By Douglas Gritz
Last month I was hired by USAID to cover a story in the African country of Ghana. USAID is a federal international development agency. Their work advances economic prosperity, which contributes to our national security.
In Ghana, they help connect shea butter processors with the global marketplace. So the shea butter you might find in in a stick of chapstick from Whole Foods very likely could have come from the processors USAID works with in Ghana.
USAID wanted to show how shea butter has helped better the lives of women and their families in northern Ghana through a video and photography. I do both video production and editorial photography and have done both internationally and in developing countries multiple times so was a good fit the project and excited to be a part of it.
During our initial discussions of the project I found most of USAID’s focus to be on the video. The photos were kind of a “get what you can” situation. For the video, they had identified one woman, Rita, to focus the video on. Rita operated 15 processing centers around northern Ghana.
I had three days available to shoot the video and the photos. Establishing a story and capturing all the elements for the video is a time consuming process. Because of that I didn’t have time to shoot photos until near the end of the last day. But I was happy with what I got and so was, more importantly, my client.
The final story is published on the USAID website in a package that includes both the video and photos called “She Sells Shea.”
Below are some of my favorite photos from the shoot.
Such fascinating faces among these woman. And the colors they wore were fantastic. I shot the portraits above in a warehouse where the shea butter nuts are stored, weighed, and sorted. Although I brought some strobe lights with me, there wasn’t a lot of time to set anything up. So instead I had the women stand just inside the door way, which allowed me to use natural light to light them. There was a side door that I opened to get light on the background.
While I waited for all the women to arrive to shoot their portraits, I snapped off some quick photos of some of the women carrying bowls of shea nuts to the warehouse. And then of the rest of them arriving.
Group portrait of all the women Rita works with at one of her shea processing centers.
These images show how the shea nuts are sorted and weighed before storage.
Finally, on the last day before packing up to make the long drive back to our hotel in town, I was able to put away my video camera equipment and focus solely on getting still photos of the women busy at work processing shea. In addition to working long hours doing heavy labor seven days a week under suffocating heat and humidity, many of the woman also have a small child attached to them while they do it!