A focus on humanity

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

“We’re interested in the people as well as the beauty of the landscape,” Langhorne’s Vita Forlenza says.

In a tight competition, 78 photographers were chosen to have their work showcased in the Phillips’ Mill Photographic Exhibition, June 4–25 in New Hope. Forlenza’s “Purification 1” image of an African tribe woman was selected, and she is honored to have her favorite image displayed.

Picture perfect: Langhorne photographer Vita Forlenza’s “Purification 1” image of an African tribe woman will be included in the Phillips’ Mill Photographic Exhibition in New Hope. PHOTO: Vita Forlenza

“The talent is really wonderful,” she says.

Forlenza wasn’t always your well-traveled photographer. Her career started as an elementary teacher in the Bensalem School District. In the ’70s, there was no social studies curriculum, so she personally took pictures and gathered information of various places, creating her own until the district officially adopted one.

It was during her teaching days that Forlenza took an interest in photography, and enhanced her skills with classes and workshops. Now retired, she has time to travel the world to capture diverse cultures, people and customs that are unfamiliar to her. Locations include Southeast Asia to study the Buddhist religion, Turkey to highlight the Islam culture, and three visits to Africa.

It was during a trip to Africa that Forlenza discovered the Himba tribe, a nomadic group numbering 50,000. Their lifestyle was simply fascinating to her, especially that of the tribe’s women, whom her Phillips’ Mill Photographic Exhibition piece “Purification 1” is inspired by.

Forlenza learned through an interpreter that the Himba women are not allowed to use water. Instead, they take smoke baths at least twice a day, which involves the use of smoldering charcoal mixed with herbs and a mineral called ochre, which they rub on their bodies.

The smoke bath causes them to perspire, acting as a natural cleansing agent and allowing them to be virtually odorless. The ochre in the bath gives them their red-orange tone, and acts as both an insect repellent and sunscreen to protect against the desert environment.

The women of the Himba tribe take great care of themselves regarding self-hygiene, and are very conscious of their appearance. As can be seen in “Purification 1,” the woman is wearing a leather crown. Made from sheep, this is something they receive after giving birth. Viewers can also see she is decorated with ornamental jewelry, another custom Forlenza was able to capture.

This truly captivating image was Forlenza’s favorite from the trip, though it almost didn’t happen. She was scheduled for a three week-trip, but in a stroke of bad luck, her camera died week one. Thankfully, she had a backup camera, but since there were no electronic stores to purchase batteries, she had to be selective about what she photographed. Forlenza knew the smoke bath image was something intriguing to capture, and she was certainly correct.

If you go…

The 25th annual Phillips’ Mill Photographic Exhibition will be held at the Phillips’ Mill Community Association, 2619 River Road in New Hope. The show is open Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 1 to 5 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays, 5 to 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for non-members, members are free. The show is being co-chaired by Claudia Davis and Rose Kimber. For more information, visit phillipsmill.org. ••

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