We had actually met before, on my first trip to the region in 2006. Back then I was taken by her presence, and although she was very shy, there was still something quite magnetic about her
At the time I took a portrait of her which was my most successful picture, and it is true to say that the reaction to this picture convinced me of the power of such portraits, if done in an intimate and respectful way, to communicate with people like most of us; living far removed lifestyles. This picture, her picture, set in stone my desire to travel in Africa and photograph the often fascinating people that live in these societies. I believe that without her it may never have happened.
In late 2009, when I returned to the Omo valley, I very much wanted to find her. I knew, however, that it would be an unlikely possibility as her group, the Hamer, were the biggest tribe in the Omo Valley with over 40,000 people. I suspected that it might be a bit of a stretch for our paths to cross again.
But meet again we did.
I would like to think that fate played a hand in this. This is because amongst the thousands of Hamer people and hundreds of villages that she could have lived in, I headed straight to her (well hidden) village on the first morning I returned to the Omo valley. Waking up to the first day of photographing, my guide and I asked the advice of some locals for Hamer villages within the area and so they took us off the main dirt road and through unmarked, trackless bush for ten minutes or so. Along the way I showed my guide the picture of this girl for the first time, and asked him if he thought I could track her down again. His reply of ‘maybe’ had an optimistic tone, but I don’t think he believed that for a moment. Neither did I.
As we arrived at the village, and people came to greet us one by one, the first person I actually caught site of was Ancho. Not that I knew this: as she came nearer I first thought she may have been a relative, but slowly I began to feel that this could actually be her. It seemed frankly too odd that I could have found her so quickly, but when I brought out the picture from 2006, and she started giggling to her friends, I knew that this - the unlikeliest of happenings - had actually happened.
And this is the picture I took of her, three years later, cementing our friendship through this wonderful, serendipitous meeting of fate
Oh, and if you are interested, you can see the original picture in took in 2006 as the first picture in this gallery on my website: www.john-kenny.com/gallery/africa-portraits