“I handed them a frame they could hold however they liked, as a symbol of their confined, restricted life. I believe beauty is the product of two elements: inner beauty, which includes personality, intelligence, grace, politeness, charisma, integrity and elegance; and physical beauty, including health, youth, facial symmetry and complexion. Albinos are no exception to such criteria and deserve to be loved for what they are: beautiful.”
Born in June 1967, Mwanzo Millinga has been practicing photography since 1994 and currently teaches at the Flame Tree Media Trust in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. An admirer of Picasso’s “tridimensional” paintings, he quotes Sebastião Salgado as one of his influences – particularly his work on Brazilian miners – together with Henri Cartier-Bresson, with whom he shares the quest for the “decisive moment”. He usually works with natural lighting, to render the atmosphere of the scenes he photographs at their best.
“It’s because I admired their beauty that I was driven to photograph people who suffer from albinism, a hereditary pigmentation defect characterised by extremely pale hair, eyes and skin. Due to their fragile nature, they often die around the age of 40, usually from skin cancer or sunburn. They are also affected by other ailments such as nystagmus, a form of short, discontinuous involuntary eye movements. They are persecuted in countries such as Tanzania, where the belief that albinos have magical powers still lives on. In the Great Lakes region bordering Burundi, charlatans peddle charms and potions to miners and fishermen, made out of bits of albino skin, hair or body parts with the promise of striking gold or making a miraculous catch. To secure source material for their ghastly business, witchdoctors pay killers to track down albinos all over the country.
Some 57 people with albinism have been murdered in Tanzania in recent years. Living in permanent insecurity, the albinos of this country have no choice but to stay inside their homes, unable to work or sustain themselves. So I went to document those who ran away from their homes and found refuge at the Kabanaga Disabled Centre in Kasulu, Kigoma Province.