Photographer and director, USA.
Joey L. is a photographer and director celebrated for his unique balance of personally felt fine art work and high profile commissions. He has built his style by dedicating vast amount of time and resources to personal projects designed to reveal the humanity in unseen communities and circumstances. Joey has traveled five times to Iraq and Syria to document the ongoing conflicts, chronicling deeply human imagery and the struggle of endangered cultures during wartime. His forthcoming project will celebrate 12 years of portraits from Ethiopia.
There’s a lot of wealth here, even if it is not measured in paper money.
A real beauty pageant
In a remote village in Southern Ethiopia, these cheerful men measuring each other’s bellies are actually rivals in an annual competition. They have spent the year transforming their bodies into incredible shapes— a beauty pageant where all the contestants dream to be a rare combination of the biggest, firmest, and most bloated. No where else in the world can you see the Kael Ceremony practiced by the Bodi Me’en tribe.
Celebrating the grazing land
The Kael celebrates the vitality of grazing land during the rainy season. Out here, cows equal money, and having a big body is a sign of prosperity. Consuming only milk, butter and blood from livestock can show off wealth. Some of these young men don’t yet have their own cattle, so their family, friends and patrons have donated their milk.
When the pandemic came, the world economy tanked, the stock market crashed, but the Bodi Me’en proved they were truly rich.
All about dedication
Big bellies represent this network of support, which is vital in an ever-changing landscape. The Bodi Me’en say that typically it is not the richest who wins, but the most mentally dedicated, as they must follow a strict and regimented diet.
Above all else, participating in the competition is a way to attract respect and potential wives. Men here believe that the bigger they are, the more women will desire them.
The Bodi Me’en thrive off being self-sufficient. They are connected to the world outside their village, but when a crisis happens, they don’t need to rely on much beyond their family.
Another kind of wealth
There’s a lot of wealth here, even if it is not measured in paper money. When the pandemic came, the world economy tanked, the stock market crashed, but the Bodi Me’en proved they were truly rich.
Joey L. explains his piece of art for The New Humanity project.
- Photographer: Joey L.
- Agency: Sudest57
- Production: Nibret Adem Of Hamerland Tours Ethiopia
- Photographer Assistants: Nebiyu Bekele, Kiya Tadele
- Post Production: Joey L.
- Models: Bodi Me’en Of The Southern Nations, Nationalities And People’s Region