From Publishers Weekly
An American war photographer based in Nairobi for most of the '90s, Gilbert abandoned the carnage of Rwanda, Somalia and the Sudan in 1998 and set out "to get back to the richness of the land and its heritage." For her, that meant the 5,000-square-mile tribal reserve of the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania via a four-year sojourn sponsored by Kodak and Corbis, the photo archive owned by Bill Gates. Famous fighters who grace countless "postcards, T-shirts, safari advertisements, and hotel logos" in Africa, the Maasai and their way of life are simultaneously overexposed and subject to "[e]ducation and the demands of a modern economy" that are driving the remaining 400,000 or so members apart. In the text, Gilbert yearns after "something purely African," and her treatment of the Maasai is a mixed bag of nostalgia, understanding, incomprehension, glorification and attempts at cultural relativism that are sorely strained by the "female circumcision" (ritual removal of the clitoris) that is compulsory for Maasai women, as well as other practices. But if one takes the text as secondary, many of the 120 b&w photos and 40 historical illustrations emerge powerfully. Beyond the expected elders sitting proudly for portraits, warriors roaming the plains with spears raised and lion-hunt carnage, Gilbert, with serious reservations, manages to get inside the hut where a woman is "circumcised" (she documents the circumcision of a man as well) and reveals a few emotional chinks in the Maasai armor. While she does not succeed in making their way of life fully comprehensible to outsiders, she does set it in dramatic relief.
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"A skilled, intimate, and remarkable portrayal of an enigmatic culture that goes well beyond the usual stereotypical treatment of the Maasai. Gilbert's work is a valuable contribution to the honorable photographic tradition of tribal studies."