A girl poses confidently, hands on hips. She wears a delicate flower in her hair, and stands in the photo’s background, but there’s something commanding about her presence. For her age, she looks stern and self-assured — where she lives, being a girl doesn’t seem to be a strike against her confidence.
The photo was taken in Badjao, Malaysia, one of four Southeast Asian societies cataloged by photographer Pierre de Vallombreuse, in a project aimed at representing societies where gender equality is already on its way to fruition — or, at least, farther along than in the West.
In particular, he captures images of the Khasi society, a matrilineal and matrilocal culture in the northeastern part of India, in which children primarily bear the name of their mother and inheritance is bestowed upon the daughters in a family; the Palawan society, a non-hierarchical community in the Philippines where men and women have been historically equal; the Mosuo society in southwestern China, which involves a variety of matriarchies and avuncular hierarchies; and the egalitarian and libertarian groups in Badjao.
De Vallombreuse has been taking photos of these indigenous societies for nearly 30 years. His work has an anthropological bent, as he was once the General Secretary of the Association of Anthropology and Photography at Paris Diderot University. So, his beautiful photos are more than just seeming portrayals of gender equality; he’s spent time observing each culture’s respective traditions, too.
According to the photographer, what he’s learned throughout his work is promising for the future of Western society — and those societies influenced by globalization today. In a press release about his latest book and exhibit, Arthaud Publishing wrote, “Indeed, in some of these cultures, the trends seem to be reversed: women occupy a central place in the social and spiritual foundations, preserving or advocating equality between the sexes, with total mutual respect. There are models for society where the position of the women is not a battle.”
Vallombreuse’s photos will be on view in an exhibition titled “Souveraines” (Sovereign) at Galerie Argentic in France from Oct. 13 through Nov. 21, 2015.