While mention of photographer Alexi Lubomirski conjures up Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s wedding (he took the couple’s official engagement photos) or family, one of his latest projects was chronicling the drought and human suffering in Kenya.
Earlier this month, Lubomirski spent eight days shooting there for the nonprofit Concern Worldwide’s year-end appeal titled “Unite to Fight Hunger.” The New York-based creative has supported the nonprofit for years. So many wells have dried up in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia) that many are having to rely on new wells that only supply salt water. Lubomirski noted that salt water causes rickets, diarrhea and other health problems.
As a Concern ambassador, he said, “But the devastation is avoidable. It can be helped by donations. The trouble is that, at the moment, so many donations have been diverted to the Ukrainian effort that the Horn of Africa is operating on only 30 percent of the funds that it actually needs.”
An estimated 18.4 million people are acutely food insecure in the Horn of Africa, and the Ukraine crisis continues to spike global wheat prices and is causing the international community to redirect humanitarian support to the Ukraine, according to United Nations research. As millions are dealing with the global food crisis, climate catastrophes and rampant conflict, Concern estimates that a person dies of hunger every four seconds. The organization aims to raise $3 million to support its programs in 25 countries that are trying to eliminate hunger and malnutrition.
Lubomirski’s photographs will be used for the Concern Global Gala, public relations and marketing to raise awareness and attract new audiences.
“It was a fascinating project to create this whole campaign,” the fashion and portrait photographer said. The idea of trying to use the skills he has learned “from trying to sell people lipstick, clothes and stuff to try to sell this idea that we have to help our brothers and sisters all over the world” appealed to him.
The campaign’s concept is “May you…” as photographs of suffering are paired with such sayings as “May you never have to bury your child,” or “May your children have enough food to eat.”
Separately, Lubomirski has released a children’s book that will support Concern. Available now, “What Are Words, Really?” was illustrated by the Pura Belpré Honor-winning Carlos Aponte, and has been published by Candlewick Press. Lubomirski has written a parenting book and another children’s book, as well as published books of his photography. The idea for “What Are Words, Really?” sprang from an early 2020 conversation Lubomirski and Aponte had about “how politicians at that time were descending into name-calling without having any qualms about using speech in the most negative way” and the potential for that to harm children, Lubomirski said. “Shocked and disheartened” by that, they set out to create a book that highlighted the power of words to help or hinder youngsters.
“The most obvious examples are two four-letter words — ‘love’ and ‘hate,’” Lubomirski said. “…it’s just about putting positivity out into the world instead of negativity.”
While the book is geared toward children between the ages of 8 and 9, the hope is that parents who read the book will consider what they say and how they say things, the photographer said. Making the point that how individuals speak of themselves impacts self empowerment, he said the book offers a can-do attitude rather than a self-defeating one. All of Lubomirski’s proceeds from the book will benefit Concern Worldwide.
The lensman is working on another book that will recap a 20-year run in the industry through his celebrity portraiture that is due out in March or April of next year. Royal watchers might be interested to know that his most recent family photo with Prince Harry and Markle was the family photo with their children Archie and Lilibet that was released earlier this year. As for the monarchy’s changing state, he said, “It’s fascinating to see people’s reaction in England, who weren’t staunch royalists, are so deeply affected by the queen’s work, her devotion to the country and her lifelong service. People who didn’t swing either way suddenly feel this massive loss in their life because the queen had been such a constant for them through their whole lives.”
As for the current state of fashion photography, Lubomirski was enthusiastic about how the gates are finally being opened to so many people who previously had been kept outside in favor of a set group of photographers, stylists and models. “Now there are so many more people, which makes it so much more interesting. There are so many more points of view and stories to tell.”
However, unlike in years past, the appreciation for details in campaign photographs — the set design, the grain of the picture, the coloring process and all these beautiful things — have ebbed, Lubomirski said.
“Now our canvas is our telephone. You have this ability to swipe so easily,” he said. “Unfortunately, I feel a lot of quality has definitely gone down because there’s no need for the quality any more. Quality takes time and funds — not just time to create it, but time to appreciate it. With social media being our main source for seeing fashion photography, [most people are] not going to care about a beautiful detail in the back of a picture. It’s about that instantaneous reaction that you get [with] an image and then you swipe on.”