by Jackie Nickerson Jonathan Cape, February 2003 $55.00, ISBN 0-224-06268-9
President Robert Mugabe has been fighting to return the farmlands of Zimbabwe back to its native people for 23 years. This year, however, his campaign has taken a more aggressive turn. In September, he began evicting and arresting the minority white farmers who, because of colonialism, own the lion's share of Zimbabwe's most fertile land. Until the 1980s, the British government granted large tracts of land to white Rhodesians--Zimbabwe was formerly Rhodesia under colonial rule--that was still occupied by the Shona and Ndebele people. To stake their claim to the land, settlers fought and eventually pushed the Shona and Ndebele onto small barren tracts called tribal trust lands. Today, after two decades of independence, the landscape remains very much the same, with the exception of a few black- and colored-owned farms that now exist.
In 1997, fashion photographer Jackie Nickerson found herself on a farm in Zimbabwe. She rose early to watch the farm workers begin their days planting and harvesting maize, tea and other cash crops. Their "pride and strength," toiling beneath the African sun, inspired her.
Farm, Nickerson's 141-page photo essay, documents the Zimbabwean farmers and other migrant laborers in Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa that she encountered during her two-and-a-half year stay in southern Africa. Zimbabwe's farmland issue has long been a large part of that nation's agenda, especially as war veterans who fought for independence from Britain grew more impatient waiting for white occupied farms to be divided among black Zimbabweans. Curiously, Nickerson makes no mention of this troubling bit of history.
How does one create a photo essay about farmers in Zimbabwe, who work the land to make a living, and not mention the social and political context? This omission is comparable to Walker Evans' or Dorothea Lange's 1930s photographs of Southern...