If a picture is worth a thousand words, a knife is worth a million.

Some of the first large knives I remember seeing as a kid were the ones meticulously hung on my older brother's wall. He had a "Ninja" wall in his bedroom. It featured throwing stars, nunchucks, two sais and a large sword with sheath. I was impressed and so were all of my 10 year old friends. As a teenager, I later made fun of his collection. Little did I know then that in my late 20's, I myself would feature a similar wall in my own bedroom.

The collecting started in 2006 on a backpacking trip to Madagascar. I had never collected knives or bought any knives before then. Hell, even the kitchen knives in my apt were a set that an old roommate had left behind when moving out. I was, however, motivated in returning from this trip with a souvenir, or more accurately, an artifact to remind me of my trip, one that was unique. I wasn't interested in purchasing anymore tchotckes or keepsakes that had been manufactured specifically for tourists. So on a whim, I bought my first knife from a farmer on the outskirts of Fianarantsoa. It was a small hand knife that looked homemade. Both the handle and blade were formed from a worn and pitted metal and crudely fused together. It was dirty and sharp as a spoon. Perfect.

I continued adding to my collection over the next several years and soon my wall was decorated with machetes from Cambodia, Vietnam, Ecuador and Panama. They were all purchased used, having had a history with the previous owner.

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Then in 2010 I was backpacking in Colombia when I came across a young boy in Mompox. He was following his mother and dragging a machete. She was balancing a large bundle of branches on her head. I quickly snapped a couple frames of the boy holding a knife which was half as long as he was tall. And so the idea of photographing the people who use these tools began. The Machete Project was launched.

It doesn't take much to recognize that machetes have a bad reputation. It's understandable. "Jason" might have given me that impression as a young kid in the 80s, but news about Rwanda and DR Congo added real casualties to that reputation, forever linking the word machete to violence. Overlooked in all this though, are the countless people who use this tool in completely casual and mundane ways - every single day. My focus is on these individuals. Or, as one of my contacts in Nigeria said to me as she squinted her eyes, shook her head and laughed - "You've come all this way to shoot people posing with a cutlass? There is nothing interesting about a cutlass, you're crazy"

For me, every knife tells a story. It's a story about the locals, their culture and my travels, all bound up in metal. Large knives and machetes are versatile and extremely durable tools. They are a must for many.  

To date I have collected almost 100 machetes, and other types of large knives, from 16 countries for the project. There are many more countries left to visit and many more types of styles of large knives to add to my collection to make it comprehensive. It's currently a work in progress.

V Ahlsborn
ahlsborn@gmail.com