In Your Eyes – Interview with Rimma Aronov – Benin 2023
6th July 2023
A Batonu Horseman during a display ride at an initiation ceremony for young riders. Why Wild Images loves this – the spectacular Batonu horse riders of Benin are a unique culture for their horsemanship in the country. We were lucky to witness an initiation ceremony of young riders during our 2023 tour and Rimma caught this image of an adult rider doing a display ride during this celebration. The combination of dust and good depth of field, juxtaposed with a perfectly in focus dancing horseman while other riders waited each side, made for a beautiful image (image by Rimma Aronov)
Tell us a little more about your photography journey. How long have you been taking photos?
I always liked taking pictures, for as long as I can remember myself. But the transition from “snapshooting” to photography started when I married my husband 11 years ago. He gifted me a “real camera” and said: “It’s time for you to do something for yourself, something you truly enjoy”. And I signed up for my first photography class at a local camera club on how to use my camera. My passion unfolded from there.
Commuter traffic during a misty morning at Ganvie. Why Wild Images loves this – We took a chance that the Harmattan wind might combine with an early morning mist the day we woke up in Ganvie. This image is beautiful as it shows the canoe-commuting residents of Ganvie paddling their way through the canals of this ‘floating city’, almost appearing from the gloom like ghosts (image by Rimma Aronov)
What are you passionate about besides photography? What do you do in your free time?
Travel. I have an insatiable wanderlust. These two passions – photography and travel – go hand in hand in perfect balance.
Portrait of a Shango priest. Why Wild Images loves this – This is yet another fantastic image showing the wonderful relaxed relationship between a Shango priest and Rimma when she took it. He is standing in a shrine for Shango with all of its protective offerings so, without even a caption, this image tells a person with a trained eye the story of Shango in all of its powerful glory (image by Rimma Aronov)
You have travelled with many professional photographers on tour. What drew you to Wild Images? And why did you enjoy travelling with them so much?
I came across Inger’s name and work accidentally, while searching the internet for photo tours to Angola. I started following Inger on social media and communicating with her via Facebook and we “clicked”. After I travelled to Benin with her, I was hooked! Since then, I signed up for another five trips with Wild Images in 2024 and 2025! Inger is a pleasure to travel with. Her love for Africa and African people is contagious and very endearing.
Portrait of a Gambada Dancer covered in Kaolin. Why Wild Images loves this – black and white images work really well when you don’t have a lot of colour to play with in photography. This image not only shows that point beautifully but it also is one that fills the viewer with the emotion of Gambada, the voodoo ceremony of love (image by Rimma Aronov)
What drew you to visit Benin?
I didn’t know much about Benin before “meeting” Inger on Facebook. Through her posts with images and commentaries I became very interested in seeing Benin for myself, since I am attracted to tribal African cultures and all kinds of festivals and celebrations. And Voodoo Festival in Benin sounded like a must see!
The floating market at Ganvie, the “Venice of West Africa”. Why Wild Images loves this – Ganvie by drone is breathtaking from every angle but this image is a stand-out due to the fanning shape of the wooden pirogues and the variety of goods that are being sold from them. It really encapsulates the spirit of Ganvie! (image by Rimma Aronov)
What camera gear did you use on your tour?
Canon R5 and Canon R3 (I recently switched to mirrorless). I used Canon RF 24-105 mm f4 and Canon EF 70-200 mm f2.8 lenses primarily and Canon EF 85 mm f 1.2 and Canon RF 100-500 mm f4 occasionally
Portrait of a Sakpata priest holding a sacrificial chicken in his mouth. Why Wild Images loves this – If we could choose one fantastic image that represents the religion of voodoo in West Africa, this would have to be it. This rarely seen act of a Sakpata priest holding a chicken in his mouth during a ceremony is not just beautifully captured but it really shows the intensity of this ceremony which is devoted to healing and the earth. (image by Rimma Aronov)
What were your first impressions of Benin for photography?
Benin is a gem, not yet discovered by many photographers, which makes it even more attractive from the photography standpoint. With few tourists, friendly locals, and an amazing and unique culture, Benin is an incredible place for photography!
Portrait of a Taneka spiritual healer with chickens. Why Wild Images loves this – Those chickens! This perfectly timed shot shows a beautiful authentic scene in a Taneka village where a spontaneous family of chickens decides to walk through while the old spiritual healer smokes his pipe. A broken rule of thirds works well here as it gives the impression that the healer doesn’t really care about the chickens wandering past. He is too involved with healing (image by Rimma Aronov)
What surprised you about your trip there?
