"Strong women, precious jewels, all their humanness is evident in their accessibility. We are able to enter into the spirit of these women and rejoice in their strength and courage.” –Maya Angelou 

Growing up, you never know what will affect the rest of your life. For French photographer, Patrick Willocq, who spent seven years as a child and teenager in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the land would–twenty-seven years later–draw him home, allowing him to reconnect with the people, the land, and parts of himself that had lain dormant for too long.

Willocq’s collaboration with Ekondas Pygmies led to this striking series honoring first-time mothers who undergo a sophisticated rite-of-passage to become Walés. He writes: 

“When a young mother becomes a Walé, she takes on a nickname that differentiates herself from rivals. Every day the young woman engages in an elaborate beautification ritual to draw attention to herself. She spreads a red preparation, a mixture of powder of ngola wood with palm oil, over her own body. The sophisticated hairstyles, made of a mud like paste, a mixture of ashes from bopokoloko leaves and palm oil, are yet another way for Walés to flaunt their uniqueness.”

While we all understand that notions of beauty and representation tend to be fluid concepts, what fascinates me is to see them revealed anew. Only a photographer who respects his craft and his subjects can achieve these collaborations. This is fine work. Allow these portraits to take you into the spirit. –Lane Nevares