THE WATER PROJECT – by Doug Pitt
Bigger versions of these photos to be found at the SB Gallery.
“Lonely Road,” 2006
The Maasai live in northern Tanzania and Kenya and since the 17th or 18th century have made their livelihood as pastoralists—that is, with livestock free to graze this flat, big-sky landscape. During the past 40 years, the Maasai have been making a transition to cultivated agriculture. There are a lot of reasons for this, partly because private and government interests have taken over Maasai land, sometimes in the name of environmental conservation, sometimes for tourism. Less room for Maasai livestock to graze, and difficulty joining the money economy, are just two economic problems that fuel the villages’ lack of clean water.
Doug Pitt with a Maasai child. Pitt says two out of five children in the Maasai community he visited with WorldServe don’t live to the age of five. There were a lot of aspects of Maasai life that were shocking, he says, including the fact of life that kids die from highly preventable diseases. “But at the same time, it’s like, ‘Back off, Western guy, we like where we’re at,’” Pitt explains. This photo was taken by Matt Miller, Doug’s “6’6” photo assistant.”
Doug Pitt with Maasai tribesmen. “Doug has such a gift for connecting with people,” says John Bongiorno, president of WorldServe International, the Christian NGO that digs wells in rural Africa. That includes spear-wielding tribesmen. Pitt recalls entering a Maasai village during a clan meeting, when outsiders aren’t permitted. Men jabbed sticks and spears at Pitt and Springfield developer Matt Miller, who was also on the trip. “Our guide says, ‘Put away your camera,’” Pitt explains. “Those spears were kinda convincing.” Afterward, the tense situation was smoothed over and the village chief invited Pitt into the community—but no cameras could be used during the clan meeting. This photo was taken by Matt Miller.
“Up Hill,” 2006
This photo was taken by Springfield resident Doug Pitt when he took a humanitarian trip to Tanzania with WorldServe International, a faith-based non-governmental organization that aims to bring clean, safe water to the Maasai people. When rural Africans don’t have clean water, the brunt of the impact lands squarely on women like this one. Maasai women and children are responsible for walking hours each way to carry water from a safe source back home. Mere subsistence occupies all their time, with little room for education. When WorldServe is able to provide a $10,000 well to a village, women and children have more time—and hope—for the future.
“Working Mom,” 2006
Pitt says he was struck by the sweetness of the people he met in Tanzania. In a culture where so many people die that Saturday is set aside as “burial day,” Sunday is “grieving day” and on Monday life just “goes on,” Pitt felt shocked by how people related in ordinary life. “They were so endearing to each other.,” he recalls. “Kids went arm in arm, hand in hand.”
Doug Pitt’s capacity for capturing the human face in photography is remarkable, and that aspect of his work has also made the cover of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel, an Assemblies of God weekly distributed worldwide. In Springfield, this image, as well as the other photographs in this essay, appeared at a February exhibition at Randy Bacon Photography, and will soon tour other U.S. locations. Shannon Bacon, who curates exhibitions at RBP, says this photograph was her favorite. “God has created a masterpiece with this woman,” Bacon says. Artist Brad Noble and his wife, Tina, purchased a copy of this image. Bacon says 32 photographs were sold at the opening reception of “The Water Project;” Bongiorno says this exhibit has raised enough money to dig a new well in Tanzania.