In a two-week exhibition at Gallery@Oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf, an ambitious photographic project will present an intimate and honest portrayal of Podoconiosis (Podo), an unreported horror faced by over 1.6 million Ethiopians.
Award-winning photographer Joseph will present a series of intimate portraits of Ethiopians who have been affected by Podo to varying degrees. In each portrait, individual personalities and struggles transpire to construct a much wider narrative. Joseph’s hope is for the work to raise awareness of the silent tragedy of Podo, barely known or understood outside the African continent, whilst communicating the simple solutions needed to eradicate this disease in our lifetime.
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 and disfigurement. 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.
Joseph travelled to Ethiopia to document Podo, joining Dr Paul Matts (who co-founded the NGO Action on Podo in 2012). The photographs are the record of Joseph’s journey and showcase the importance of education and the simple solutions that can effectively cure the disease, 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 ravaged 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.
The exhibition sheds light on the significant impact the NGO 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.