Comparing Captain Von Trapp portrait with Dennise  Ornelas photograph of a Nigerian family

Comparing Captain Von Trapp portrait with Dennise Ornelas photograph of a Nigerian family


Accidental Von Trapp Portrait, By Tersoo Gundu


It is very likely you are familiar with the 1960’s Music Classical Sounds of Music, even if you are not a movie lover or are a millennial. It’s a movie about a free-spirited Maria, a young lady studying to be nun, a widowed Captain von Trapp and his seven children.

Popular Von Trapp famil portrait

Popular Von Trapp family portrait

Maria is sent to the villa of Captain Von Trapp to carter for his seven children, who were being raised in a military style up bringing by their single parenting father, a retired Naval Captain. Maria’s love for music, the mountains and her youthful enthusiasm will collide with the regimented culture in the Von Trapp home. She would encourage free expression and creatively introducing music, in which, in the end the Captain will find again his love for music and his love for Maria as well.  A family portrait of the Von Trapp is pictured above


The Von Trapp family portrait depicts, Captain alongside Maria and his seven children standing side by side. A jovial and smiling Captain, which coincidentally bears an almost photocopy resemblance to this image made by Dennis Ornelas. An identical picture, However, obviously different in the characters, dressing and location. This picture was exhibited at the Photocarrefour exhibition in Abuja themed “Photography my medium”, October, 2017.

Photograph of a Nigerian family  by Dennise  Ornelas

Photograph of a Nigerian family by Dennise Ornelas

Dennise, who is a Mexican living and schooling Abuja, might not have referenced the Von Trapp image before creating this one, but an intriguing group of a large family of seven children and two parents is something any photographer cannot ignore, you have to be aware of it. “I took the picture because i could see the father was proud to share a moment with his family and Daughters”, she explains. Even though some might say it’s a Cliché image or may not be a technically “Wow!” image, yet it captures a true story worth telling. She did something from a spur of the moment, a creative instinct.  “The balance and the exact moment was instantaneous and everything was so natural and magical, it happened so fast”. She says about the time of the exposure.

This image was taken at the Millenium Park in Abuja. Abuja, in its Master plan has designated areas for park and recreation in all the districts of the Capital City, however, the Millenium Park is the King of all parks; with eighty acres of green vegetation, a children play ground, a giant fountain and various walk-ways leading to various nooks and crannies.  Residents come here for a quiet time, to relax or picnic, Saturdays are very busy and rowdy; essentially it becomes an amusement park with parties, games and other side attractions.

While there are a number of difference in the two images, such as time and location, a movie (inspired by a true story) as against real people and real circumstance, there are boxes this images check in terms of similarities. For instance, there are exactly seven children. Apart from the ratio of the sexes, the children seem to be about the same ages as the Von Trapps. The Oldest probably sixteen “going on seventeen”, could only be off by an inch, not a mile, down to the youngest – the boy, who clings tightly to his father. In addition, it’s an image caught in motion, it is not posed, enabling us to make out personalities and behavior based on their postures. The three little girls to the left, in the way they are frozen in their stride  and angling of their bodies suggest that they might have strayed away at some point and are only rejoining the line, with the rest of the family. The curious gaze of the mother, the look of wonderment of the eldest sister and the cheerful smile of the father, who is almost laughing, are all drawn to something to the left beyond the frame, some sort of spectacle, something that could have attracted the three little girls. Apart from the little boy, no one seems to be aware of the camera, as he curiously strains his neck to make sense of the camera and photographer

Dennise takes a direct frontal approach with this image, cropping it at the edges of the subject, only revealing the trees in the background, the green lawns to the sides and the curvy path way in which they are walking. It is carefully framed, placing the mother front and center, creating some balance in the arrangement of the subjects, a pyramidal form further emphasizing the mother, as your eyes move to the top of the pyramid. In some way, making her the main subject, subtly referencing Maria. The curved lines of the walk way that moves from the background and expands the width of the image in the foreground, creates movement within the image.

This image presents a very happy family, dressed in northern Nigerian attire; women veiled in hijab to knee level, only revealing their faces and the men in caftan, with traditional Hausa cap. While in African societies large families could in theory extend to an entire society, this image raises some interesting questions, like what kind of relationship the father will have with his daughters? Does he have another wife or wives as allowed in Islam? Does he have other children? “Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to talk to him, because everything was very fast and partly I did not want to put out the magic that was happening at that moment” Dennise regrets. As photographers, we all struggle with the decision of being a detached observer and injecting ourselves in the subject matter. “I would have taken pictures of different angles or even been able to talk with the family” she added.

 It will be interesting to get some insight into this family, but within this one frame we are able to share in their private fun outing, solidarity and a memory of a movie that gave us wonderful music. As in the final scene of the movie, where the Von Trapp  family makes their escape from Austria on foot , crossing the Swiss border in the Swiss Alps, I can imagine an image of this Nigerian  family, from an elevated point of view, looking down as they walk in the green fields of  millennium park, singing  “Edelweiss”.

Author, Gundu

Tersoo Gundu, PhotoCarrefour


This year’s PhotoCarrefour ‘s Exhibition is themed  “Framing  Common  Identity “.  Open Call is on till the 8th of September, 2018. Send your works to or visit Photo Carrefour on Facebook, Photocarrefour.abj on Instagram for more info.





Editorial Chief, Nigerian Bureau

Kings UBA is a Nigerian journalist and writer. I have reported for major local and international news organisations. I write satire. In 2017, I started contributing stories primarily to Discover Africa News Network. I can be reached on I currently manage Discover Africa News social media handles