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Alumna breaks boundaries

Photographer’s exhibit looks to remove stereotypes

Although Africa is often depicted as a sweltering, desolate and war-stricken hell, University alumna Beryl Goldberg aims to break this stereotype with the photo exhibit  “Burkina Faso Portraits.”

The Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus will display the photographs until March 15.

“There are good stories coming out of Africa, too … and you don’t hear about those,” she said.    

Goldberg said she first traveled to Burkina Faso in 1963 as a foreign exchange student for a program through Douglass College. Her father disapproved of the trip, because like many other Americans, he believed that Africa was too dangerous a place to visit.

But Goldberg’s persistence allowed her to embark to Africa and show him otherwise.

She said she loves taking pictures of people in their daily routines. Giving up her career as a schoolteacher to become a professional photographer, she went back to Burkina Faso to capture its people’s lives.

“Since I love to travel, [photography] seemed like a natural fit.”  Goldberg said.

While there, Goldberg said she met a family who was happy to have her stay with them.

She said she returned to Burkina Faso again years later with photographs from her previous trip. Having limited access to cameras, the local Burkinabé people were overjoyed to see the pictures.

After this, Goldberg said she became very popular with the families who let her take pictures of them.

The exhibit displays an aspect of Africa not often seen by the general public, she said. They portray loving families who embrace hard work and togetherness — values across all cultures.

Goldberg has visited Burkina Faso several times and stayed with three different families.  The last three times she visited were in 1998, 2001 and 2004.  She hopes to go again in the near future.

Evolving technologies have made keeping in contact with the families much easier for Goldberg. The widespread use of Internet has allowed her to email them, and she hopes to start using the video client Skype with some of them soon.  

One family Goldberg stayed with now visits the United States somewhat frequently, she said. A young boy Goldberg met years ago is now a successful businessman with a daughter that goes to school in the United States.

“It is great to see [that] people from a relatively poor background are doing well,” she said.

Though she did not necessarily set out to prove anything, Goldberg said she is now very interested in showing the world that Africa is not a hopeless place.  She feels her exhibit is important in showing that Africa is more than civil war and famine.

“They are also just people that work hard and have strong families,” Goldberg said.

Claire Giddings, a graduate student in the Mason Gross School of the Arts, helped Goldberg set up the exhibit in the Rutgers Student Center. She said students should see the work of successful people from the University, especially those with such an important message.

“[The exhibit] is a different approach to what people see in media depictions of Africa,” she said.

Along with Giddings, Mason Gross School of the Arts graduate student Aubrey Kauffman also helped set up the exhibit.  Together, they discussed and decided what would work best in the exhibit space and how to install the photographs in the space.

“It is important to be in contact with a photographer with this diversity experience,” said Kauffman.

Goldberg said her favorite photograph in the exhibit is entitled “Woman with Shadow.”  She said she loves many of the photographs because she feels they show the beauty, charm and good spirit of the people of Burkina Faso.

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