Everything I saw and learned about Voodoo culture surprised me, since I knew almost nothing about it. What surprised me the most was the difference between African and Western Voodoo and the realization of how misunderstood the voodoo culture and faith are in the Western world.
A backlit Zangbeto in a remote Beninese village. Why Wild Images loves this – the Zangbetos, or guardians of the night, traditionally appear around dusk at their ceremonies in Benin. Here one emerges from the setting sun which not only lights up the masked dancer but also the crowd of onlookers creating a magical atmosphere in this image (image by Rimma Aronov)
What were your frustrations on your trip?
It would have been wonderful if our van were a little more spacious. Especially the three seats in the back row. It was tight, and we spent quite a bit of time on the road. That was the only time I felt a little frustrated – and motion sick – when it was my turn to be one of the people sitting there.
Portrait of a sacred Python. Why Wild Images loves this – this is another fantastic portrait image that didn’t make eye contact or include a face. Instead it shows the amazing relationship between a python handler and his snake in the Python Temple at Ouidah. The visible hand shows the gentle way in which sacred pythons are handled here (image by Rimma Aronov)
Of all the places you have photographed, do you have a favourite destination you prefer to photograph?
There are so many! I LOVE Africa and Asia, both for the people and wildlife. Particularly the indigenous African cultures, whatever they may be. Also, Brazil/Pantanal for wildlife.
Portrait of a Guelede Dancer. Why Wild Images loves this – This beautifully composed image is nicely framed by the cutout windows on either side and the shaft of light illuminating the masked dancer in this scene (image by Rimma Aronov)
Aside from the photography, what other aspects of the tour did you enjoy?
I very much enjoyed the interactions with the local people, from strangers on the street and villagers we photographed to Voodoo Kings and Priests. I also loved our little group, including the guide and the driver. We had a wonderful time together.
Portrait of a young Holi boy with his traditional scarification. Why Wild Images loves this – this wonderful photo truly portrays the Holi tradition of scarification that is a trademark of their culture. Combine this with the wax cloth of West Africa, the traditional gourds and hut construction and this image is a true ‘Face of Africa’ (image by Rimma Aronov)
What have you learned from your tour of Benin?
I learned about a new indigenous African culture and its’ unique aspect – the Voodoo faith. Witnessed and photographing more than a dozen ceremonies and dances was so exciting!
A dancer pulls off some wild moves during the traditional healing ceremony of Sakpata. Why Wild Images loves this – Sakpata is a highly vibrant and athletic ceremony devoted to the healing gods of the earth. The dancers performing at the ceremony move a series of twirls and somersaults that are truly spectacular. In this shot the dancer was so into his moves that he lost his hat! This image gives true meaning to ‘dancing in the dust’ (image by Rimma Aronov)
Do you have any advice for photographers visiting Benin?
Don’t have high expectations for accommodations and food. This trip is not about creature comfort. Enjoy your unique experiences and if you get to take a hot shower at the end of the day – consider that a bonus!
An Egungun masked dancer on the run in Benin. Why Wild Images likes this – this wonderfully framed image was shot at eye level and it really shows the dynamic between the much feared Egungun dancer, the crowd, his musicians and his guardian. It is a whole story in one very well shot image. (image by Rimma Aronov)
Are there any images that are particularly special to you? Why did you enjoy these images so much?
They all are! But the portraits of people I had a chance to interact with are probably the most special. I loved making these shy people comfortable and relaxed in front of the camera and getting them to smile and laugh genuinely.
Portrait of a beautiful Fulani woman with her facial tattoos. Why Wild Images loves this – when you start to take portrait photos it is very easy to get hooked on ‘eye contact’ with the person you are photographing. It’s a good exercise to try and break away from this while still capturing a great image. Rimma has done a fantastic job here. It wasn’t necessary to make eye contact in this instance. This side view is not only beautifully exposed but this angle also shows off the intricate tattoos that mark the culture of Borgu Fulani people in Benin (image by Rimma Aronov)
Would you return to Benin for photography?
I hope so. In a few years. After I visit several more incredible places on my bucket list.
Motion blur of Koku Dancers at the annual voodoo festival in Ouidah. Why Wild Images loves this – it isn’t always easy to capture a slow shutter shot in broad daylight without the assistance of a filter but Rimma managed to capture this incredible image despite these challenges. This fantastic photo really shows the dynamic movements at Koku dancers from a ‘front seat’ viewpoint, the motion of their raffia skirts gives this image a real dynamism (image by Rimma Aronov)