Guillame Boon has produced a remarkable series of photos about the lives of domestic workers titled Silent Lives for which he was nominated for the Piclet Prize in 2012.
Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker writes, ” Kenya, in other words, is no longer the place of Karen Blixen’s nostalgically remembered, illusory Eden, where everyone except the whites knew their place….and yet, as Bonn reveals, some of the old social heriarchies persist in some of the country’s most privileged households”.
Bonn’s description of his project is as follows:
Silent Lives was inspired by Juliette, a Madagascan matriarch who worked for my grandfather for 50 years. When he died, she decided to leave us with neither farewell nor retirement package. The family were stricken by her abrupt departure but were never able to trace her whereabouts. Juliette’s actions said she needed neither us nor our money.
My grandfather had assumed that he was in charge but perhaps the true power lay with Juliette after all. So in fact the power relationship between employer and employed is shifting and subtle. What Juliette had demonstrated still tends to hold true today. Employers know very little about their servants’ lives, their families, their dreams and hopes. Their servants have no authority but carry a large burden of responsibility. These people who are banished to small rooms at the bottom of the garden when night has fallen are, during the day, stewards of power.