10/24/2012 04:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Africa Coming to Annenberg Space for Photography!

Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

Africa has always fascinated me. Still does. That huge, chaotic and conflicted continent is still mysterious to most Americans, including me. When I was young I visited there several times. The first time was to Kenya in the late '50s, scouting locations for a Cinerama film based on Joseph Kessel's best-selling novel, The Lion. I quickly learned that the bulky, noisy Cinerama cameras were not conducive to shooting wild lions close-up, so that movie was never made. (But I did get to option the film rights to Kessel's other best-seller, Belle de Jour, which unfortunately was made later by others featuring my star, Catherine Deneuve. But that's another story for another day.) In the early '60s I visited Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, scouting locations for another film, one which I had written for Joe Levine, The War Horses, also not made. (Premise: the Boer War of Africa was actually won on a ranch in the American West.) And later in the decade I went to Morocco at the behest of the then-King to ascertain its possibilities for filming. Yes, Africa fascinates me... which is why I was at Santa Monica's Broad Stage last week for a National Geographic Live lecture by two astonishing women about Africa and their new book, Painted Bodies.

Painted Bodies is the new book from these famed photographers/explorers.


The two women, Angela and Carol, pose for me at the Broad Stage lecture.

Two years ago their lovely publicist, Caroline Graham, had shown me a book that these two women had compiled about the Dinka people, of the Darfur region of the Sudan, caught in the middle of a brutal civil war -- one that George Clooney was bringing to the world's attention. So I had some knowledge about these women, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher, before the lecture, which I just attended. But there I learned a lot more about them, their new book, and the coming exhibition of their works at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City.

On stage Carol told the story of how they met:

My father gave me a college graduation gift of a balloon flight over the Serengeti Plains of Africa, knowing of my fascination with that continent. In the gondola, this attractive Brit ballooner named Eric said that I had to meet his sister, Angela, an Australian girl who was also interested in Africa. She was in London at the time, and eventually we met there... and have been partners in our projects for the past 30 years.

The two charming (and very attractive!) women have traveled the length and breadth of the African continent photographing and chronicling the story of the native cultures. Their unique, acclaimed images covering 150 African cultures and 40 countries were made in journeys traveling 270,000 miles. As young female explorers, they saw Africa through the eyes of its people, photographing each group meticulously, from their body adornments to the ritual passages through life, telling the stories of the men, women and children within the vibrant traditions of their cultures. Fifteen best-selling books and several films have resulted from these journeys, with their double-volume book, African Ceremonies, selling over one hundred thousand copies and winning the 'United Nations Award for Excellence' in understanding the role of cultural traditions in the pursuit of world peace.


Image from Painted Bodies

Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

On November 17th, the exhibit, No strangers: ancient wisdom in a modern world, will open at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City (2000 Avenue of the Stars,(213) 403-3000). The exhibit is free to all visitors. Parking is under the building.) This exciting and unique exhibit curated by National Geographic Explorer in Residence Wade Davis will showcase, among other photographers, many of Carol and Angela's photographs and films taken in Africa over the past 30 years. This is their first major exhibition here. The photos are taken from many of their works, including their new Rizzoli book, Painted Bodies: African Body Painting, Tattoos, and Scarification." It is one of the most stunning photo books I have ever seen, since I had gone out to the lobby after their lecture and and bought a copy. (See some of the images here.) In their lecture the women said that the dynamic act of body painting was first initiated to attract the opposite sex, identify oneself from the enemy, and access the spirit world. Using the skin as a canvas and the earth as a palette, body painting has always been a vital outlet for creative design. Has it ever. You will be astonished and amazed by what you see in the book and the upcoming show.


Photo courtesy of Rizzoli


Young painted woman.

Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

I suggest you make plans to visit the Annenberg immediately after Nov. 17th, since I suspect it will be a very popular exhibit. The two women told me that it is a group show about the wonder of culture and the plight of indigenous people around the world. The exhibit poses a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?

To me, it means that I can get up every morning and spend the day interacting with my friends and family, writing for the Huffington Post and my Newsletter, working on my movies and and eating fine food with nice people. What about you? Visit the show and perhaps you will get some answers. See you there.

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