Joey L. Goes Afar in Ethiopia with ZAAF
In his latest collaboration with ZAAF, photographer Joey L. took his talents to Ethiopia to capture the raw nature and beauty of Africa, where each luxury item in the collection was crafted. Joey and the crew ventured to some of the most remote and dangerous landscapes of Ethiopia, climbing an active volcano, and camping for days with no electricity. The photographs not only capture the luxury of the collection, but they encapsulate the unbelievable, natural beauty of Ethiopia’s landscapes while maintaining the integrity of the mission behind the brand.
Joey and creator of the African-made luxury brand, Abai Schulze, developed the idea for the campaign together, deciding to travel and shoot in one of the hottest places on earth. “Let’s shoot a luxury brand campaign for ZAAF in some of Ethiopia’s famous landscapes using all African models and crew. Let’s show the world the unique qualities that her country and culture has to offer, but in a high end way without the cliches of the way ‘developing nations’ are usually presented.”
Joey felt strongly that it was his responsibility as the photographer to translate Abai’s mission in her work into a visual medium. “As the only non-African person on the crew, I felt a tremendous honor but also burden to do a good job.” Joey's work does not have him frequenting fashion campaigns, so he approached this project the way he approaches all of his work. Not wanting to imitate a style he is not familiar with, he instead envisioned the work as part reportage, part environmental portrait. “Our subjects were beautiful Ethiopian models, so there was no point in hiding their natural beauty with excessive makeup or accessories. This allowed us to focus on Abai’s bags and the greater vision, but also for me to preserve the photographic motifs present in all my other personal work, and keep it cohesive.”
Joey and the team traveled to various locations to photograph, shooting at sunrise and sunset when the lighting was perfect and the heat wasn’t totally unbearable. The locations included the rim of an active volcano, a giant sulfur pit (one wrong move and their skin could be burnt off!), natural salt baths that are saltier than the Dead Sea, and salt mines where they encountered camels and the men who heard them, who are featured in some of the photos.
Like most of his projects, Joey did not let one minute of this incredible photoshoot go to waste. You can see his raw take on his time in Ethiopia in a documentary that captures the camaraderie and some unexpected behind the scenes moments. The photo series and documentary made their debut at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. Joey maintains that while this project was grueling, given the high temperatures, risky locations, and lack of electricity, it was extremely gratifying to work on a campaign for this incredible brand with a team that had a sense of camaraderie which kept positive spirits high throughout the journey. The project now sits on his list of top 5 favorite photoshoots of all time.