Working with paint specialist Annie Sloan and Oxfam producer Ellie Farmer, photographer Tina Hillier sought out the vibrant colors of the East African country

By Izabela Radwanska Zhang (British Journal of Photography) |

The visual language NGOs use to show the developing world is often sombre, designed to shock our senses by highlighting the desperate situations of communities fleeing persecution or natural disaster. Think of Ethiopia, for example, and the images that immediately come to mind are of a country plagued by drought and famine. What is less recognized is that the country, which stretches over the Horn of Africa, is also home to fields of lush agricultural land, and expanses of green nourished by mountainous lakes. But it was this vibrant image that Oxfam sought to convey in its 75th- anniversary collaboration with Annie Sloan paint, a brand more often seen on the pages of glossy interiors magazines.

The idea for the collaboration came when Eleanor Farmer, a film and photography producer at Oxfam, was on a trip in Sicily and noticed brightly-colored refugee boats lined up on the beach. Spurred into thinking about the influence color can have on storytelling, she approached Sloan – who in turn was inspired to create a new chalk-based product, referencing the colors of Ethiopia, in which Oxfam has an established aid program.

Teaming up with photographer Tina Hillier, the trio traveled to the East African country – from the Somali Region, west to Oromia, and on to Harar, an ancient ward city known for its brightly colored houses. Hillier, whose former clients include Airbnb, Rolls-Royce and Burberry, isn’t usually associated with NGO projects but, given her use of color in her work, felt like a natural choice.

“It was nice to work with someone who saw an Oxfam project with a new eye,” says Farmer. “I don’t know what NGO photography is anyway – it’s more about getting our messages out and collaborating with people who work with integrity.”

Continue reading this story at British Journal of Photography
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