Alessandro Scarabelli - Namibia, the Himba People and Beyond

Alessandro is an Italian travel photographer who uses his images to depict the social implications of situations around the world.  With a particular interest in people, his extensive travelling has taken him to countries all over, from Slovenia to Zanzibar, and he has stayed with a diverse number of tribes and ethnic groups from the Iban people in the Borneo Rainforest to the Bedouins in Jordan. 

You describe yourself as an amateur travel photographer.  Where do you call home and what is your day job?

My home is Italy, although I consider myself a citizen of the world.  I’m a freelance photographer, which is my passion, but I’m a Practice Manager in Quality, Safety & Environment during the day.


When did you first start taking photography seriously?

When I was 18 I bought my first DSLR, the Fujica STX1, with MD lens 50 mm f 1.9. Since then I have purchased lots of equipment, lenses, camera and accessories, and I now shoot with Nikon D800 DSLR; Lens Nikkor 50 f 1.4 – 24/70 f2.8 – 70/200 f 2.8.

What kind of places do you like to travel to?

I like to travel the world.  I’ve been to many countries…Italy of course, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Holland, Greece, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Namibia, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, Brunei, Ethiopia, and India. 

Phew, that’s a long list!  So what does travelling mean to you and how does it change your outlook on life?

I think every journey starts first in your own mind.  Travelling means to immerse yourself in different customs and the traditions of different people.  It forces you to rethink your daily life and to view it with completely different eyes.


You talk about photography as a way of showing others the social implications of unjust situations around the world.  Can you give some examples of projects you have done which have illustrated this?

I’m a supporter of Survival International and Save the Children. I focus on looking for simple and special life conditions that can still be found around the earth.  Such as Bushmen in Namibia, Iban people in Borneo Rainforest, Orang Asli in Taman Negara Rainforest, the Akha, Yao, Karen in North Thailand, the Bedouins in Jordan.  These people, and especially the tribes in the Valley of the Omo River in Ethiopia have caught my eye because they still are at the mercy of unsustainable development, which will force them to emigrate from their land and in the end disappear.

Tell me about your photo series of the Himba people of Namibia

The Himba are group of semi-nomadic, indigenous people who live in Northern Namibia along the Kunene River near the Angola border.  They continue to shy away from the modern world.  Their main activity is breeding amimals; especially cows and goats, and they have a milking ritual each morning - one of the key moments of the day that helps to maintain the group’s discipline and cohesion.  Their religion is animism, the view that non-human entities such as animals, plants, and inanimate objects possess a spiritual essence.  

I stayed in two Himba villages.  Their cone-shaped huts are basic, made using dry twigs, mud and cow dung.  Inside there are animal skins on the ground and traditional dresses hung on the walls.  In the village, goats, chickens and dogs live alongside people. 

Through my photos of their everyday life I wanted to show people their existence, their happiness, their nature and their ancestral surroundings.  I captured a lot of traditional beauty rituals, for example an older woman in one of the villages was applying extensions made of cow hair to the cornrows of a young girl by using butter mixed with powdered ocher.


Yes, what is it that the Himba people wear in their hair?

Beauty is an important ritual to the Himba people, and their culture places great importance to hair care and hairstyle as an indication of social status. Young males wear their hair shaved with a single clump in the middle of the head: the clump is left to grow with age and is combed back in a single braid (ondatu). Reaching the age of marriage (about 25 years), the hair is divided into two braids (ozondatu). Then, when the young man marries, he must hide his hair with a cap (ozondumbu) that can be removed only when he sleeps and in case of mourning. However, young people grow hair in two braids pointing forward, until, when puberty comes, they can dissolve the hair in many braids.  Hair and the women's body are coated with a mixture made of grease, ochre and other herbs.


What are some of your personal favourite photos you’ve taken?

During every trip I take about 4000 shots but in all honesty perhaps only 2% of them really get my attention. My favourite type of portraits is when I capture their essence through the light in their eyes.


Tell us a memorable experience you’ve had whilst travelling

One of my most memorable experiences was with Karo people, an Ethiopian tribe living in a village overlooking the Omo River.  For many tribes that inhabit the south-west region of Ethiopia it seems like time has stood still.  I will always remember my time with the Karo people.  They were as curious about me as I was about them.  They wanted to play every game we showed them.  When given a camera they could not put it down.  They were so generous with their curiosity, patience and space. 

My time in the Omo Valley reminded me of the important things in life – friendship, community, and simple living.  In experiencing different cultures I learn about patience, genuine curiosity and tolerance.  I learn there are so many more ways to do things and to live than my middle class Italian upbringing would have brought me to believe. 


Do you have a trip planned at the moment?

Yes, this summer I have planned a journey to Peru.

To see more travel photography from Alessandro visit his website -