I travelled to Lesotho for the first time in 2015 when I was working on The Price of Gold, a project for the Treatment Action Campaign where I documented 56 miners who – on behalf of hundreds of thousands of other miners suffering from silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis – initiated a lawsuit against South African gold mines.
Although I was immediately captivated by the beauty and drama of the Drakensberg mountains, I was drawn back to Lesotho by a desire to document the lives of the herd boys, commuters and horsemen living there. Luckily I based myself in Semonkong, which turned out to be the perfect spot to wander around and spend time with the herders while they watched over their animals.
The boys – who learn the trade from a very young age – work either for their families or for an independent owner. They usually have little education and see herding as a long-term career. Sheep or cows are used as a means of payment and, even though the amount is fixed at the start, it increases with age until the herders have earned enough to own their cattle.
To offer the boys opportunities to work outside herding, school programs are being set up by charities but much of it is being imposed without necessarily benefiting the entire community. Yet it would be wrong to be disappointed by modernisation just because we – as outsiders – decide that their way of life is quaint and beautiful, and therefore needs to be preserved. We embrace modernity and others should have the choice to do so too. With this series, I am simply trying to open a window onto a place that many will never have the opportunity to experience.
Before shooting the portraits I worked with an interpreter from the area with whom we went to great lengths to explain the intentions behind the project. We took our time and always respected people’s wishes when they didn’t want to be involved. Another concern was the comfort of the horses – if they were spooked then the photographs didn’t work. There is a sense of stillness in the portraits that could only be achieved through both the people and the horses feeling relaxed. Generally though I was amazed how quickly people felt comfortable in front of the camera – I’ve not always been able to work in such a calm and methodical manner as I did in Semonkong.