A little boy stands looking into the camera, wearing a smile, an oversize jacket and a single jandal. He is standing on dry ochre earth, and his legs are dusty. In another image, a nomadic cattle herder resplendent in a purple gown, black headdress and white tennis shoes looks directly at the person taking the shot - Auckland photographer Chris Sisarich, who travelled through Mali and Niger last December with a World Vision New Zealand team.
Mali and Niger, two of the poorest nations in the world, are being targeted by World Vision and other aid organisations as part of the Sahel band of countries in northwest Africa, where three years of drought have reduced crops by 80 per cent and about 18 million people are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition.
The month spent travelling through the African countryside with the World Vision team and Auckland documentary makers Exposure Productions affected Sisarich deeply. "It was intense, the physical travel and the emotional challenges," he says. "I missed my kids and seeing a lot of these young kids who were full of this amazing amount of life - it was very inspiring to watch but then you know that one in five children there die under the age of five, so the reality hit home."
Sisarich, a highly regarded advertising and fashion photographer who was judge and photoshoot director for all three seasons of the New Zealand's Next Top Model series, says he was hired by World Vision to provide "some photographic component, to capture the situation and show what WV was doing, the need and the positive stuff".
"I shot all that but I was really blown away by the people. I was able to spend some time on my own while the others were filming and I noticed these guys a lot. We did communicate in a physical sense, smiled at each other. I asked them, via a translator, if I could photograph them. They were colourful, happy, dignified, respected and I wanted to capture a bit of that. I wanted to capture a hopeful side of the situation."
Sisarich says the work World Vision does in these regions has made the difference between villagers having a garden to grow crops - or not. "World Vision goes into all these villages, they drill the wells, they put in water tanks powered by solar power, and set up drip irrigation systems to help create these big gardens. Each area is manned by local people and each area looks after about 20 villages."
The group was unable to travel as far north in Mali as originally planned as the region has been beset by kidnappings and Islamist attacks as recently as earlier this week. "We didn't go out at night or drive at night, we were sensible. But the people were extremely friendly. The village life is a real community-based life where they look out for each other, and when we arrived everyone would come and welcome us.
"To go up there and see we can make a difference, and coming back with the stories about what's going on - the difference a garden can make and the clinics making a huge change for the malnourished kids, it's a sign of hope, a sign of positivity."
Sisarich's exhibition at the pop-up space in Kingsland over the weekend includes up to 90 large images from his Mali-Niger trip, with proceeds going to the World Vision hunger crisis response. "I can speak with a slightly different voice, reach a different target," he says. "It's very nice to be able to do something with your work that might bring attention to a situation like this."
Where: 424 New North Road, Kingsland, today and tomorrow. 10am-5pm.By Linda Herrick Email Linda