At Home in Vanuatu: Tradition in the Western Pacific Exhibit Opens October 7

SAN FRANCISCO (September 13, 2000)–A new photographic exhibit opening at the California Academy of Sciences offers an intimate view of life within a few island communities as seen through the lens of naturalist David Becker. Hundreds of volcanic and coral islands comprise Vanuatu, a nation known until 1980 as New Hebrides, the name given to it by Captain James Cook. Influenced by centuries of European trade, religion and governance, much of the country is entering the modern world. Yet inland, far from the coastal towns that grow up around missions and trading stations, the lushly forested interior changes more slowly. There are still a few places where tradition remains strong. Surrounded by villages that have adopted many of the trappings of the 21st century, a small number of communities choose to live as the ancient Melanesians did, close to nature and the spirit world of their ancestors. Vanuatu consists of more than 80 islands in Melanesia, extending over a 500-mile range about 1,400 miles from the nearest continent, Australia. Vanuatu is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in the world on a per capita basis. The people of Vanuatu are predominantly Melanesian and have more than 115 different languages and cultures amongst a total population of 160,000 people. The photographs featured in the exhibit are Cibachrome prints from 4 X 5 transparencies taken with a Hasselblad camera. The subjects of the photographs are shown at rest, at play and at work. Major themes emerge from the collection including: socializing and dancing, gardening and hunting, celebrating and worshipping, and living amongst the unique nature that defines Vanuatu.

Seeing the speed at which even the most remote areas of the world were changing, Becker and a few friends founded the Society for the Recording of Vanishing Cultures in 1986. Since then, he has devoted his life to photographing this rapidly disappearing world and has lived on a small sailboat in the South Pacific for twenty years. Few outsiders have gained the trust of these families and individuals, but Becker is an exception. His extended sojourns in Vanuatu’s deepest island forests sustain warm, authentic friendships. Becker’s insights–and stunning photographs–are rare gifts. The exhibit ends March 18, 2001.