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05/15/14 The Machete Project

Rather than a t-shirt boasting an all-too-idyllic image, Vanessa Ahlsborn saw the machete as a more meaningful souvenir from her trips through developing countries. Beginning with a cutlass from Madagascar in 2006, Ahlsborn collected knives from countries in Asia and Latin America before spotting a young Colombian boy lugging a machete. Trailing after his mother, who balanced a bundle of branches on her head, the boy wielded an implement that connoted savagery to the outside world but was in fact essential to his family’s everyday tasks. Inspired, Ahlsborn took a photo of the boy and decided to continue traveling and capturing the people who relied on the sharp appendage for daily survival.

“Overlooked are the countless people who use this tool in completely casual and mundane ways—every single day. My focus is on these individuals,” says Ahlsborn of The Machete Project, an ongoing series of portraits where the device is depicted as organic to its owner and his environment. For these people, the machete is indispensable in taming nature by clearing forest undergrowth, securing its fruits during harvest, and preparing said fruits in the kitchen, among countless other uses, of course.

To date, Ahlsborn has collected and photographed 88 machetes from 16 countries, each user’s history depicted by the rusting along a blade or a crudely engraved name on a thick rubber handle. Through these large knives, we behold people who are still in close and constant commune with nature—a clear-cut reminder in a world where we aren’t even in direct contact with people anymore.

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