“Human life at its most basic level needs water to survive. It’s tragic that too much of the world does not have access to a sustainable source of water in order to survive, never mind live,” says photographer Sophie Green of her work with Just a Drop, a charity providing access to sustainable clean water solutions in Kenya.
Born in the UK and best-known for exploring facets of British culture such as drag racing and horse fairs, Green isn’t an obvious choice for the charity. But Just a Drop approached her because they were drawn to her aesthetic, she says – and, she points out, she’s spent the last two years documenting African culture in Britain.
“My latest projects Wefts & Tracks reflects the stories of the bubbling community of afro hair salons in Peckham and Congregation celebrates Southwark’s ‘white garment’ African churches and congregations. The projects provide a platform for the subjects to tell their story, even though it’s not my culture or my identity, I share what I learn through a collaboration with the subjects.”
Reaching over 1.4 million people in 32 countries, Just a Drop works with local communities and changes lives with its safe water, sanitation and hygiene projects. In Kenya, “rains fall twice a year in a very short period of time,” says Green, “so water solutions in the area focus on how to capture this source of water, via school rainwater harvesting tanks, and community rock catchments and sand dams.”
Green had just three days in the country, travelling to Makueni County and neighbouring Machakos County, arid areas in which many of Just a Drop’s Kenyan projects are based. Her trip included a visit to Kilili Primary School in Makueni County, which now has enough water for drinking, cooking and washing thanks to Just a Drop.
Her first impressions of Kenya were of “people everywhere, all kinds of businesses happening in every corner, dirt and smoke, rustic paint on the walls” – but she’s drawn to “strong graphic colour, texture, and form” in her work, she says, and the charity was also keen to show “the physical fabric of the environment”. And other than that, Just a Drop was happy to give her free rein.
“I had total freedom to shoot what I found interesting with very few guidelines,” says Green. “It’s such a pleasure to receive such a pure creative licence for commissioned work.
“When I see something I like or I connect to emotionally, I will press the shutter,” she adds. “Narratively, I am drawn to people who make our world dynamic and interesting. I want my photographs to celebrate the idiosyncrasies and nuances of the human experience. Human life is so eclectic, there are so many facets of life and people to be celebrated.”
Shooting on film, Green tried to approach the issue of water scarcity from a positive angle, focusing on how problems can be solved, and celebrating the richness and vibrancy of Kenya. Even so, she says the shoot wasn’t entirely straightforward.
“I find it a continuous challenge to create authorship of an image and to be creatively innovative whilst still doing justice to the reality of the story and being fair to the subjects I am portraying,” she tells BJP. “I wanted the works to very much preserve the dignity of the communities and people the charity are helping. I hope the images engage and resonate with the viewer on an emotional level, because it’s our hearts and simple human empathy that make us want to help – by giving.
“Just A Drop are such a brilliant charity, it was totally inspiring to witness the positive impact the charity have on the local communities. Safe water changes everything. It completely transforms lives.”