Burundi Beauty

I’ve worked in Burundi since 1999 to promote reconciliation and peace after the genocide in the 1990s – with non-governmental organizations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a private university.

During longer stays I spend my spare time with eight female university students and a group of former street boys. We go to places, take pictures and learn a lot about each other. And we laugh a lot!

Here is Cynthia Ndongozi, a student of medicine born in 1986. She stood in the doorway of a simple hut in the countryside, torrential rains from dark clouds on an otherwise blue skye. Thus the blue lips.


Cynthia # 3, Bujumbura, Burundi  (2010)
© Jan Oberg

Most of the young women have no experience of being photographed. I ask them to decide the place, their clothes, make-up, if any, and how they want to appear and express themselves. The moment I – a muzungu = white man – would begin to tell them what to do and how to act, the natural beauty and spontaneity would be gone. I don’t like “models”, coolness and surface. I try to portray human beings in a natural way.

I take pictures in Burundi – also other people, villages, and the incredibly beautiful landscape – to show the strength and pride of people I meet. I seek to promote counter-images to the typical Western image of Africa as a lost, dark, hopeless continent. War, corruption, AIDS and poverty only makes up a fraction of today’s African reality.

Many foreign photographers pay those they take pictures of a one-time honorarium and may then sell their works at many times that honorarium in a fashionable gallery back home. I don’t; I think that’s a colonial attitude, not fair trade. We have a contract that entitles each to get 50 percent of what I sell. Thus I hope to make a small contribution towards their study fees and get them attracted to do business instead of just become a housewife in a society with a lot of sexual violence.

Here is Cynthia’s sister, Fiona. She studies business management – a modern city girl with a mobile phone in her hand. Oh what contrasts!


Fiona # 1, Bujumbura, Burundi  (2010)
© Jan Oberg

A camera is so much more than a tool for depicting reality. Sometimes it’s a bridge between people and cultures. Perhaps even a tool for peace…

“Cynthia # 3” & “Fiona # 1” Bujumbura, Burundi  (2010)
Inkjet print on Canson fine arts paper.
Formats & prices (excl postage) each:
A5 (148 × 210 mm) – Edition unlimited, 20 US$
A4 (210 × 297 mm) – Edition 50, US$ 115
A3+ (329 x 483 mm) – Edition 25, US$ 225
A1 (610 x 910 mm) – Edition 10, US$ 750
Signed and numbered.
Comes with print authenticity documentation
Can also be printed on canvas or steel, copper, etc.

Information/Order: janoberg@mac.com

Other photos from Burundi at

Jan Oberg

Lund, Sweden
June 1, 2012

One Comment

  1. Pingback: APPRAISAL OF PASTICHES BY JAN OBERG – Peace Photographics by Jan Oberg

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