In many parts of the world, the facts about albinism are often obscured by prejudice and false assumptions, with albino children facing schoolyard taunts and discrimination. The South African photographer Justin Dingwall has teamed up with the lawyer Thando Hopa and the model Sanele Xaba, both of whom have albinism, to create Albus, a paean to the aesthetic and spiritual beauty of the human body.
Albus evolved over the course of a two-year friendship between the photographer and Hopa, a passionate advocate for wider awareness and acceptance of albinism. He met Xaba when the model contacted him over Facebook, hoping to participate. With both of his collaborators, Dingwall stresses, mutual trust is perhaps the most essential component of a beautiful photograph. Together, they’re addressing a topic that remains taboo in many cultures, and they’re doing the delicate work of subverting centuries of bigotry.
“I find difference very inspiring,” the artist says. Throughout, Albus conjures up a wealth of religious and secular iconography to weave together a nuanced and diaphanous tale of rebirth and renewal. Hopa plays the part of Virgin Mary; Xaba is baptized in water before being crowned by butterflies and serpents, both signifying metamorphosis, the shedding of one skin and the revelation of another. Ultimately, hopes the photographer, he will play his own part in cutting through a web of myth and violence to reveal the serenity and truth that lies beneath.
All images © Justin Dingwall