Joey L’s Good Woman
A curiosity for other ways of life define the pieces that Canadian-born photographer Joey Lawrence (known as Joey L) creates. Traveling to Northern India, Southern Ethiopia, and the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Syria, Joey L explores the individuality and livelihood of people whose stories have never been told. In this photograph, Joey L introduces us to Sabrida Shing from Nepal, one of the few women in the world to become a sādhvī, which literally translates to “good woman.” As a sādhvī, she has chosen to separate herself from society in order to focus on her own religious practices.
Her dreadlocks, called jata, drape down and wrap around her shoulder with her hand calmly placed on them. At the time the photo was taken, the ends of her jata were over ten years old, having not been cut since the death of her husband. They symbolize her renunciation of vanity and material things. Her hair being her defining feature in this photo entirely transforms her into a symbol of the renunciation of the self/ego and society, often one and the same. Looking at her and experiencing her aura of peace fosters an alleviating ease. Her distance from society registers in our minds, and, as a result, we also feel distanced from society and the limitations that it entails.
Lines around the sādhvī’s mouth and eyes tell a story about her, saying that she has felt many emotions, seen many things, and lived a rewarding life. She paints her forehead with red and white in accordance with the god to whom she has devoted the rest of her life. As she covers the lines on her face with paints, she covers her life’s story with her devotion. Standing against a black background, all that matters in this photo is the tranquility emitting from her presence. As Joey L introduces us to this powerful woman, he reminds us that it is important to be curious about ways of life that differ from our own and that we take the time to explore this curiosity we open ourselves up to a whole array of new emotions.
What do you think of this photograph?
I’m intrigued by the way this commentary took me through a rather disparate set of impressions. Based on the the first paragraph’s introduction of the term denoting ‘good woman’, my immediate reactions differed from how I was to perceive of the pictured woman by second paragraph. I guess ‘good woman’ to me, based on my socio-contextual understanding, entails the various boundaries that limit women’s experiences, if not make us succumb to them. Subsequently, how the next paragraph follows up with (for me, unprecedented) an explanation of her renouncing materialism and transforming towards divergence from society, accorded me a personal satisfaction: at the sheer liberation that implies for her.
All of this reminds me of the way I used to think of monks in Asia (when living there had only external impressions to judge by), versus how I began to perceive them & their lifestyle since taking an East Asian history/Lit. course. Once the course lent me insight into their psychological approach to life, I was pleasantly surprised by how similar their outlook is to my own, which verges on existentialism. They lead such different lives from my own, and yet I now find myself attaching much kinship to their customs.
Not begging to differ from your last point on human differences, but I would also note that traveling and encountering new people (and their ways of life) can also offer us reminders of how alike we humans actually are at our core— despite the fascinating amount of diversity. Such realizations indeed, comprise one of the highlights of my travels.