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Mary’s Children

Contemplating the deeper aspects of life is a universal endeavor. I recall pondering the vastness of existence even in my childhood, sensing the triviality of my being in the face of its infinitude. As we mature, life’s complexities begin to unravel before us, often sparked by significant events. This innate inclination to seek answers to age-old questions led me to embrace spirituality as a way of life.

My artistic journey is intrinsically intertwined with my quest for the meaning and purpose of life. Rather than actively seeking specific subjects to photograph, I remain receptive to the ones I unintentionally meet and those that intersect with my personal experiences and awareness. I’m not on a quest for more photographs; instead, I seek answers and uncover many of my clues within the portraits I create.

I firmly believe that genuine self-understanding can only be attained through self-exploration. Without it, we risk living our lives confined by the beliefs of others, haunted by old wounds, and trapped by obsolete misconceptions. Therefore, in my view, it is imperative to scrutinize every aspect of our existence and assess the value it holds for us. My artistic practice serves as my conduit for this exploration and understanding.

My new ongoing project, “Mary’s Children,” pays homage to individuals who demonstrate strength and courage in the face of tragic events and challenging life circumstances. The name carries importance, as it symbolizes the genuine heroes and heroines (actual Everyday Saints) whom I find truly deserving of admiration amidst a world consumed by the pursuit of fame and wealth.

In a society where celebrities and the affluent often take center stage, these remarkable individuals embody the true essence of heroism and strength. They radiate a light of the Spirit and possess a remarkable strength of Faith, demonstrating courage and openness of heart that surpasses that of many self-proclaimed spiritual leaders and gurus. Unfortunately, their stories often remain untold, overshadowed by the noise of mainstream media.

I want to bring attention and visibility to these extraordinary human beings. The inspiring journey with “Mary’s Children” serves as a confirmation of the boundless capacity for growth and courage within each of us.

Zikhona & Paru Being the only breadwinner providing for two kids is not a small challenge in South Africa. When little Paru lost his mommy to domestic violence, his youngest aunt Zikhona adopted him and his older sister without hesitation. Little Paru, scarred by a devastating fire that had ravaged his tiny body when he was just two months old, requires extensive medical care and specialized daily care. What Zikhona is doing while putting her dreams and goals on hold is an incredibly inspiring act of unwavering love and steadfast courage. She chose what was right and not what was easy—in the true essence of humanity. Cape Town, 2023

From a young age, Cynthia discovered the challenges of different and of embracing one’s uniqueness. Cynthia, a 32-year-old South African, was born deaf and non-verbal, and endured harsh forms of bullying throughout her life. In her adult years she held onto a personal dream —to become a mother—despite encountering strong disapproval from her immediate family and community. When a few years ago her dream became true and her daughter was born, Cynthia chose the name Buhle, which, in Xhosa, translates to Beautiful. It is Cynthia’s legacy and dream for her daughter that she will always remember that she is beautiful, even when she encounters situations and people that dictate otherwise. Cape Town, 2023

When Christopher Samuel Braaf, a 56-year-old man, lost his beloved wife Gloria, with whom he had shared 30 years of companionship, his world crumbled. Both Christopher and Gloria were practitioners of herbalism, contributing to their local community by providing teas and ointments made with detailed care and indigenous wisdom. In Gloria’s absence, Christopher redirected all his love and time into helping his only daughter Selin raise her two young children. Little Chrissy, a 4-year-old boy, spends his entire day in the company of his wise grandfather. Together, they go on daily rides on an old bicycle to the mountains before sunrise, where they gather herbs and spring water. The afternoons are spent sorting herbs and making ointments. In his youth, Christopher had acquired indigenous knowledge from his bush doctor grandfather. Now, he imparts the same wisdom to his grandchild Chrissy. This newfound role has given Christopher’s life a new meaning and joy, creating a deep and lasting bond between a grandfather and a grandson. Cape Town 2023

I hold a solid conviction that we never photograph random people or places. If we take the time to slow down and engage in introspection with honesty and patience, we will inevitably become attuned to the underlying common threads that connect us all. Because my work is never bound to a specific idea or rule, I operate without constraints. More often than not, I photograph individuals guided solely by an innate sense that they are meant to be the protagonists of my next portrait. Occasionally, I’m drawn to photograph someone based on their narrative. However, I consciously attempt to shift my focus away from the narrative itself and instead aim to forge a connection with the individual, one that transcends beliefs and stories. I describe this connection as tapping into another person’s essence—an encounter with their Divinity, which, in my perspective, is a shared attribute inherent in all of us.

The path to discovering his beauty and self-acceptance was difficult for 19-year-old Lethu. At just six months old, a devastating fire ravaged his face and hands in the township where his family resided, forever changing his life. Undergoing numerous reconstructive surgeries, while navigating a sense of being different and facing bullying, Lethu remained strong and unbroken, growing into a confident and mature young adult. During his formative teenage years, he fully embraced his uniqueness, teaching himself to cultivate self-confidence and a sense of inner beauty. Nowadays Lethu is determined to achieve success to be able to help and inspire others. He beautifully states, “Embrace your true self, love yourself as you are, because if you don’t, no one else will.” He recently launched his fashion brand line—a collection of t-shirts inspired by his journey of overcoming limitations and embracing individuality. Lethu’s fashion brand line is more than just clothing; it is a story of his transformation and a symbol of empowerment. With every t-shirt he creates, Lethu hopes to ignite a sense of courage and self-belief in individuals worldwide, reminding them that their unique journey is something to be celebrated. Cape Town , 2023

Every person we encounter, every moment we breathe through, extends an open invitation for our hearts to expand. It might feel daunting more often than not, yet that’s precisely where leaning on trust comes into play. Yet, trusting only feels effortless when it’s NOT what once wounded us deeply, when it’s NOT frightening and agonizing. However, our existence falters without following our heart’s longing for real connection; we wander aimlessly through the external world without our willingness to embrace vulnerability. We imprison ourselves away from true intimacy if we don’t venture beyond the confines of our body and the familiar bounds of our comfort zone.
Three years ago, Valerie’s world was plunged into darkness when she tragically lost her daughter to domestic violence. The light in her eyes and heart dimmed, leaving her in the depths of grief. Three years ago, Valerie’s world was plunged into darkness when she tragically lost her daughter to domestic violence. The light in her eyes and heart dimmed, leaving her in the depths of grief.
About a year and a half ago, Valerie took a courageous step and opened a small tea stand offering her unique tea blends and products created by local artists. To her surprise, this modest establishment became a gathering place for many local young adults, mostly artists, seeking a sense of belonging. Along with tea, they found comfort in Valerie’s love and affection. Valerie’s tea stand provided invaluable support and solace to these young individuals. They affectionately referred to her as their “Hippie Mama,” finding in her a refuge during difficult times in their lives. Not a day goes by without Valerie missing her daughter, but she has channeled her tragedy into creating a meaningful future, offering a place of comfort for others who are struggling. Tampa, 2023

Despite facing heartbreak and being left alone to tend for her two young children, Mary didn’t give up. With no formal education to lean on, she persevered and found strength in her little family. Proudly, she started her own small business, reselling secondhand clothes. Mary’s determination and love for her children became her driving force. Cape Town 2023

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Angelika Kollin

Angelika Kollin (b. 1976) is an Estonian Fine Art/Documentary photographer currently residing in Tampa, USA. She is self-taught and engages with her passion for… More »

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