A compelling new exhibition in London by photographer Matthew Joseph, in conjunction with Action on Podo, reveals an overlooked reality faced by 1.6 million Ethiopians, and more across the globe.
In a two-week exhibition at Gallery@Oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf, award-winning photographer Joseph will present a series of intimate portraits of Ethiopians. In each portrait, individual personalities and struggles transpire to construct a much wider narrative. Joseph’s hope is for the work to raise awareness on the silent tragedy they share, hidden behind powerful and tenacious expressions.
Joseph travelled to Ethiopia to document the story and these photographs are the record of his journey. They showcase the importance of education on Podoconiosis (Podo), a widespread skin disease barely known or understood outside the African continent, whilst communicating the simple solutions needed to eradicate this disease in our lifetime, in Ethiopia and beyond.
Stigmatised because of their appearance, those with Podo are often ostracised from their families and communities. For this reason, Joseph’s facial portraits are shown side-by-side with photographs of their affected legs and feet. This juxtaposition of images is unsettling – one would never associate the often beautiful, human faces of those with Podo with their legs and feet. At the same time, the imagery restores human dignity to those caught in the cycle of Podo disease – something at the centre of Joseph’s motivation.
Podo results from prolonged exposure of bare feet to speciﬁc types of fertile volcanic soil, such as that found in the highlands of Ethiopia, several other African countries, India and Central America. If left untreated, elephantiasis ensues, where the lower legs and feet swell grotesquely, causing profound disability, disﬁgurement and social stigma. Remarkably, the disease is both entirely preventable and easily treatable through the use of appropriate footwear and a simple daily hygiene routine consisting of common household items, namely soap, water and petroleum jelly.
The exhibition sheds light on the signiﬁcant impact the NGO Action on Podo is making, working directly with Health Centres (to treat over 3,000 patients since 2012) and empowering local communities through preventive education and establishing shoe workshops (to make over 4500 oversize shoes for Podo patients). People are daily returned to family, community and workforce.
Matthew Joseph says, “My experience in Ethiopia was eye-opening, it was shocking to see how much suffering was due to isolation and shame… It’s astonishing to me that a disease so easily treatable still severely impacts the lives of so many.”
Co-founder of Action on Podo, Dr Paul Matts, continues: “Skin is a profound organ of communication. Long before we open our mouths, our skin speaks for us. Skin disease is a silent global tragedy affecting all ages and ethnicities. From acne to Podo, people everywhere are confronting the issue of looking different, of body and facial dysmorphia. While my heart is broken for those with Podo, it is my belief that we can eradicate this disease from Ethiopia in our lifetime.”
Action on Podo is constantly looking for support and partners to further its work, and donations can be made via www.actiononpodo.com.
Wednesday 24th April – Sunday 5th May
Gallery@Oxo, 204 Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse St, South Bank, London SE1 9PH