German photographer Julia Gunther
moved to Cape Town, South Africa, in 2008 to do a job she had never done before — in a place where she had never lived. She embraced the challenge head-on.
"…I fell in love with Africa and its people. Everywhere around me, there were incredible stories that I wanted to document: rough and painful stories, but that were also beautiful," Gunther told Refinery29. "Documentary photography gives me the chance to dive into people's lives, to explore these lives and find things that have not been told before, at least not how I want to tell them."
Some of the lives Gunther felt had not been fully explored were those of African women. Dissatisfied with the way an entire continent of women were "overlooked, dismissed, or downright ignored," Gunther decided to launch her own photo series, Proud Women of Africa.
"Women in Africa often form an invisible framework on which societies are built. They work hard, and form the core of their families," Gunther said. "That is what Proud Women of Africa
is about for me. Giving a voice to those who deserve to be heard. All of the women in my pictures have suffered in some way: They’ve been ostracized by society, are desperately poor, or have experienced terrible injustice. But they are all still proud. Proud of who they are, of their lives, and the love they represent. There is a truth to the way they live; a purer form of pride and strength."
It was while working on "Rainbow Girls," a project focusing on lesbian women in South African townships, that Gunther met Chedino, a trans woman living in Cape Town.
"Chedino invited me to come along one night during her 'Divas in Cabaret' performance, and I knew that I would have to return to document her story on its own," Gunther remembered. "We've become sisters over the years, in every sense of the word. We’ve laughed together, danced together, cried together. Almost from the beginning, we had a strong connection. I think that is because we are very much alike."
Ahead, Chedino and her family share story their stories with Refinery29.
Photo caption: Chedino performs as Divas in Cabaret, in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2012.