“I understand the privilege of bringing a camera into a place that has endured a 30-year civil war”

Two years ago, Getty Images Prestige photographer Harry Hook slipped into South Sudan during a window of peace for the war torn African nation.

Hook, who is well known for his 1990 dystopian film Lord of the Flies and his 2014 BAFTA-nominated documentary Photographing Africa, brought with him a big box of a camera (a Pentax 645), and, his medium of choice, film. His goal: to photograph the Mundari cattle camps, in which young men and women head away from their villages to the banks of the Nile for three months each year, to gather together and graze their cattle. But since he only had 15 frames per role and just a limited supply of film, he needed to be extremely decisive in choosing the right moments to capture.

“I spend a lot of time waiting for the right moment,” Hook said by phone recently from his home in Bristol. “And I react as instinctively as I can when the moment occurs.”

The cattle camps were hot, remote and difficult for outsiders to access, but that only encouraged him.

“I understand the privilege of bringing a camera into a place that has endured a 30-year civil war,” he said. He was grateful to experience a place so rarely photographed, and he enjoyed the combination of the landscape’s beautiful light together with the warmth of the Mundari people.

“It was a festive feeling,” Hook said. “The energy there is kind of like a music festival. At dusk, they light these smoky ash fires to keep the insects away, which makes the camps very atmospheric places. And, generally, around sunset, everyone is singing and dancing.”

That’s when he noticed the young woman standing in the haze, and he pressed down on his shutter to make the image.

“As you can see, she is wearing an interesting mélange, a funky modern little top, which is the style, and traditional clothing,” Hook said. “So even though we’re in this incredibly remote area, she’s not untouched by the modern world.”

This dynamic is at the center of much of Hook’s work.

“I’m really interested in this fusion and the friction between modernity and traditional ways of life,” he said. “I take pictures of the people I’m interested in and the things I’m interested in. How Africa’s changing, that’s what interests me.”

Discover more of Harry Hook’s work at gettyimages.com