Photography Set to Impress
By: Kara Blackmore
“Our pictures are our testimonies.”-James Akena, Reuters Photographer
Increasingly, awards do not only symbolise a status of achievement. This is illustrated in the second Foreign Corespondent’s Association’s Uganda Press Photo Award. Designed by Anna Kucma as a three dimensional product, it included an exhibition and a forum for public dialogue. Stipulated by the core funder Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, it is not enough to recognise an arrival of craft — there must be a push to improve or a platform for debate. The result: practiced notions of process and evolution emerged within a thoughtfully curated exhibition space.
The photographers were given two months to compile and send in images in the categories of: News, Sports, Story, Portrait, Nature and Daily Life. Throughout the selection process knowledge gaps became apparent; photographers struggled with sizings, titling and sequencing. These problems have reduced since the first edition, but there is still room for improvement and future training for photographers should focus on these key areas.
Press photographers within the country are generally aligned with either the Monitor or the New Vision. They were plagued by a feud that seemed to inhibit the competition entries and bogged down some of the public discussions. Overall winning photographer Drake Ssentongo from the tabloid newspaper the Red Pepper diluted the dominant rivalry. His timing and execution showed the predominant players in the news that photographic excellence does not have allegiance.
All submissions were sent in blind, to ensure unbiased judging. To further maintain objectivity the organisers recruited Carl de Souza (Agence France Presse) and Thomas Mukoya (Thomson Reuters) and Katrin Peters-Klaphake (Makerere Art Gallery Curator) to conduct the judging. Images were selected based on criteria built through their seasoned careers. There is no doubt that this level of exposure to elite photo editors could have a significant impact on emerging talent.
On the day of the awards ceremony and the exhibition unveiling, interested photographers, students and media professionals cramped inside the Makerere Art Gallery. Many were there to participate in a well crafted panel discussion that traced the inception of Uganda’s photography into the present-day internet mania. The elders pushed the new generation to understand photography as more than a cash earner, rather as a passionate profession that took the likes of Elly Rwakoma into temporary exile. In the same vain of encouragement, elite bloggers and internet gurus urged photographers to move beyond the geographical and thematic limitations of print media. Seasoned snappers like Carl de Souza and James Akena used tangible examples to demonstrate how Ugandan photographers can enhance their craft.
This year’s winners were displayed in a historical trajectory that placed the past into prospective. In this way, the digital photographers were presented with the fundamentals of photography; as Carl de Souza said, “After all, it’s just a light box.”
Seeing all the images compiled in one space showed the variety of perspectives coming from Uganda’s photographers. It represents a scene unencumbered by repetitious iconic notions of suffering Africans. Human interest therefore appears in more nuanced ways. Hopefully the idea of a traveling exhibition to bring the images upcountry will be realised and the masses can appreciate a rarity in Uganda: photography curated for public viewing.
Kara Blackmore is the Senior Editor for startjournal.org