Like the others, I wear a cheap, flickering flashlight strapped to my head with a tattered elastic band so I can see the slick tree branches holding up the sides of the three-foot-square hole dropping hundreds of feet into the earth. My camera dangles from my neck as I grasp the branches with my feet and hands while descending. Adrenaline coarses through me when my hand slips, and I suddenly remember the slave I met days before who lost his grip when the mixture of exhaustion and sweat had gotten the best of him. He fell countless feet down the shaft.
As I sit in my home today, those very men are still deep in a hole, risking their lives – and often dying – without choice or compensation. Even while in the midst of hundreds of slaves, it is hard for me to conceptualize the notion that they are forced into labor without pay, under threat of violence, and cannot walk away.
In 2009 I was invited to be the sole exhibitor at the Vancouver Peace Summit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Among the countless wonderful people and organizations I met there, I was introduced to Free the Slaves. We began talking about slavery – actually I began learning about slavery. I had no idea this unfathomable tragedy was far more pervasive than at any other time in human history, with a conservative estimate of 27 million people enslaved today. It saddened me and infuriated me and started a fire in my heart. Within weeks I flew to meet with Free the Slaves and asked how I could help.
"We can be that change. I hope these images will awaken a force in people who view them, people like you. I hope that force will ignite a fire, and that fire will shine a light on slavery. For without that light, the beast of bondage will continue to live in the shadows."
In India, I was introduced to the brick kilns. The strange and awesome site ignited images of ancient Egypt and Dante’s Inferno. Enveloped in the severe temperature of 120 degrees men, women and children were cloaked in a heavy blanket of dust while mechanically stacking bricks on their heads – up to 18 at a time – carrying them from the scorching kilns to trucks hundreds of yards away. The crush of bricks under their footfall filled the surroundings. Deadened by monotony and exhaustion, the slaves worked silently, repeating this task 16 hours a day.
There were no breaks for food or water, no breaks for toilets and the idea of urination inconsequential. So pervasive was the heat and dust, my camera became too hot to touch and seized functioning. I had to sprint back to our vehicle to clean my equipment and run my camera under the air conditioner every 20 minutes – a luxury slaves never have.
The great Himalayas lead me to children hauling stone for miles down steep mountain terrain to trucks waiting at the road below. The huge sheets of slate were heavier than the child carriers themselves. The children hoisted them with their heads as they set out on the perilous journey down.
In Nepal I met women, young girls and boys who had been stolen from simple villages in the mountains and trafficked to cities to be used for sex. Similarly, in Lake Volta, I met Ghanaian children who had been lured from their communities after being promised an education, only to be sold as slaves to fishing villages. These children have been lost to their parents and are forced to work endless hours in boats on the lake though they cannot swim. The skeletal tree limbs
submerged in Lake Volta frequently entangle the fishing nets. Horribly, the weary children are thrown into the water to free the trapped lines – and often drown.
Lisa Kristine is a San Francisco based photographer specializing in indigenous peoples worldwide. Through her work, Lisa wishes to encourage a dialogue about the beauty, diversity and hardship of our inter-locking world. The more meaning born in the images, the deeper that dialogue may be. Lisa Kristine aims to enhance her viewer’s awareness and engage them in a visual journey that is also a questioning of our existence. She wants to welcome them into the exploration of our mysterious existence with a spirit of importance, astonishment and hope.
For more than twenty-five years, Lisa Kristine has explored the globe, looking for the peoples, cultures and places that time forgot, creating indelible and unforgettable images. She brings the distant and the ancient and the rare into clearer focus. Best known for her evocative and saturated use of color, her fine art prints are among the most sought after and collected in her field. Lisa’s work has been auctioned by Christie’s New York for the United Nations with Kofi Annan; she works with foundations , educational venues and museums.
See more of Lisa's Work here: http://www.lisakristine.com/