional villages and their people.
“I’m interested in these changes that are taking place in PNG.
“What I mean is that I’m looking at the effects and impact of globalisation on the society and westernisation on the society of PNG today.
“This can come through with obvious and dramatic new influences on the people, for example, the influx of commercialisation and advertising; the phenomenal advancement and popularity of mobile phones and telecommunications in this country; obviously the boom of mining today, like the LNG project in the Southern Highlands.
|A bride price gathering in Banz, Western Highlands|
“PNG is seeing a major economic boom in its resources and other resource-related sectors.
“Essentially, this is having a clear affect on the society.
“People are experiencing new and modern technologies like the mobile phone and internet, that people in rural communities never dreamt of before.”
Dupont searched for changes in culture.
“My project is a photographic project so I’m a visual storyteller,” he explains.
“Most of my information and stories need to be shown in the context of my photographs.
“I’m constantly on the lookout for these obvious clashes of traditional cultures and western influences.
“I’m walking the streets and I’m looking for this, whether it is in Port Moresby, or Mt Hagen, or the Sepik or Tari.
“I want to document, for history’s sake, these changes that are taking place in 2011.
“While I was in Tari, I witnessed the phenomenal impact that the simple mobile phone is having on the society there.
“These people in the Southern Highlands, like many other remote communities in PNG, have taken up the mobile phone and worshipped it, like they worship pigs or other valuables.
“The phone has introduced an unheard-of instant communication to friends and families around the country, that these remote communities have never experienced before.
“For the first time, it has brought communities together and in touch.
“In the West, we take this kind of thing for granted, but in PNG, the simple mobile phone network is a revelation.
“There’s nowhere in PNG experiencing these changes so quickly and aggressively as in the Southern Highlands.
“Traditional culture is rapidly changing forever.
“Whether this is seen as detribalisation or progress, it does not change the fact that ancient custom is on the edge of extinction.
“It is this question that I’m most intrigued about as I travel around the country - a nomad with a camera - that I’m trying to capture in my photographs.”
Dupont’s book, Piksa Niugini: The Land of the Unknown, is expected to be published and on sale in 2013.